Creativity spills off the page and onto the pavement at Arbor Lakes’ annual art festival.
Since 2016, a specific stretch of Maple Grove streets have erupted in a celebration of color, creativity and a bit of optical trickery over a stretch of two days during the summer. This year, on June 10 and 11, Chalkfest Maple Grove returns to Arbor Lakes for its eighth annual festival. We sat down with artist and organizer Shawn McCann to learn more.
The street artist and muralist began using chalk as a medium around 18 years ago. And what was his first paid “chalking” gig? The opening of The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes in 2005. “It’s kind of fun that the first chalk festival that I helped found was at Arbor Lakes, 10 years later,” McCann says.
While chalk festivals are a worldwide phenomenon, McCann noticed there weren’t any in the Midwest that boasted a large gathering and multiple professional artists. After three to four years spent pitching the idea to various communities, McCann says Arbor Lakes was the first to take him up on the challenge. “People were just blown away that first year because we had talent from all over the world come into Maple Grove and really showcase what chalk art is,” McCann says.
Over eight years of attending “almost every festival that was out there,” McCann had gotten to know many fellow chalk artists as friends and colleagues. For the first Chalkfest, he called on these national and international connections.
“It was really great to see the amount of artists that were willing to come up to Minnesota, having never been here, and kind of take a chance,” McCann says. “And [in] our first year, we even had Tony Cuboliquido from Italy, who ended up winning the top street art prize in Dubai the following year.”
Rain or Shine
McCann says there hasn’t been a Chalkfest yet that didn’t come with a sprinkle or two. “Most towns think of us as rainmakers to where if they’ve been in a drought, they usually hold a chalk festival because that’ll bring the rain,” he says.
The tried and true chalkfest recourse to temperamental Mother Nature is tape and tarps, which has seen the event through all but a deluge. During a particular year when it rained all of Saturday, McCann says, “Most of the artists actually worked into the middle of the night and got a head start after the rain ended. And then it’s Sunday, and you never even knew that they didn’t chalk during the day of the previous day.”
What to Expect
If attendees are bitten by the creative bug while watching the professionals at work, Chalkfest has a public art mandala where they can add their own splash of color. Arbor Lake shops will also have their doors open to the public and food trucks will be onsite to help satisfy an art festival appetite.
“But the biggest draw that we find is people love to come both days because you get to see a completely different process,” McCann says. “You get to see the start of how they do [the chalk murals] on Saturday and then you get to see how they finish them.” McCann says it’s usually rare to watch an artist at work. “What’s fascinating about chalk art is you get to see the pieces come to life versus just seeing a piece that’s hanging in a gallery and wondering how it came about,” he says.
A Creative Mix
In the first few years of Chalkfest, most of the professional artists were brought in through invitation. “We also opened it up to local artists and amateurs and students,” McCann says. These days, there’s an application process open to amateurs and professionals from all over the world.
“One thing that I love about the festival is [that] we intermix the artists amongst everybody,” McCann says. “An amateur can be in between two professionals. And the professionals are always willing to answer questions and show them how to do something if they’re struggling with it. It’s great to have that camaraderie where you can see an amateur progress year after year.”
McCann says that a number of the amateur chalk artists have returned yearly to the festival. “We’ve had a few that have actually started traveling themselves now because of what they’ve learned from their chalkmates on the sidewalk next to them,” he says. “That’s been amazing.”
Making it All Possible
Each year after a few months of accepting applications, Chalkfest organizers review the budget and see how many artists they can bring over that year. “This year, I believe we’re going to try and get between 30 and 40 artists depending on where our final budget sits at,” McCann says.
“Every artist square gets a sponsor so that people can recognize that without the support of everybody, events like that wouldn’t be possible,” McCann says, noting that these sponsors help pay the artists as well as for the hotels, flights and materials. “The sponsors are definitely a huge part of what makes this a success.”
If you’re interested in supporting the festival yourself, you can visit chalkfestmaplegrove.com.