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Sidewalks Come Alive at the Clearwater Beach Chalk Art Festival

By S. Mathur

The city of Clearwater is famous for its beaches, which are considered to be some of the finest in Florida. Since the Clearwater Beach Chalk Art Festival began three years ago, it's becoming a destination for artists as well. For three days in October each year, the sidewalks and promenades of Clearwater Beach, FL come alive with vibrant, eye-catching street art. The festival brings together artists and visitors to participate in a Fall celebration. Vividly colored sea creatures, images from pop culture, memorials, animals and fabled creatures like mermaids take shape, form and color as visitors watch.

The Chalk Art contest has rapidly grown in size and popularity, attracting more and more artists, visitors, vendors and sponsors. Each year, more pavement space is devoted to the art. Events Coordinator Michele Johnson attributes this to the combination of location, art and sheer fun: "We began with 20 artist and we are expecting over 40 artist this year along with 30 arts and craft vendors. The success of the festival is based on the quality of the artists along with the location. People love to watch the chalk pieces come to life over the three day festival. The vibe, feel and overall festival is the success."

The fine weather and steady stream of visitors are the perfect combination for this ephemeral and interactive art form. As the festival becomes better known, it also attracts artists experimenting with 3D chalk art to produce visually stunning images. With Halloween just around the corner, artists tend to evoke the spirit of the season. The 2014 winner in the the Best of Show category was Beth Shistle's painting of a wide-eyed black cat perched on an orange pumpkin, titled, appropriately, "Black Cat". Visitors get to vote for their favorites in the People's Choice Award. Other awards include the Grand Prizes and Junior categories.

In order to encourage participation, the organizers help with travel costs. As well as the contests, there is a kids' area for chalk art and as other arts and crafts activities. There are also wishing walls, and arts and craft vendors. A local restaurant, with the wonderful name of Crabby's, provides live music throughout the three days of the festival. Other events happening nearby include a seafood festival and windsurfing championships.

This year's festival is scheduled to begin on October 23. With all the support it receives from local businesses and artists, the event also gives back to the community, raising funds for local schools and programs. A silent auction runs for all three days, with artworks donated by the artists. Proceeds from the silent auction support local art scholarships in area schools.

Johnson sums up the attraction of the event: "Clearwater Beach is a terrific background for a festival like this: there isn't another type of event on the beach that is similar to this. The location: sandy beaches, palm trees along with blue skies bring this festival to life."

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