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Chalk up another win for art

Beaverton's Chalk Art Festival draws evanescent images and crowds to a place where the people are.


Look down. No, really. On the pavement. Suddenly that big gray sea of asphalt and concrete connecting parking lots and buildings is a free-flowing splendor of shape and color, a vibrant surface of spectacle, an instant outdoor gallery of art – in, of all places, a shopping mall. And why not? Art for the people ought to go where the people are.

On Saturday and Sunday at Cedar Hills Crossing in Beaverton, chalk art arrived big-time in greater Portland in the form of the first La Strada dei Pastelli Chalk Art Festival, organized by the Beaverton art producers 2D4D (whose board president, Raziah Roushan, is herself a chalk artist) and continuing an Oregon mini-season of sidewalk artistry: Next up, the Valley Art Association will throw its 29th annual Sidewalk Chalk Art Festival in Forest Grove on Sept. 21.


It’s all part of a worldwide movement: You can find chalk-art festivals all across Europe, from Germany to England to Italy (where they’re purported to have begun in the 16th century, outside cathedrals, as sketches for the curious crowds of the frescoes and murals being painted inside); in Canada, Australia, and Asia. In the United States they happen from Knoxville to Baltimore to Denver to San Diego to Georgia to Florida and beyond.

Part art and part event, chalk art has family ties to mural painting and graffiti art, decorative bike-lane paintings at street intersections in urban neighborhoods, and also, in festivals like these, to performance art: Crowds gather to watch the artists create their pastel drawings on the spot. It offers the thrill of creation and the bittersweet knowledge of impermanence: Chalk artists usually plan their designs well in advance, often even making small studies in anticipation of hitting the streets, yet street chalking is a fleeting art, fading and disappearing with the scuffle of feet and the inevitability of rain. At Cedar Hills Crossing, the street sweepers are due to wipe away the evidence on Wednesday, so catch it while you can.

Sarah Flores sitting and chalking, in the midst of it all.

Photographer Joe Cantrell took his cameras and his curiosity to La Strada dei Pastelli to check out the action as a talented group of professional chalk artists, several of whom travel from chalk festival to chalk festival creating fresh art, gathered to transform Cedar Hills Crossing’s pavement. It was a big undertaking – an $80,000 event, said Roushan, with significant contributions from the mall, other Beaverton businesses, and government cultural underwriting – and plans already are being made for a 2020 festival. “It was fantastic,” Roushan said. “A great turnout.”

The artists – including Atlanta’s Jessi Queen; Mexico’s iVann Garc; Carrie Dziabczenko (Fort Worth, Texas); Cynthia Kostylo (Napa, Calif.); Jennifer Ripassa (La Mirada, Calif.); Naomi Haverland (Seattle); Nestor Mendoza (Sacramento); Sharyn Chan (Santa Barbara, Calif.); Wayne and Cheryl Renshaw (Santa Clara, Calif.); Julie Jilek (Appleton, Wis.), Brittany Resch (Portland via Seattle); Susan Charnquist; Zach Herndon; and Sarah Flores (“software engineer by day and street painter by night”) – had 48 hours to work their magic, and work it they did.


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Cantrell captured images of them and their creations, along with musicians, art vendors, kids trying their own hands at chalking the pavement, and the gathering of onlookers, to create a portfolio of public art. As Roushan noted, “It’s very much about watching the process, and then asking questions about the technique.” Here’s a sampling of what Cantrell, and the crowds, saw:

Jennifer Ripassa’s bold bouquet.
Taking a break along the center aisle of artists.
Getting down into it: the kids’ area, led by Portland-based artist Heather McLaughlin.
Cynthia Kostylo: portrait in progress.
Sharyn Chan: vision with wings.
Cynthia Kostylo, intent on her work.
Crowds and camera around Susan Charnquist’s art.
The chalky evidence, reflecting the sky.
Julie Jilek: ready for rain.
Jennifer Ripassa: face and flowers in process.
Wayne Renshaw leads the protective plastic coverage of the art site.
Cynthia Kostylo leans into her art.
Carrie Dziabczenko: woman and fish.
Teamwork: Wayne and Cheryl Renshaw.
Zach Herndon: alone in the crowd.
Cynthia Kostylo: artist at work.
Sarah Flores: taking the measure of things.
Zach Herndon: a face in the crowd.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

I spent my first 21 years in Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma, assuming that except for a few unfortunate spots, ‘everybody’ was part Cherokee, and son of the soil. Volunteered for Vietnam because that’s what we did. After two stints, hoping to gain insight, perhaps do something constructive, I spent the next 16 years as a photojournalist in Asia, living much like the lower income urban peasants and learning a lot. Moved back to the USA in 1986, tried photojournalism and found that the most important subjects were football and basketball, never mind humankind. In 1992, age 46, I became single dad of my 3-year-old daughter and spent the next two decades working regular jobs, at which I was not very good, to keep a roof over our heads, but we made it. She’s retail sales supervisor for Sony, Los Angeles. Wowee! The VA finally acknowledged that the war had affected me badly and gave me a disability pension. I regard that as a stipend for continuing to serve humanity as I can, to use my abilities to facilitate insight and awareness, so I shoot a lot of volunteer stuff for worthy institutions and do artistic/scientific work from our Cherokee perspective well into many nights. Come along!


6 Responses

  1. Eine kleine backstory. This required artistic talent, it meant endurance. Most of the time, the artists and volunteers were working in summer sun, many almost nonstop.
    As they literally wrapped up Saturday night, covering the works in progress with plastic tarps and Gorilla tape, one of the artists told me that they’d be back at work before dawn, but since not everyone could be there then, Sunday morning’s start would be about 7:00 a.m. And some of the artists worked ALL day Sunday, continuing even after the awards ceremony, rubbing and massaging the chalk into expression with bare fingers.
    It were a lovely thing.

    1. Cathy, according to 2D4D, Susan Charnquist won Judge’s Choice, and Brad Lauden won People’s Choice.

  2. Glad to know about the upcoming sidewalk chalk event in Forest Grove, but am really disappointed to hear about this one after it’s over. Any suggestions for hearing about things like this BEFORE, instead of after?

    1. Hello Jada, thanks for asking. Generally we produce coming-up columns once a month (and sometimes more often) in our main areas of coverage — dance, theater, music, visual arts. With so much going on those columns can’t be all-inclusive, but we try to touch on prospective high points. We don’t produce a calendar for community events, which vary from town to town: It would be an extremely time-consuming task, and we choose to use our resources in other ways. Looking at the community newspapers from various areas is a good idea for keeping up on events like this. You might also consider signing up for ArtsWatch Weekly, our round-up newsletter that is sent to subscribers’ email inboxes every Thursday. It’s not a calendar, but sometimes mentions intriguing-sounding events coming up in the next week, and in fact did mention the Beaverton chalk art festival before the fact. Signing up is easy. Just follow this link: https://www.orartswatch.org/newsletter/

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