ChalkFest allows artists to show off their work

With a chill in the air, chalk art on the sidewalks and streets, colorful scarecrows dotting the landscape, the sound of live music and scents from various food trucks combined for an atmospheric autumn Saturday in downtown Springfield as ChalkFest celebrated the season.

National Road Commons Park saw people of all ages and a few pets turn out for the sixth annual event, presented by Project Jericho and National Trail Parks and Recreation District, wrapped in seasonal clothing as the weather shifted from warm earlier in the week to windy and cool, which didn’t seem to bother attendees.

With 51 areas for 75 chalk artists to express themselves, the park’s surrounding surfaces depicted Halloween themes to personal expressions. Miamisburg artist Paul Arnold combined the two by depicting lovable “Ghostbusters” character Slimer with a controversial world leader who celebrated his birthday on Saturday.

“I expect people to walk on him or drive on him,” Arnold said.

This is his fourth ChalkFest here and he does several a year, calling this one of his favorites due to the atmosphere and people. In his mid 50s, Arnold already felt some physical effects as he has a knot on his knee and arthritis and expects to feel it in his bones the next three or four days, but ultimately finds it all worthwhile.

“I love art. It’s the reason I was put on this Earth, to be an artist like my father was,” he said.

Another artist was inspired by her St. Bernard, drawing a high five between a human hand and a paw. One artist drew a horror scene that expressed her need for coffee and caffeine and paid tribute to the business that satisfied her craving with by showing a hand from the grave clutching one of its cups.

Northwestern High alums and best friends Emily Kestner and Emma Shaffer were in the first ChalkFest in 2017 and although now attending different colleges, reunite here each year. Two years ago, they earned first place here, which was nice but the creativity and friendship are the biggest rewards.

They have recently decided to recreate classical paintings including a Pre-Raphaelite in 2023.

“The old paintings are beautiful and this is something we look forward to all year. We like the bonding experience,” Kestner said.

Although a digital art major in college, Shaffer said her professors stress to respect all forms of art, including chalk.

“It’s cool how people watch us and ask about our work and we reconnect with old friends,” she said.

Kestner and Shaffer like being mentors to the younger Northwestern artists participating in their usual corner. The pair plan on continuing their participation here as long as they can.

When not observing the chalk art, many roamed the park grounds to admire and vote for their favorite Project Scare-a-Crow creations. This year’s theme celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Clark State Performing Arts Center with tributes to various shows that have played there, including six created by Project Jericho families.

Project Jericho success coordinator Kristi Limes, who oversees the creations, said it takes an average of eight hours to construct a scarecrow and gives the participants an appreciation of how hard creating art can be as the costumes are sewn, not store-bought. But seeing the appreciation of their efforts makes up for the labor.

“It makes me proud of our community in supporting this and I’m happy for the families who see art as being valuable,” she said.

Scarecrows included Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, SpongeBob SquarePants, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Winnie the Pooh. As always, attendees can vote on their favorites through Oct. 20.

Gloria Heine of Springfield knew exactly which to vote for as her granddaughter had a little influence. Even her pet golden lab Bromley got into the spirit of ChalkFest, getting some color on his white fur, which Heine said he likes to do when the grandkids play and enjoyed the atmosphere.

“I love so many community people coming together. There are babies, grow-ups, just so much we can be proud of,” she said.

Such comments please Project Jericho director Lauren Houser. She’s seen ChalkFest grow since 2017 and how it brings families and kids together to enjoy the season.

“ChalkFest has become like an anchor for fall. Art is important to these families and when art and community are together, magic happens,” she said.

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