Sweet Chalk Fest


Sweet Chalk Festival grew to 50 artists this year and we were so lucky on so many levels.

       The weather was PERFECT. 

       We had 12 artists join us from far away places. 

       Our local artists upped their game. 

       The student artists were outstanding

       Our volunteers were plentiful and worked hard to keep the artists happy

       The news coverage was fantastic

       The crowds were large and appreciative.

A number of out-of-town community organizers came and asked how we put together such a successful festival.  When we first started we talked with Denise Kowal of the Sarasota Chalk Festival.  She was so generous, that we think that we should return that favor and share our hard-earned lessons with any community that is interested. 

  1. 1. Control the weather.  The day after our festival it poured buckets and washed away most of the art.  But that’s okay.  Chalk Art is fleeting.  For my peace of mind, we had a Plan B in case of a weekend of torrential rain. In Lockport there is an amazing atrium in an old factory that we booked as our “just in case”.  The professional chalkers are used to rain, especially those that work in Florida.  Have tarps and tape and cover up if it rains.  Having Plan B let me sleep at night.  But we have had rain in the past, and the artists just roll with it.

  2. 2. Start recruiting artists early.  There is a lot of great local talent, but it is hard to get them to commit.  Students were hard to get as well. Always assume a 10% no-show factor.    Once artists come, they generally will come the next year if they have been treated well.  See #3

  3. 3.Appreciate the artists and treat them well.  It is hot out there, so make sure there is water and sunblock.  And nag them about it.  They won’t like it, but will be happy later.  We encourage tents.  Some use them, others don’t.  Have extra supplies including tempera paint, rollers, brushes, extra chalk [black and white especially], sunblock, brooms, hairspray, chalk line markers.  We go around in the afternoon with cool cloths to put on their necks.  You make a lot of friends doing that.  Feed them and make sure they take the time to eat.  They get in the zone and that’s great, but they need to take care of themselves.  Do a biography for each artist. We supply the artists with t-shirts that have “ARTIST” emblazoned across the back.   The crowds read them and get to know them.  Many artists bring family with them.  They are important and treat them well [also encourage them to bring a chair to sit on].

  4. 4.Pay for artists?  We give our professional artists a small stipend and pay for travel and lodging for out of towners.  Some festivals use host families. I felt our artists would appreciate privacy--but they may have enjoyed getting to know a local family. 

  5. 5.Transportation:  I had my friends and sisters running up to the airport to pick up and drop off from 6am to 6pm. I know that there is a better way.   My big regret is that one of the artists that I absolutely love [Lester that’s you!] did not get to see Niagara Falls.  I should have arranged transportation for him and in the crush of other things that got away from me.  Of course, now he has to come back next year...so maybe it is part of an evil plan.  Not really, I feel terrible about it because he is such a good guy.  

  6. 6.Volunteers:  Have them all in the same color t-shirt so they are clearly identifiable. Make sure they take time to enjoy the art as well.  Know that the whole thing falls apart without them.

  7. 7.  Ask some artists to do your favorite pieces.  This year I asked for Klimt’s “The Kiss”, Homer’s “Breezing Up”, Hopper’s “Nighthawks”, Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, a portrait of Elvis [to promote the local theatre’s production and a 3-D “Finding Dory”.  Hey, why not? I love those paintings and some of them were new to a lot of people, so there was a little bit of education going on too.  Our first year we started with the Mona Lisa.  Having a couple of 3-D pieces is popular and having some things that appeal to kids is great.

  8. 8.Awards:  I have learned my lesson---we may have a fan favorite category, but no more awards.  First, it is impossible to judge.  Second, the pros don’t care.  Third, there will be some hurt feelings.  Finally it isn’t the point.  The point is to have great art come to your town.  A little story...two women were complaining that their two favorite artists did not win awards.  They should have.  I agreed that their favorite artists’ work was amazing, but then they insulted the entire chalk festival and me.  And then I told them to go find another festival if they didn’t like this one.  Not my finest moment.  So my final note on this category is to ignore any nasty remarks.  Those two women were there to make life miserable and they succeeded in goading me. 

  9. 9.Vendors:  We do the festival because we love our hometown and we love art.   We did not have vendors because we wanted people to come to the festival, walk around Lockport, stop at our shops, restaurants and local attractions--and see how great a place Lockport is.  We did not want temporary vendors taking away from the brick and mortar shops.  On the other hand, vendors make it more of a festival.   The Perry Chalk Festival is at the same time as a Taste of Perry/Taste of Summer Dining and I think it really works.

  10. 10.Sponsors:  This is a tough one. I don’t like to fundraise and  businesses are constantly barraged into giving money for events.  We offered sponsorships but did it in a very low key way.  The local hotel offered us a discount on the rooms we booked for out-of-town artists.  Restaurants offered discounts on the food they supplied for lunch.  We did apply for and receive a couple of grants from generous foundations. Also much of it was self-funded.  All of our volunteers also serve on charitable boards so those boards were given “sponsorships” without expending any funds.  For example, represented were Lockport Meals on Wheels, the Dale Association, WNY Challenger Sports Program, Lockside Art Center and The Palace Theatre.  We also had a table to raise awareness for a school backpack drive---the drive is supported by the foundation that provided the principal funding.

  11. 11. Music:  Ugh. That’s all I can say.  Any artists near the speakers can be annoyed with it.  I mistakenly had my entire playlist going and it included a lot of Christmas music [awkward] and Norah Jones, Michael Feinstein and some sad music.  One of artists below the speakers left her spot and begged me to turn it off.   Music is important but I haven’t figured it out yet. 

  12. 12.Thank you notes--It is important to thank the artists, sponsors, volunteers and all those who made it possible.  We give little commemorative gifts to the sponsors as a thank you.

  13. 13. Advertising and PR.  We had a facebook campaign for about 2 weeks before the festival.  Our local newspaper is always generous with their coverage.  We sent out press releases and tweeted about the event.  We had lawn signs posted the Monday before.  We printed up signs and put them in the local attractions and grocery stores.

  14. 14.Local government:  Ours is extremely easy to work with.  We got permission from our Mayor and Common Council and coordinated with the City Clerk and the Police Chief for help in getting the help we needed to prepare our site [which were two municipal parking lots].  The mayor was willing to keep the lots closed another few days just to encourage additional viewing.  It rained, so it wasn’t necessary, but what an offer.

  15. 15. Misc. 

        Bring a ladder to take photos. 

        Ask someone to take photos for you. 

        Encourage posts to social media.

     One of our artists had a workshop the weekend before to help prepare newbies.

      Have a postmortem to figure out what worked and what did not work.  

        Make lots of lists. 

        Have wine at the ready.

Contact baltogal@gmail.com