By James Dungeon
[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and Susan Crutcher, longtime volunteer and event committee member of Chalk It Up!. The 10th annual street art festival is 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday & Saturday, April 21 & 22, in the parking lot of National Bank of Arizona, 201 N. Montezuma St. Find out more at PrescottChalkArt.Com.]
ou’ve been involved with Chalk It Up! since the beginning, correct?
I’m not an original founder, but I’ve been involved since the first year. I drove by, saw it, said, ‘whoa, what’s that?’ stopped and started talking to people, and volunteered to help. … Everybody from the originally committee has dispersed. There was the group of people who started it, then, four years ago, it changed hands and became a fundraiser for the West Yavapai Guidance Clinic.
How has the event changed over the past decade?
I don’t know that it’s really changed all that much. The things that were originally established have remained. It’s continued to be a free community, family event. It’s still accepting of a range of ages and artistic abilities and physical abilities. One of the benchmarks has always been how inclusive this event is. You see people interacting at Chalk It Up! that you don’t typically see interact. You might see a grandfather on the ground with his grandkids and, next to them, are a couple of teenagers with headsets looking at an image on their iPhones. And, before long, those two groups of people talk to each other. You see people across generations and whatever other groups you can think of helping each other out, talking, and laughing. You might see a group of veterans chalking and next to them is a group of young kids. One of the changes has been more people making the event possible in terms of sponsors and people from programs for addiction helping set up the event. Actually, a lot of time, they have fun setting up and come back to participate. In some ways, it’s always been a mental health program, but with West Yavapai Guidance Clinic involved, that aspect is more explicit. There’s still the same interaction between more experienced artists and less experienced artists. Over the years, we’ve seen people come back and get better and better and learn new things, and ask questions, and grow as artists.
For anyone new to this, what do you need to do to participate?
You just walk up. You should know a couple things though. You should bring sun protection and have something to sit on and also bring a water bottle. People should just come right up and register. You’ll get a box of chalk, which is free, and if you want, there are larger boxes for a suggested donation. Regardless, you can take the chalk home. There are boxes for younger kids with big, chunky chalk. You’ll be assigned a space and a volunteer will walk you to that space. There, you can create your masterpiece.
What’s the range of things you see there?
You see children just beginning to learn how to use art tools. You see some kids there because their parents want to chalk, too. There’s been more of that over the years. There’s more refined, sophisticated art too. The standard spaces are 2′ x 2′ and there are 4′ x 6′ that often get cut into 2′ x 3′, and there are the bigger spaces for the featured artists which are 8′ x 8′ up to 10′ x 10′. … In terms of featured artists, this year we’ve got Chris Brake, from San Diego, who’s been here before, and Carolyn Watson-Dubish, from Phoenix, and it’s her first year here. We have eight or more quest artists. You may remember Gus Moran, the Van Patten family, of Prescott, and Jeff Daverman, of Prescott. There’s also Holly Schineller, of Tempe, and Lisa Bernal Brethour, also of Tempe, who’s been coming many years. The other artists are Noami Foster, Twyla Johnson, Lea and Ian Rankin, and Kim Welsh.
How do the awards during Chalk It Up! Work?
Well, all the featured and guest artists and people who chalk are in the mix for the People’s Choice awards. You can vote for that while you’re there. But, during both days, there are what we call “spot awards” for things like best use of color, or the Animal Award, or Landscape Award. And we use those to engage the sponsors, who walk around and choose those and give those out. They’re usually gift certificates and things like that. I believe there are tickets for the Grand Canyon Railroad for one of them, this year.
How has attendance changed over the years?
In that first year, that parking lot at the National Bank of Arizona seemed so big. We were wondering if anybody was going to show up those first couple of years. Now it’s not an issue of getting people there. We don’t spend a lot of time or energy letting people know. When I’m walking down the street with postcards, people smile and say, ‘Oh, it’s Chalk It Up! I totally know what I’m going to do this year.” And you see kids coming back year after year. We have space for about 800 artists, but usually have more than that, and we have designated overflow areas. Looking at the registration numbers — please, please register — the number of teens and adults has grown each year. Still, the kid numbers are always the biggest. It’s great to see families participate. It’s participatory; you can’t just drop off your kid and leave.
There’s live entertainment on both days, too, correct?
I’ve got a tentative schedule, so I’m just going to read from that, but you can find the up-to-date schedule on our website, PrescottChalkArt.Com. On Saturday, 11-11:30 a.m. is Lessons by Lexe, 12-1 p.m. is Salt of the Earth, 1:30-2 p.m. is New Moon School of Bellydance, and 2:15-3 p.m. is Hoopfixation. On Sunday, 11 a.m.-noon is Fusion of Movement, 12:15-1:15 p.m. is Prescott Lindy Hoppers from Flying Nest Movement Arts Studio, 2-2:20 p.m. is Rockin’ Ukes, 2:30-3 p.m. is Hoopfixation, and 3:15-4 p.m. is Tiger Zumba.
You’ve been doing this for a decade. Why keep coming back?
I think the reason I’ve stayed involved with it is because I like watching the way that it builds community. It’s seeing people have fun. And that intergenerational interaction is really special. We have to have some gatherings that are about art, that have have no political or advertising agenda. We need family-friendly events like this. My involvement’s changed over the years. The transition to West Yavapai Guidance Clinic went smoothly, and it was a good lesson in learning that when you hand an event over, you’ve got to let go, and that it’s going to change and evolve. Sometimes I have to keep my mouth shut. People want to try things, things we’ve tried before and didn’t work for one reason or another, but it’s up to them to try their hand at them and figure things out. An event like this is a process. I’ve stepped back, become less involved each year, and maybe my circle’s complete at this year. Maybe next year I’ll just be a volunteer; I don’t know. … I guess I stay with Chalk It Up! because I have empathy for the artists on the ground and I’m glad I can help without getting on the ground for two whole days. … One of the things I really like is seeing the more experienced artists interact with kids. We don’t separate the “professionals.” We facilitate that interaction because, let’s face it, it’s temporary art. In many ways it’s performance art. No matter what though, some things will always be part of Chalk It Up!: You get chalk, you get dirty, and you have fun.
Chalk It Up! is 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 21 & 22 at the National Bank of Arizona’s parking lot, 201 N. Montezuma St., Prescott. Free event; donations/proceeds benefit the West Yavapai Guidance Clinic Foundation. Find out more at PrescottChalkArt.Com.
James Dungeon is a figment of his own imagination. And he likes cats. Contact him at JamesDungeonCats@Gmail.Com.
Tags: Carolyn Watson-Dubish, Chalk it Up!, Chris Brake, Gus Moran, Holly Schineller, Ian Rankin, James Dungeon, Jeff Daverman, Kim Welsh, Lea Rankin, Lisa Bernal Brethour, National Bank of Arizona, Noami Foster, Susan Crutcher, Twyla Johnson, Van Patten, West Yavapai Guidance Clinic