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Sarasota Chalk Festival should draw big crowds

Kurt Wenner, the most famous pavement artist in the world, poses on a work he created in London in 2010. He will be at the Sarasota Chalk Festival this weekend. The free event continues through Monday.

Sarasota Chalk Festival

Kurt Wenner, the most famous pavement artist in the world, poses on a work he created in London in 2010. He will be at the Sarasota Chalk Festival this weekend. The free event continues through Monday.


Times Art Critic

Street painting, pavement art, chalk art: The popular art form goes by all three.

Under any name, it has come to Sarasota big time for the Sarasota Chalk Festival, which began quietly a few days ago and revs into colorful action today and until its grand finale on Monday. Last year's festival drew an estimated 80,000 and organizers say the crowds could be bigger this year.

More than 250 artists, including some of the most famous pavement artists in the world (Kurt Wenner, yes!), will transform a stretch of S Pineapple Avenue and you can watch it happen.

That's the appeal of pavement art, which is considered by many to be a kind of performance art. It also upends the way we traditionally value a painting, as an end product of the creative process and something we can collect and keep. In pavement art, the process itself is the major point because it isn't meant to be permanent.

It began in Italy in the 16th century when itinerant artists began drawing on the stone paving in public squares. If the onlookers were pleased with what they saw, they would toss a few coins. The overhead was low; the canvas was what ever lay beneath their feet and their drawing material was a piece of coal or clay tile. They were called Madonnari because their favored subject was the Madonna. This folk art tradition almost vanished after World War II but was modestly kick-started in 1972 by a street-painting festival in Grazie di Curtatone, Italy.

Since then its popularity has grown and cities around the world host chalk art festivals. Wenner has done more than any individual artist to give chalk painting a popular following, using classical techniques in a three-dimensional illusionist style that astonishes viewers. (Think Renaissance art meets IMAX.) He rarely participates in pavement art anymore but he'll make an appearance in Sarasota this year. So will Michael Kirby, a younger chalk star. Wenner also has an art show at the Ringling College of Art and Design and will give a few talks and collaborate with students on a pavement drawing. Kirby will create a set for singers from the Sarasota Opera who will perform excerpts from Madame Butterfly.

This year's festival includes more related activities (see schedule) but the heart of it is pavement art.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at or (727) 893-8293.


The Sarasota Chalk Festival, continuing through Monday, is free. It takes place mostly along S Pineapple Avenue between the 300 and 600 blocks and includes Burns Square in downtown Sarasota. Beverages will be sold and restaurants are nearby for dining. Trolleys will loop through the area for off-site parking with a pickup and dropoff area on Cross Street in Burns Square.

For more information about the schedule and a series of lectures by Kurt Wenner, go to

Schedule highlights


Student Chalk Art Competition: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Whole Foods Market Centre on First Street.

Little Chalkers and Children at Heart: Open to the public, with chalk provided from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Oak Street between S Pineapple and Palm avenues in Burns Square


Viewing Day: For the public for all pavement art projects. Everything will be removed Tuesday. 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Related activities


'Madame Butterfly': Singers with the Sarasota Opera Company perform excerpts from the Puccini opera on an outdoor sate with sets by renowned pavement artist Michael Kirby. Dolphin Street in Burns Court at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Friday through Sunday

Cellograff Art: This is temporary graffiti by French artists Kanos and Astro, who will wrap Burns Square in cellophane and create walls for aerosol artists to create art that will change each day of the festival. Public participation is encouraged. Bring your own aerosol cans.

Through Monday

Going Vertical: U.S. and European artists will create art on walls that have been preapproved by property owners at various locations throughout Sarasota

Through Tuesday

Kurt Wenner Exhibition: The exhibition at the Ringling College of Art and Design features original oils and pastels, preliminary sketches for his pavement art, drawings of historical characters and fantasy worlds, plus memorabilia from decades of world travel and sidewalk painting. The show will also include the history of sidewalk art from around the world. 2700 N Tamiami Trail.

Sarasota Chalk Festival should draw big crowds 11/02/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 2, 2011 4:30am]
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