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Trip through time at Mount Vernon's Chalk the Walk this weekend

Festival celebrates 1969's Woodstock music festival

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the New York music festival that changed pop culture, “Woodstock,” by Ukrainian artist Veronika Demenko, has been chosen as this year’s collaborative art piece for Mount Vernon’s Chalk the Walk. The 14th annual festival will turn downtown city streets into mammoth murals of chalk art Saturday and Sunday, May 4 and 5. (Veronika Demenko)
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the New York music festival that changed pop culture, “Woodstock,” by Ukrainian artist Veronika Demenko, has been chosen as this year’s collaborative art piece for Mount Vernon’s Chalk the Walk. The 14th annual festival will turn downtown city streets into mammoth murals of chalk art Saturday and Sunday, May 4 and 5. (Veronika Demenko)
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MOUNT VERNON — Downtown city streets will be transformed into groovy canvases Saturday and Sunday for Mount Vernon’s Chalk the Walk.

One of the first festivals of summer, this 14th annual event will draw on two pages of history this year: 16th century Italian Madonnari street art traditions and the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.

That original three-day celebration of peace and music beckoned nearly half a million young people to a 600-acre dairy farm in New York’s Catskill Mountains in the summer of 1969.

Chalk the Walk typically lures thousands of participants to Mount Vernon’s city setting, and this year’s festivalgoers are invited to channel their inner hippie and don their best throwback threads for multiple costume contests at 11 a.m., 1, 3 and 5 p.m. each day.

Vibrant street art is the festival’s biggest attraction. More than 150 spaces measuring 8 feet by 10 feet are available for artists of all ages and abilities to leave their mark on First Street and several adjacent blocks.

Nearly $1,700 will be awarded for artistic excellence. Last year’s first-place winners, Craig and Jamie Rogers of Richland Center, Wis., are this year’s featured artists.

The centerpiece is the collaborative street mural project, which will salute 1969 with a 34-by-46-foot recreation of Ukrainian artist Veronika Demenko’s psychedelic print, “Woodstock.” It will be laid out in 2-by-2-foot squares, and for $10, anyone wanting to fill in one of the blanks will receive a set of chalk to use and keep. Organizers advise bringing knee pads, garden kneelers, baby wipes and sunscreen for comfort and cleanliness. Portable washing stations also will be available for chalky hands.

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To select a mural theme, festival planners look for artistic connections through anniversaries or special events happening each year. Cinco de Mayo was last year’s theme, since the festival fell on May 5. A salute to 1969 was a natural choice for 2019, because of such history-making events as the moon landing, the Stonewall riots, Woodstock and more.

“A lot of big things happened that year, so we looked through a lot of those,” said Danielle Chargo, 32, of Lisbon, a graphic artist who owns Iron Leaf Press in Mount Vernon. She’s been involved with Chalk the Walk for six years, and this marks her fourth year of chairing the festival committee.

“We ended up finding this piece that celebrated Woodstock, and it met our criteria when we’re looking for things,” she said. “It has to be colorful, and either something people can recognize or can connect with.”

Organizers also have to get the artist’s permission to use the image. That “took some Googling,” Chargo said, but mission accomplished.

“It’s very colorful, and a good fit for Chalk the Walk,” she said.

The festival also features food vendors and music both days, and an open area where kids can draw “whatever they’d like,” Chargo said, adding that area businesses also will be open.

If Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, the oil-based chalk won’t completely wash away from the streets.

“It has more staying properties than sidewalk chalk, so even if we have a little rain overnight, the artists can come back the next day and touch it up, and it will still be there,” Chargo said. “We are hoping for no rain. ... In the off-chance we have weather issues, we usually post that to our Facebook page.”

Otherwise, remnants of the event can be visible for weeks or even months, she said.

New this year are shuttles running from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. both days. Pickup will be the Mount Vernon Middle School parking lot at 525 Palisades Road SW, and the drop-off point is the corner of First Street West and Third Avenue downtown.

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Mount Vernon has several festivals during the year, but this is one of the city’s largest, Chargo said.

“One thing that’s really neat about Chalk the Walk is just seeing the gamut of the art, and it’s a neat festival to get that experience,” she said. “It’s also fun. Chalk is very accessible to everybody. When you’re a kid you use chalk, and then as an adult, you can see how people can use that medium to create something super amazing.

“It’s interesting just to see all that art on the street and know that it’s very ephemeral. Once the barricades go back, it’s a street.

“The cool thing for me, personally exposing, it’s exposing more people to public art,” she said. “It’s a very accessible way to get people involved with art.”

If you go

• What: Chalk the Walk: “Woodstock in Chalk”

• Where: Downtown Mount Vernon

• When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

• Cost: $10 to create a square in the collaborative “Woodstock” drawing

• Shuttles: 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. each day, from the Mount Vernon Middle School parking lot, 525 Palisades Rd. SW, to the corner of First Street West and Third Avenue downtown

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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