Old Town Square will never look the same after Saturday — at least until it rains.
Youthville’s Chalk Art Festival comes to the square Saturday after five years in downtown Newton. In addition to 40 artists creating chalk works on canvas while spectators watch, festivalgoers will be encouraged to take matters into their hands and draw on the square’s sidewalks.
It’s free, and there will be something like 5,000 pieces of chalk available, so no one’s artistic aspirations should go unrealized.
“There are so many big cities across the United States that have these chalk festivals,” said Micala Gingrich-Gaylord, event organizer and coordinator of Youthville’s Expressive Arts Center. “I think it goes back to the fact that anybody can sort of feel successful with it, like ‘I can pick up a piece of chalk and draw.’ And chalk is cool.”
Among the artists participating are sculptor Sarah Kephart, painter Lee Shiney, caricaturist Jaki McElroy, illustrator Ethan Patrick Harris and editorial cartoonist Richard Crowson.
“I don’t think we’ve had one person who’s primary medium is chalk,” Gingrich-Gaylord said. They’ll each work for four hours on their own works of chalk art on canvas.
“It’s anybody’s guess what they’ll come up with,” she said.
After the festival, the chalk works on canvas will be displayed at CityArts, also located in Old Town Square at 334 N. Mead, through Sept. 11. The public can bid on them during a silent auction during the Final Friday art crawl Aug. 31.
Proceeds of the sales will go to Youthville’s Expressive Arts Center, which is in Newton but reaches Wichita, Hutchinson and other cities through Gingrich-Gaylord’s mobile art center.
Youthville is a nonprofit organization that helps children through foster care, adoption, counseling and other services. In addition to having the state contract to care for children in foster care in Sedgwick County, Youthville operates residential psychiatric treatment campuses in Newton and Dodge City.
Nancy Compton, Youthville’s chief advancement officer, said Gingrich-Gaylord “has this wonderful way of helping troubled kids use art to express themselves. It’s therapeutic.”
Added Gingrich-Gaylord: “Art is a way for people to speak when otherwise they don’t have access to words for what they’ve been through.”
The Expressive Arts Center, located in an old three-story house on the Newton campus, houses three studios in which as many as 50 people can work at a time. Gingrich-Gaylord said she reaches about 1,000 people a year through the Newton center and her mobile art center, which she describes as “a wheeled cart that I roll around with me and take to different locations.”
The center has seen its funding cut. Gingrich-Gaylord is now the sole employee.
“The world is what it is, but I’m super proud of Youthville for keeping the program open,” she said.
Compton said Gingrich-Gaylord has found grants to offer arts programs to prison inmates and senior citizens in addition to children.
Compton said the festival has been successful in Newton. But moving it to Wichita should raise more money and awareness for Youthville. Old Town Square, with its green space surrounded by shops and restaurants, will provide a similar “small town feel” for the event, she said.
“She (Gingrich-Gaylord) has so many connections here that it just sort of made sense to bring it to a larger area,” she said.
Gingrich-Gaylord said art collectors will be able to purchase chalk works by recognized artists for a fraction of what they’d pay for gallery pieces. Gingrich-Gaylord sounds like she can’t wait to see the square turned into a tapestry of colors. And she noted that the sidewalk chalk art might just be a little more permanent than expected.
“With the weather we’ve had, it’s kind of an installation piece,” she said.