Sarasota Chalk Festival in Venice, Florida.at the
Since 2007, the small sun-kissed community has hosted pavement artists from all around the world. Over the years, it's grown from a community event into an international arts festival complete with music, dance, storytelling and other art. But the real attraction are the chalk artists—people who bend over the pavement with pastel chalk and construct both traditional murals and spectacular 3D masterpieces. The free festival is open to both beginners and professionals, all of whom are encouraged to center their creations around a single theme.
Denise Kowal, who founded the festival, tells Smithsonian.com that this year's theme, "Eat, Drink and Be Merry," gave her some second thoughts. "I started to question myself," she says. "It was a relief to see more than soda, shakes and candy." With entries portraying everything from gummy bears gone bad to a grandma serving pie, there was a piece of art for every appetite. The festival's unequivocal showstopper, an enormous 3D Bacchus created by scores of artists, was made in an attempt to beat the festival's own Guinness World Record for Largest Anamorphic Pavement Art.
Visitors flock to the festival—this year, an estimated 200,000 guests wended their way around the extensive festival grounds over the course of eight days. They weren't the only ones to ooh and ahh over the artwork. Kowal says that she was repeatedly approached by artists, some of whom had been in Venice for two weeks to attend master classes and workshops and who relished the chance to interact with the public and practice their craft alongside some of the art form's greats. "Artists told me they felt their lives had been profoundly changed," says Kowal. Chalk it up to the redemptive power of a piece of pavement and a few pastels.