A few of my most favorable memories of high school occurred at the annual Lake Worth Street Painting festival in West Palm Beach, Florida. Before I begin, I should mention that my high school had a pretty big arts program and one of our requirements each semester was to have at least 10 hours of volunteer hours in contribution to the arts program. Needless to say, many of us did not love this requirement, especially in the fall when we were forced to accumulate ten hours by scrubbing the painting and printmaking room floors. However, during the spring semester, the Street painting festival made this requirement almost non-existent due to the fact that we receive 17 hours of volunteer service for an event that most of us would have participated in anyway due to the fact that it was one of the biggest highlights of the year for most of us.
Each February, the city of Lake Worth would block off several blocks of street for an entire weekend exclusively for this event. It was really cool because it was an event that was entirely open to the public and anyone could participate as long as they submitted an application and a proposal for an image at least a month before the event. A person could choose to work individually or in small groups of 2-4 on any image that they choose as long as it wasn't a controversial image (it was a family festival so it couldn't deal with politics or nudity). After the image was approved by the street painting board, each artist or team of artists would be assigned a large block of street (usually at least 10x10 feet) and set to work from saturday morning to Sunday afternoon. Consequently, it wouldn't be uncommon to see a group of elementary school kids and their teacher drawing cartoons next to an elderly woman who was reproducing an exact replica of a Rembrandt painting. The variety you could see walking down the street was incredible!
My friend Johana and I really dirty beginning our work trying to replicate "Water Serpents" by Gustav Klimt.
Even though the festival was called the Street "Painting" Festival, this is a misnomer because all of the work was done in chalk pastels meaning that all of the work was only temporary. In actuality, it probably should have been called the street "Drawing" Festival but regardless of the name, this festival was an artist's dream! Basically, everything was free! Not only did they feed us breakfast and lunch, but the festival also provided all of the artists with an unlimited supply of chalk pastels. In an art store, I would estimate that each 32 piece box of chalk pastels could cost anywhere between 10-50 dollars depending on the quality. Furthermore, each stick of color is at most 3 inches long and when you think about trying to fill a 10 foot square with a three inch pastel stick, you can imagine how many pastel sticks were used with over 400 ten foot squares being worked on in the entire festival. I would estimate that it took an average of at least 2 1/2 boxes each year for my group to finish a piece so I still cannot imagine how much the festival must cost to put on each year and who funds it. Especially knowing the fact that in South Florida, it rains almost every afternoon for at least twenty minutes.
The process of street painting was a little more difficult than it may seem at first. There was definitely a lot more pre planning methods involved that were not required but that would definitely make the weekend easier. For example, a lot of people would enlarge and draw out the outline of their entire image before Saturday morning on a ten foot piece of paper. They would then use a pushpin to poke holes along the outline. Then on Saturday morning, the would lay the paper over their ten foot square of street and sprinkle baby powder into the holes so that when the paper was lifted up, they would already have a general outline of their piece and could begin working immediately. Other people, like me and many of my classmates took more of a "winging it" approach where we would simply sketch the image in freehandedly on Saturday morning. This probably wasn't the best approach if an artist wanted to realistically replicate a famous Van Gogh piece but part of the fun of the weekend was talking to artists and learning about new innovative tricks that you hadn't considered before. Many of us would also use large buckets of black or white non-permanent tempra paint to base the street with an even tone before drawing. Almost everyone in the festival would buy or borrow a tarp before the weekend so their art could be protected overnight and in prospect of the likely quick south florida afternoon rain.
All in all, the weekend was nothing but in credible fun! Besides just the art, there was live music, street performers, magicians, mimes, craft vendors, raffles, and most importantly: lots of festival food!! My school would have at least fifty students participating each year and as a result, the city would always group us together in the same section to work on. It was like a huge street party for us where we could spend the weekend together hanging out with friends, doing artwork, completely dirty and covered in chalk from head to toe, and accumulating our required volunteer hours at the same time. Even more, the festival is situated at a ten minute walk from the beach so many of us would take numerous and periodic beach breaks if we felt the need. It was always really funny on monday morning to see a large population of my high school five shades tanner and limping around after having spent almost twenty hours kneeling on the hard asphalt. The festival was one of my favorite high school experiences and if any of you are ever in the area during february I strongly suggest that you participate. It was always a lot of fun!
Here's a link to the website if you're interested in checking it out: