Pasadena may be most famous around the world for the Rose Parade each New Year’s Day, but it’s an entirely different annual event that set a Guinness World Record. The Pasadena Chalk Festival, which is held each year in June (including this year’s event June 18-19), was named the largest street painting festival in the world in 2010.
With more than 600 artists using over 25,000 sticks of chalk and drawing a crowd of more than 100,000 visitors in one weekend, it’s an artistic spectacle that’s also one of the biggest celebrations of the year in the Crown City. The festivals have attracted artists and design teams from many regions of the country, across Southern California, and virtually every Los Angeles-area community. Leading art schools, museums and cultural centers are also represented at the festival.
As such, it’s another prime example of the creative spark that fuels Pasadena’s outsized reputation on the world stage and, along with the Pasadena Doo Dah Parade, it represents another colorful contribution to the city by the arts collective known as the Light Bringer Project. Previous festivals have attracted artists and design teams from around the world, and according to Light Bringer co-founder Patricia Hurley, that attention comes from the fact that chalk creates an utterly unique art form.
“The art form itself is uniquely creative in that it’s temporal and to be viewed only for as long as it lasts,” says Hurley. “In this way, the beautiful art images are presented and shared the way music or dance is. It remains in the memory once it’s gone and can’t be revisited.”
Hurley and her Light Bringer partner, Tom Coston, think of the Chalk Festival “as a museum without walls,” and are proud of the high level of cultural, community and social diversity among the participants. At the same time, the fest makes no attempt to direct content through themes or any other form of censorship, other than the obvious expectation that artists keep their work tasteful.
While the fest is co-produced by Paseo Colorado, it serves as a financial benefit for the nonprofit arts organization, raising proceeds for vital arts and learning programs in the schools and cultural opportunities for those of all ages.
It began in 1993 after a summer intern at the Light Bringer Project attended a street painting festival in Paris and brought back her pictures and observations. The first “Chalk on the Walk” took place at Centennial Square at Pasadena City Hall with over 150 visual artists participating in the first Los Angeles-area event, and all proceeds went toward community arts programs and HIV/AIDS resources.
Chalk painting itself is rooted in the centuries-old art created by artists known as “Madonnari” in Italy, where they painted beautiful images on the boulevards and squares of great cities, using the pavements and street surfaces as their canvas. The art form exploded in modern times after World War II, when many itinerant artists made their living from the unique art form, and eventually it spread into festivals across Europe as well as North and South America.
For Hurley, the fest’s highly democratic nature — allowing anyone with a willingness to create to participate — makes it the perfect way to celebrate the love for art she’s had since childhood.
“I made art since childhood, and my favorite hangout on the weekends was the art store where they had close-to free art-making for kids in the back room,” says Hurley. “Growing up in the Midwest, there were a lot of cold and cloudy days where the preferred exciting activity was drawing. I moved to Pasadena to go to Art Center College of Design, and this is where I met the people and started the organization. It has carried its spirit of ‘what’s going to happen next?’ still. I see it as a voyage.”