Skip to main content

The City Journals

Chalk the Walk brings artists of all ages to the Viridian

Oct 07, 2019 03:47PM ● By Alison Brimley

The Grimshaw family’s award-winning chalk art piece. (Alison Brimley/City Journals)

By Alison Brimley | [email protected]

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 31, participants at the Viridian Events Center’s annual Chalk the Walk festival crouched over their sidewalk art projects. Artists had to register in advance to reserve their square of cement, but anyone—regardless of age or skill level—was invited to participate. 

Chalk art festivals have popped up all over the state. Just this year, they occurred at the Gateway, Hogle Zoo and other places. Taylor Allen, event coordinator for library’s Viridian Events Center, participated in something similar in high school, and she wanted to bring it to the library. 

Chalk the Walk, now in its third year, offers about 40 spaces every year for artists, and they fill up quickly. Registration opened the first weekend of June this year. But library public relations coordinator Tavin Stucki reports they had to scale back event promotion because spots went so fast. There are always a few that drop out, Allen said, so they also keep a waitlist. This year’s event offered five walk-up spots for day-of registration, which were also filled. 

Overall, 80 to 90 participants got to show off their skills at this year’s Chalk the Walk. This included lots of all-ages teams, as well as an unprecedented number of teens. Many artists are returning participants. 

Camille Grimshaw, an artist who has participated in local chalk art festivals for 15 years, said one thing she likes about the library’s Chalk the Walk is that it’s a free showcase that doesn’t expect the artists to “front the cost of the thing.” Other festivals seem to “nickel and dime the artist.” But for Allen, it was important to make this festival as accessible as possible for the public by ensuring that nobody had to pay to register.

“That way everyone gets an opportunity,” Allen said.” 

Removing the obstacle of participation fees makes this event welcoming to artists just looking to give themselves a challenge. Children, teens and teams are welcome to participate, which means that several of the pieces were completed by families working together. Prizes were awarded in each age group as well as in solo and team categories. Also, learning and experimentation are welcome. 

“Every time I come to a festival, I learn something new,” Grimshaw, a former middle school art teacher, says. “I always think I know it all, and then someone shows up with something like cat litter and uses that. And then I’m like, OK, now I know how to use cat litter in chalk art.”

Natalie Pope, a teen competitor, got involved in chalk art a few years ago when Grimshaw invited her to participate in a South Jordan chalk art competition. There, Natalie received a “five-minute crash course” from Grimshaw. Then she got to work on her piece: a chalk replication of a photograph she’d taken on an earlier hiking trip. It earned her first place.

Natalie’s mother, Lori Pope, got into chalk art herself later, and now it’s a family affair. 

“It took me a long time, but I’ve gotten a lot better in the last year,” Lori Pope said. At Chalk the Walk, she worked on a “Star Wars”/“Peanuts”–themed piece with her friend Sarah Gardiner, while Natalie worked with her brother. 

However, the challenges of working in chalk threatened to tear the Pope siblings apart, Lori Pope joked. 

“We didn’t cook the sugar water thick enough for chalk to stick,” she said. When working in sealed concrete, like the library has, the chalk can wipe right off unless artists use something to affix it. Sugar water is just one option. 

Grimshaw agreed on the challenges posed by sealed concrete, but said, “Everyone’s so inventive and creative that they always come up with different things to help them solve problems. Because when you’re on the sidewalk you’re dealing with tracks, you’re dealing with gum, you’re dealing with grease.” 

For artists, this is just one of the things that draws them to this art form in the first place. It’s challenging, it’s physical, and it invites innovation and collaboration. And the fact that pieces are created over the course of a full day while onlookers watch means that it’s a performing art as much as it is a visual art. 

At the awards ceremony that finished off the event, Grimshaw’s team was given the People’s Choice award, based on votes from attendees. Their piece, a convincing replication of the cover art for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” was just one of several literary-themed pieces—fitting for a library event. 

Other prizes were awarded based on judge evaluations. Winners in each category were: Youth, Athena Starr; Teen, Isabelle Ashton; Adult, Brittany Shelper; Adult Team, Josh and Zach Gray; and all-ages team, Team Warner. Honorable mentions went to Team Rasmussen and Team Hammack. 

A small cash prize was awarded to each winner. 

“Yes, we give prizes, but it’s really just a for-fun type of thing,” Stucki says. “We know this community has so many talented artists, and we wanted to give them a place to express themselves.”