Art in the Streets

The inaugural Chalk 'N Rock Festival will bring renowned artists from near and far to Bigfork on Sept. 20 and 21

By Justin Franz

Bigfork is well known for its galleries and art shops, and now those creative juices will melt into the streets during the Chalk ‘N Rock festival on Sept. 20 and 21.

For two days, artists of all skill levels will make Electric Avenue their own personal canvas for what is likely the largest display of chalk street art to ever come to Northwest Montana. The event is being organized by the Bigfork Chamber of Commerce and was spearheaded by Sandy Sanford and David Vale.

“We were looking to add a fall event to our calendar,” Vale said. “It’s going to be a fantastic day of art and music in Bigfork.”

Street art dates back to 16th-century Italy when artists who were painting cathedrals realized that they could also make money by painting streets for community festivals and holy days. They were called Madonnari because they often painted images of the Madonna, the Virgin Mary. In 1906, a street art festival was held in London, but it didn’t really take off until the 1970s. The first street art festival in the United States was in Santa Barbara, California in 1994 and now it attracts 200,000 people annually.

Sanford, who moved to Bigfork seven years ago, helped establish a similar event in Grants Pass, Oregon. She said it quickly gained popularity and when the Bigfork Chamber of Commerce mentioned it was looking for a new autumn event she thought the chalk art festival would be a perfect fit.

About two-dozen artists have already signed up to participate and organizers are encouraging more people to join. Two artists of note will be Bill Spiess and Lori Escalera. Spiess attended the California College of Arts and has been an artist for more than 50 years.

Escalera is based in California and has spent the last decade traveling the country presenting her work at street art festivals for more than a decade. She first became interested in street art in 1994 and says it is a more engaging way to present her work. Unlike a painting hanging in an art museum, her work is out in the public for all to see. In the past 20 years she has completed more than 150 pieces and travels the continent working from festival to festival. Before coming to Bigfork, she will be working at a festival in British Columbia.

Escalera said she likes researching an area before working there and enjoys picking pieces that have meaning to the residents. For the Bigfork festival she will recreate a 100-square-foot version of a painting of C.M. Russell, the noted western artist. Since her work is made from chalk, it is never permanent; one piece she did in Canada a few years ago lasted about 30 seconds because a rain storm came in just has she finished it. But the fact that her works are not permanent doesn’t bother her.

“We’re under a misconception that there is permanence in life,” she said. “(My art) is an experience. It’s like going to a play. You go there for two hours and then after that it’s over. It was an experience. So it doesn’t bother me that my art isn’t on the street forever.”

The festival will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sept. 20 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 21. Escalera expects it will take the entire weekend for her to finish her piece. She hopes that more people come out to enjoy the event and participate themselves by getting a spot on the street to make their own art.

“Everything is there for you and all you have to do is show up and have fun,” she said.

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