Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Chalk art to take over Main Street

Chalk Walk returning for 22nd year during Three Rivers Festival

Chalk Walk

Olivia Hennessey

Whatzup Features Writer

Published June 29, 2022

It is time once again for Fort Wayne’s most artistic amateurs to turn a portion of Main Street into their canvass. 

As part of the Three Rivers Festival, the annual Chalk Walk returns July 9-10 along Main Street at the Arts Campus.

Chalk Walk is a chalk art contest that celebrates the innovation and creativity of the community. Participants purchase a square, 8-feet-by-8-feet for $15 or 4-feet-by-4-feet for $10, then use provided themes to reproduce existing artworks, reimagine them, or create something new. 

Each year, dozens of artists  purchase squares to design in hopes of winning a prize, or simply just for the fun of it. 

This year, squares are all sold out.

More than 20 years in the making

Based upon an Italian tradition “i madonnari,” which means “street painters” and dates to the 16th century, the first Chalk Walk was held in 2000, and has grown to be an event that is essential to Fort Wayne’s summer artistic culture. 

For the first few years, the squares took up the parking lots of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art and the Performing Arts Center, but that could only last for so long. 

“After some years, we outgrew that space and moved to Main Street, closing the street from Lafayette to Barr,” said Kaitlin Binkley, director of visual communications at the museum. “Now we have four rows of 40 8-by-8-feet squares and four rows of 40 4-by-4-feet squares.”

The event has seen other changes since its conception, with notable setbacks due to COVID-19. 

Because Chalk Walk is affiliated with Three Rivers Festival, if the Headwaters event is forced to cancel, that puts the Walk in a tough position. Instead of canceling entirely in 2020, organizers decided to pivot to an at-home version of the competition. 

“We invited people to draw on their own home sidewalks and driveways, then take a picture and submit it to a specially built website for the community to vote on People’s Choice,” Binkley said. 

This ended up being a hit, as younger participants weren’t as affected by the July heat and could go at their own pace. Not only that, but it was much more COVID safe. 

The at-home Chalk Walk worked so well that a digital option was offered again in 2021, in conjunction with an in-person option. 

Talented locals

This year, Chalk Walk will be fully back to its pre-COVID standards, with full capacity expected. Based on the attendance of previous events, this could mean quite a crowd will gather on Main Street. 

“In the past, Chalk Walk has attracted over 40,000 people to the event,” Binkley said. 

Looking at photographs of Chalk Walk winners, one might expect that at least some the participants are professionals. This is not the case, however. 

“Participants are amateurs and local Chalk Walk lovers,” Binkley said. “We have reports of families chalking a square every year since the event’s start in 2000. Repeated participation definitely means increased knowledge and tricks learned, but we do not have many, if any, professional chalk artists taking place year after year.”

Categories galore

Every year, there are themes for participants to follow. Some categories change each year, while some remain the same, like People’s Choice, and Best Square by Artist Under 12, with hemes for this year being 7 Wonders of the World, Ode to Indiana, and Under the Sea. 

Best Use of Street/Sidewalk Blemish is a recurring category that requires great creativity, asking artists to incorporate pavement cracks and blemishes into their art. Trompe I’oeil, meaning “fool the eye,” is another annual category, requiring use of 3D drawing techniques to distort your perceptions. In one case, this technique was used to make balloons appear as though they were floating straight up.

Previous themes have included Endangered Species, Space Travel, and What’s on Your Bucket List.

For each category, a winner is selected by local, anonymous judges. Except for People’s Choice, of course, which is voted on by visitors of the walk. 

Winners receive placards and a small cash prize, with announcement of their win and a celebration Sunday, barring bad weather. 

“For several years, we would also choose a square to be replicated on the next year’s event t-shirt,” Binkley said.

With a wide variety of talented participants, including children, participating in this exciting test of creativity, one can only wonder what sorts of squares will be designed at this year’s Chalk Walk.

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