Several years ago, titan shopping center company Vestar approached the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance (SAACA) and asked for advice on how to somehow integrate the arts into its properties.
Often, shopping centers play host to events like pub crawls and live performances, but SAACA wanted to do something a little different; something that would make use of a greater amount of the properties’ footprints, engage more customers, and of course, drive business into shops.
Chalk was the answer—sidewalk chalk, to be exact. They came up with an event, held on one day, but at various locations, where professionals and passersby could get down on their hands and knees and cover the ground with creative, colorful creations. Four years later, says SAACA Executive Director Shelby Scheer, the Vestar Chalk Art Festival brings is accomplishing all of those goals, and is something residents really look forward to.
“It’s kind of become a community staple in Phoenix in April,” Scheer says. “We wanted to create a family-friendly event—there aren’t a lot of free things for children to do—and chalk is a medium that isn’t utilized a lot. So, it’s quickly become the largest chalk art festival event in the state on that particular day at those locations.”
This year, the two properties that will be hosting the chalk art festival are Westgate Entertainment District and Tempe Marketplace, overseen by SAACA’s fundraising arm for arts and integration programs, the Arizona Business Committee for the Arts.
Over the course of the day, 35 artists from around Arizona will be split up between the two properties and spend the entire day creating brilliantly vivid, 8-foot chalk murals. It isn’t a contest. There’s no prize for the winner. It’s an opportunity for artists to showcase their skills in a unique way, the public to take a fun break from shopping, and kids (or anyone, for that matter) to visit the Kids’ Zone and do some creating of their own.
Playing with chalk can be messy business, so Scheer said they order in special, oil-based chalk for the artists, thus alleviating the dust problem. They also came up with a way to preserve the amazing pieces at the end of the day.
“You have to have a really good surface when you do chalk art,” Scheer says. “You have to have asphalt that’s primed; so we actually build canvases and the artists will do the chalk art on the ground, but it will be on a canvas.”
After the event, those canvases are presented to the shopping centers to display however they’d like, whether they’re hung in corporate offices, displayed in empty storefront windows, or make the rounds in different shops. Once the lifecycle of the pieces are done, Scheer explains, they’re donated to local children’s nonprofit organizations.
Along those lines, the chalk festival is also a fundraiser. Vestar does the underwriting of the event, but all funds raised go toward SAACA’s arts therapy programming at the Southern Arizona Veterans Hospital and local elder care facilities. So while playing with chalk is fun to do, in this case, it also supports a very noble cause.
“Vestar is extremely invested in the community and giving arts experiences to families; as well as promoting their individual businesses, and we’re just here to help facilitate that,” Scheer says.
Vestar Chalk Art Festival, Westgate Entertainment District, 6751 N. Sunset Boulevard, Glendale, and Tempe Marketplace, 2000 E. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe, 520.797.3959, saaca.org/phoenixchalkart, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 28, free.