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Denver Chalk Art Festival brings more than 200 artists' works into plain view

May 31, 2018 Updated: June 1, 2018 at 10:17 pm
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A scene from the 2017 Denver Chalk Art Festival is pictured. This year's will be June 2-3, 2018 on Larimer Street in Denver.

Get ready for two days filled with free performance art in Denver's Larimer Square this weekend.

It'll start with more than 200 artists drawing charcoal pastel outlines in the street, filling them using colored pastel, adding layers, then blending and contouring over many hours until the drawing looks as if it could be hanging in a museum. All this will be done in front of thousands of spectators.

The Denver Chalk Art Festival runs all day Saturday and Sunday along Larimer Street at 14th Street in Denver.

"Chalk art is performance art - building an image in a way that makes a viewer want to" stop and stare awhile, said Michael Rieger, festival arts director. "It's more than 200 people making art together. It's just very friendly and fun - really a fun atmosphere to be in. It really is all ages and all demographics. One thing I love about the festival is it's open and friendly. I see everybody there."

Rieger has been with the festival for its entire 16-year run.

"Our first year, we wanted something new for Denver. We wanted something that nowhere in Denver had. Our goal was to make something new. The chalk art was just such a great way to do that," he said. "I started out as an artist on the ground. That first year had 43 artists, and none of us had ever done chalk before. Last year, we had 237 artists."

A scene from the 2017 Denver Chalk Art Festival is pictured. This year's will be June 2-3, 2018 on Larimer Street in Denver. 

The first festival attracted 10,000 to 15,000 spectators. Last year, the crowd was about 150,000.

"It's busy. But you also get people coming back multiple times" to view the artwork, he said. People can walk by during the beginning stages and return an hour or two later to see the work transformed.

Artists, mostly from the Front Range, are given an 8-foot by 8-foot area to work in. Some will start Friday night, but most begin first thing Saturday, Rieger said. Every square is sponsored by a small business for $400, benefiting the Larimer Arts Association. Big squares are sponsored for $800.

"Part of our nonprofit and our charter is to support schools and artists," he said.

Expect to see classic works of art, cartoons, 3D depictions and original artworks.

A scene from the 2017 Denver Chalk Art Festival is pictured. This year's will be June 2-3, 2018 on Larimer Street in Denver. 

"The themes are all over the place. Some artists reproduce other artists' works. You'll see some van Gogh, Degas and Klimt," Rieger said.

The festival is built on street-painting traditions that began in 16th-century Renaissance Italy, where artists - called "madonnari" for re-creating paintings of the Madonna - began using chalk to transform asphalt into a canvas.

One area will be for anyone who's inspired to pick up chalk and draw for free.

The event includes a youth challenge, performances by a full spate of bands (see box), and food and beer vendors. The neighborhood is also a fun one to stroll, as it is full of restaurants and shops. Parking might be a challenge. Rieger noted that one way to avoid competing for a nearby parking spot is to park at a light rail station and ride in.

MICHELLE KARAS, THE GAZETTE, 476-1602, MICHELLE.KARAS@GAZETTE.COM

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