116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Has this year made you want to scream? Mount Vernon is ready to welcome you with open arms and a box of chalk.
After pivoting to the online realm in 2020, Chalk the Walk is back in action for its 16th annual edition, converting the city’s main drag into a no-vehicles art canvas Saturday and Sunday.
Normally held on First Street West downtown, the festival footprint is stretching across the Highway 1 intersection onto First Street East.
The centerpiece of this year’s street-art extravaganza will be a giant recreation of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” — with a pandemic twist. The iconic figure will be wearing a mask, and all festivalgoers are asked to follow suit.
Attendees of any age and artistic ability can buy a box of chalk for $10 — or $15 for a larger box — then get down and colorfully dirty to complete a 2-foot-by-2-foot square in the 60-foot-by-30-foot parody of the 1893 Expressionist masterpiece.
“It’s always a really special thing, because when you’re doing it, you’re on your hands and knees with chalk, creating your 2-foot-by-2-foot square. You are next to people of all ages and all races and from all over the Midwest who come to do this, and it’s just a really cool thing,” said Joe Jennison, director of the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development Group.
He’s been part of the festival planning committee since 2006, before joining the development group in 2010.
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: First Street, downtown Mount Vernon
Cost: Free admission; those wishing to participate in the community design can buy boxes of pastel chalk $10 or $15 for a larger size, at the event; food available for purchase
“The first year, I remember getting on my hands and knees next to these cute little sisters, like maybe they were 4 and 5 years old, and on my right was this older Indian couple, and we’re all on our hands and knees together, having a good time, smiling. That’s what art does in general — it brings people together — but you can really see it here on that festival day. ”
He encourages everyone to take up the challenge.
“This is Mount Vernon and it’s Chalk the Walk. You have to. You have to get on your hands and knees and experience it when you’re here,” he said.
After finishing their square, participants can keep the chalk, find another space, and unleash their inner artist on sidewalks, pavement and parking lots all over town, “as long as it’s not on the historic buildings,” Jennison said.
“You see these little art creations all over, and it’s really adorable to see everyone become an artist on this one day in our community. It is a special thing.
“It’s a little messy, so I always tell people to wear jeans,” he noted. “You have to get on your hands and knees and do this — it’s a part of it, so wear jeans and be comfortable, and be ready to do that. Don’t wear a tux here. That would not go well.”
The event is based on a 16th century Italian street art movement started by artists hoping to draw coins from passersby. Because their images often reflected religious themes, especially portraits of the Madonna, these artists became known as “Madonnari.”
But there’s more to Chalk the Walk than just the collective “Scream.” More than 150 artists will create their own 8-foot-by-10-foot squares, and vie for more than $1,375 in cash prizes.
Mary Campbell of Bertram, who won the $250 grand prize in 2020 by drawing a giant bottle of hand sanitizer, will be this year’s featured artist, and collect another $250.
Jennison was glad to see her win.
“We opened (last year’s virtual event) to anyone from around the country, around the world, and we got all kinds of interesting submissions,” he said. The local event committee served as judges.
“I was very pleased that the judging team chose Mary Campbell,” he said, “because she’s been coming and doing really good work for years, and years and years now … but she’s never won the big prize.”
The two-day celebration also includes food vendors and music stages at each end, with plenty of art in between. Because it’s in the heart of the downtown district, visitors can explore the restaurants and shops on the periphery, and see “Scream” art by Lisbon Inc. high school students in various windows.
It’s a chance to get outside and let off a little steam, too.
“We have all had a seriously tough year, and the committee thought that Munch’s `The Scream’ aptly characterized how we all feel,” event chairman Matt Siders said in a news release. “ … We are hoping that families will show up and let out their quarantine frustrations on a giant version of (the iconic artwork).”
They also can let out their frustrations and pose for photos by sticking their faces through a standing “Scream” cutout. Actual screaming is optional, but encouraged.
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