The Chalk Festival

This very popular international arts festival is scheduled to be held the weekend of November 13 - 15 at the Venice Airport

This year’s much anticipated Chalk Festival is tentatively scheduled at the Venice Airport November 13-15, 2020, depending on the health situation and government regulations (check for the latest information). The Chalk Festival has grown since its inception into an international, once-a-year opportunity for visitors to become an integral part of the creative process. From start to finish, spectators witness the largest gathering of renowned pavement artists perform using the runway surface as a canvas to create oversized masterpieces in chalk.

This pavement performance art form as we know it today primarily originated in Italy during the 16th century. There these artists are called ‘Madonnari.’ After World War II, Madonnari art went on the decline, so in the 1970s the remaining small number of Madonnari became the first to start the International Madonnari Festival in Grazie di Curtatone in northern Italy.

In the US, Robert Guillemin, known as ‘Sidewalk Sam,’ became inspired by the Italians and took to the pavement in Massachusetts shortly thereafter. He remained passionate about the art form for the rest of his life.

Then in the 1980s, an American artist named Kurt Wenner, while trying to make a living studying classical drawing in Italy, became the first American Madonnari. Wenner was instrumental in helping the festival in Grazie di Curtatone survive. His pavement art expanded as he went on to invent the 3D pavement art which was documented by the National Geographic Society in 1985. Wenner started the first festival in the US, and along with the festival in Italy, was instrumental in transforming pavement performance art into a worldwide phenomenon.

Starting in 2007, the Chalk Festival (encompassing the Sarasota Chalk Festival and the Venice Chalk Festival) has hosted the largest gathering of world-renowned pavement artists and features the most 3D pavement paintings ever created in one location. It became the first international pavement art festival in the USA in 2010. Originating in Sarasota, the festival moved to Venice in 2014 and now performs in both Venice and Sarasota.

The artists travel here from all over the world and create 12’ x 12’ or larger 2D chalk paintings over the course of three days, Friday through Sunday. Viewing the finished work is best on Sunday and Monday, but to watch the process and meet the artists it is best to attend Friday or Saturday.

The artists who create 3D pavement paintings invite festival spectators to step directly onto their artwork. These 3D works are generally completed by opening day. By stepping onto the painting, spectators become a part of the illusion when photographed. The artists come up with intricate ideas that make images, and the ground, appears to dip or rise when viewed from particular vantage points.

The festival also invites anyone of any skill level to sign up as an artist and work alongside the professionals. No other cultural organization offers an opportunity the public to work alongside renowned artists better than this festival, giving novice pavement and student artists a truly unique experience.

The Pavement Music Festival portion of the festival features musicians throughout the event and has a dance floor. All kinds of beverage and food trucks are also on hand. There is an interactive family art areas to inspire the 'Young and Young-at-Heart' to create impromptu mini-masterpieces or scribbles. 

The festival is managed entirely by volunteers—even the director, Denise Kowal, is a volunteer—this non-profit organization strives to bring a global community of culture enthusiasts together who value the work involved to make and share memorable experiences.

Winning Sarasota Magazine’s Readers Choice Award for Best Event in Sarasota County from 2012-2017 and SRQ Magazine’s Readers Choice Award for Best of SRQ Local 2012-2015, as well as setting world records, it is no surprise that during any given year, the festival attracted over 200,000 visitors during its time in Sarasota and upward of 50,000 visitors to Venice, with an estimated economic impact in the millions. The Festival is always looking for new artists, volunteers, and sponsors to participate in this exceptional community event. 

Artistic expression is something that can be found in every culture from every point in history. Expression through creation is a fundamental part of the human existence, and is a powerful force for binding people together. The 16th century Italian street artists known as the ‘Madonnari’ were vagabonds who traveled from festival to festival, often acting as the visual counterparts of minstrels. They made their living from coins tossed into a collection plate beside their artwork, a tradition that is continued at the chalk festival by placing containers beside the artists’ work. However, the difference here is that the money goes towards the festival’s survival, and the artist who collects the most coins receives our People’s Choice Cash Award. Traditionally, chalk drawings have a religious theme. In fact, that is where the Madonnari get their name; the word is derived from Madonna. The traditional Madonnari traveled from town to town creating small-scale chalk drawing with limited materials. They used chalk, brick, charcoal, and colored stones as their medium, and earned a meager living. World War II and the desolation it brought with it saw a great reduction in the number of Madonnari, and a greatly diminished number continued chalking until the 1980s. 

When the International Street Painting Festival in Grazie de Curtatone Italy started, the Madonnari finally began to get the attention and acknowledgement they deserved. It was then that their art became a worldwide phenomenon, and art students from all over Europe traveled to Italy to learn the art. 

Admission: 12 years and younger are free, parking is free.  
Friday $10 admission (great time to see the 3D before the crowds and watch the beginning of the traditional 12'x12' installations being started.) Saturday $15 Adult $10 Student (artwork is about 1/2 - 2/3 done with artists working in their spaces) Sunday $20 Adult $15 Student (artwork is being completed throughout the day) Monday $15 Adult $10 Student admission FREE Veteran with ID (viewing day). SAVE and purchase a 4-day unlimited pass for $35

Chalk Festival Main Office, 200 Base Avenue East, Venice. 941.488.8877.

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