Kids scribbling with sidewalk chalk in driveways isn’t a very unusual sight, but giant 12-foot square chalk murals are something you don’t come across every day. Those mammoth creations are exactly what the Hudson Valley Chalk Festival — which this year takes place on the weekend of July 12 in the upper parking lot of New Paltz’s Water Street Market — is all about. Artists gather to decorate huge sections of pavement with pastel chalk depictions of just about anything — rock climbers, animals, swimming pools — which are many times drawn to appear three-dimensional.
The artists, 16 of whom are professional “street painters” from all over the country, arrive early Friday morning to graph and sketch their pictures until sundown. On Saturday and Sunday, they return to add more detail until they have a completed mural. Throughout all three days, spectators walk through the parking lot and watch the artwork take shape. “Last year we had over 4,000 people come from all over — even Connecticut and New York,” says festival creator Amanda Lipstein of the event’s inaugural year. “Many people who come influence how the art turns out. They’ll make comments to the artists, who sometimes incorporate them.”
For those who are not content to watch from the sidelines, it’s possible to make your own masterpiece. “If you’re just someone who wants to try something new, we put you in contact with professionals to ask questions and get advice,” Lipstein says. “We supply all the chalk and you can try it out.” There is also an open chalking area and other special coloring activities for budding young artists, and live bands are slated to perform throughout the weekend.
The big fear, of course, is rain. “It’s sort of a ‘do a sun dance’ kind of thing,” says Lipstein. She notes that in the event of severely wet weather, tents and tarps may be set up, but generally everything is left to Mother Nature’s good graces. “Last year, it rained on Sunday night,” says Lipstein. “People watched all the artwork get flushed down the sidewalk; it was actually cool. That’s part of the beauty of this kind of art: It’s not permanent.”
See more chalk creations from previous festivals in the gallery of images below.