Text: R. Collins // Photography: Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.
Venturing out in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan last September, you may have stumbled across dozens of colorful patchworks of sidewalk chalk art, lining everything from the Blue Bridge to Monroe Center. The artwork—made by seasoned artists and casual doodlers—were part of Grand Rapids’ inaugural Chalk It Up Festival, which will return for a second time on May 23rd.
“We have always loved the idea of a chalk festival. It not only gets attendees moving all around downtown, but also displays how many incredible artists we have in our city. Plus, it’s just fun,” said Megan Catcho, event coordinator at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc, or DGRI, which organizes the Chalk It Up Festival.
Last year, the chalk festival was introduced as one component of The Bridge GR program, a series of events from August 28th through October 3rd, 2020, which celebrated Grand Rapids’ art, culture, community, and music, and focused on economic recovery and city reactivation.
The events sought to bridge gaps left from the effects of COVID-19 and the typically thriving and social downtown Grand Rapids network of events, businesses, and visitors in a safe and unique way. Community groups hosted several events and activities throughout downtown and nearby neighborhoods, filling streets, parking lots, and bridges with engaging and entertaining activities, including food trucks and a giant chalk mural made by a professional artist at Rosa Park Circle. The chalk festival’s role in this series was such a success that the festival will strike out on its own this spring for its second term.
“It did start as part of The Bridge GR series, but we found that the public loved it so much it’s going to become another GR staple,” Catcho said. “Visitors can expect even more professional chalk pieces, an opportunity to make their own chalk masterpiece, food trucks, free cotton candy, and a ton more.”
This time, there will be around 50 pieces of professional chalk-work in the downtown area, including the Blue Bridge and in the Van Andel Alleyway. The event offers pedestrians an enjoyable way to stroll along the downtown corridors and scenic Blue Bridge, perhaps grab a snack or drink along the way, and be surrounded by beautiful professional work drawn directly on the sidewalk—and even pick up a piece of chalk themselves. This year, the products of each artist’s imagination are unknown as there are no set artistic themes.
“There is no specific theme for this year, we’re giving the artists free reign to submit whatever pieces they’d like to do,” Catcho said.
This year’s Chalk it Up Festival event will take place Sunday, May 23rd from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. ET and is free for anyone to attend. Visitors are invited to head over to the DGRI tent for a chalk goodie bag before heading out to make their own creations—or, they can simply get out and enjoy the colorful expressions unfolding around them.