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Time to chalk: Fest features cracker box, culture fair
May 03, 2013 · Dave Morris

The eighth annual Chalk the Walk festival will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday in uptown Mount Vernon.

The event is free. Last year, an estimated 9,000 people attended.

The event is billed as Iowa's largest Madonnari Festival and will present the work of more than 200 artists utilizing a downtown city street as a canvas and more than a half-ton of chalk.

This year's event will be a juried art festival, and will include awards for 22 artists totaling $1,250 in cash prizes. Last year's first-place winners, father-daughter team Tyler and Paige Roos of Lisbon, will return to the event as this year's featured artists. More than 80 artists have signed up for the event so far, said Scott Rose, chairman of the Chalk the Walk committee.

This year's large collaborative piece of art is a 22-foot by 37-foot re-creation of the "Barnum's Animal Crackers" box. For a $10 donation to the festival, participants are given a set of pure pastel chalk sticks and will be asked to create a single 2-foot by 2-foot square of the image. When finished, the chalk drawing will appear on Mount Vernon's Main Street as a giant image, colored with pastel chalk by dozens of artists of all ages and abilities.

New this year will be a Culture Fair presented by students from Cornell College who will be sharing international foods, music and dance from several countries.

"The international student organization at Cornell approached us and wanted to do a cultural fair that should be a lot of fun and will add flair to the event," Rose said. "The Chalk the Walk committee is thrilled to partner with Cornell's Culture Fair for this year's event."

At the other end of the festival will be a music stage that will include a Sunday morning drum circle, and performances throughout the weekend by several musicians, including Gayla Drake, Two Bit Maniac, Sharon Bousquet, Heart Consort Music and Kimberli Maloy.

"Barnum's Animal Crackers is an international symbol of joy and as the circus is an international phenomenon, the committee thought it the perfect piece to represent both Chalk the Walk and the Culture Fair. Look for jugglers, clowns and other circus images this year as well," Rose said.

He explained the appeal of the event.

"Chalk the Walk is unique to Mount Vernon," Rose said. "It's been going on long enough that people know what to expect."

Last year, 9,000 people from 30 states came to the event over two days. But it also appeals to the locals, Rose pointed out.

"The locals keep coming back because the format is the same, but the art changes. We also have all the individual artists who do something different each year," he said.

About 100 volunteers are involved in putting on the event.

"I think that's one of the things that makes it unique - it's an all-volunteer event," Rose said, noting that volunteers are individual citizens, and also represent schools, businesses and Cornell College. "It brings in every facet of life here."

The event is sponsored by Mount Vernon's Parks and Recreation Department, the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development Group and the Mount Vernon Area Arts Council.

Chalk the Walk is based on an original art form that began in Italy in the 16th century. Called Madonnari, this form of public art was originally done by street artists hoping to collect coins from passersby. Images back then were based on religious themes, and as the Madonna was a popular subject, the artists became known as the Madonnari.

Chalk the Walk was founded by former parks and rec director Craig Wilson eight years ago.

Applications for artists, sponsors and food vendors are available through the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development's website at

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