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Art fills the streets of Bigfork this weekend at the inaugural Rock n’ Chalk Festival

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Art, it’s often thought, should be open to everyone, and this weekend one western Montana town takes that idea to it’s most absolute.

Lori Escalera sits next to her Super Mario Brothers chalk art creation she created recently. Photo courtesy of the Chalk n' Rock Festival
Lori Escalera sits next to her Super Mario Brothers chalk art creation she created recently. Photo courtesy of Lori Escalera

On Saturday and Sunday, barring a rainstorm, the streets of Bigfork will be flooded with chalk art during the inaugural Chalk n’ Rock Festival.

The festival will see several talented artists creating public art in 8-foot by 8-foot squares in the streets on Sept. 20-21. It will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday; and from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Sunday.

The Festival is intended, “as a celebration of performance art, including both the visual art created on the streets and the auditory art created on the stage,” it states on the festival website.

As the focal point of an event, street painting really began in the early 20th century when London held it’s first festival and competition in 1906. And the first international street painting competition didn’t happen until 1972, back in Italy.

Today, street painting is truly an international art form, with events in Italy, Germany, England, and the United States, to name a few; enough festivals that it’s again possible to make a living as a street artist.

Lori Escalera sits next to her mermaid chalk art creation. Photo courtesy of the Rock n' Chalk Festival.
Lori Escalera sits next to her mermaid chalk art creation. Photo courtesy of Lori Escalera

The Bigfork event also includes a talented group of local musicians. The bands set to perform during the free festival are Blue Smoke, The Bad Larry’s, the Ashley Creek Ramblers, The Kenny James Miller Band, The Christian Johnson Trio and the Fetveit Brothers.

This year’s featured artist is Lori Escalera, a professional street artist from Vista, Calif., who has been creating street art for more than 20 years.

This weekend she plans on reproducing an Andy Thomas western art piece titled “Russell Paints a Masterpiece.”

In her artist statement online, Escalera states that what draws her to street art is how public and accessible it is no matter where you are.

“There is something extraordinarily different about doing chalk in the street,” she writes. “The way the chalk emerges from the ground, the magnitude of the piece, the effect of the color of the artwork as we see it – all very different than the way we perceive the painter working in the studio. There is something about the viewer feeling like they are connected to the artist. The Madonnari (an official term for street art) is accessible to the public. Without the public, the Madonnari is nothing! It makes the viewer feel empowered and part of the art process.”

David Vale, one of the chief organizers of the Bigfork event, said they’ve modeled the idea of a street art festival after similar ones in Florida, California and Oregon.

The Bigfork Chamber of Commerce and the Montana Office of Tourism are two financial supporters of the festival. The chamber liked the idea immediately and promised to match the first $5,000 that organizers raised elsewhere.

The festival’s guest artist will be Bill Spiess and Vale said several area artists such as Tom Lewis and Colt Idol will try their hands at street art as well.

The band Blue Smoke performs at the Chalk n' Rock Festival this weekend.
The band Blue Smoke performs at the Chalk n’ Rock Festival this weekend. Photo courtesy of The Blue Smoke

“Bigfork is a town that has a number of artists who are not street artists, but a few of them are expanding their horizons so to speak and trying their hand in street art this weekend,” Vale said. “It’s exciting to see.”

Like Escalera, Vale said they’re intrigued to see how people take to the art, which will be created in a way that is a bit a-typical.

“It’s public because it’s on the streets and it’s not owned like on a canvas,” he said. “It’s drawn on the public canvas. We’re pretty excited about it and we’ll see what happens this weekend.”

He said while a downpour could ruin the opportunity to create any street art, he said they’re feeling good about the weather and hoping it’ll be nice enough for people to come take it in before it gets washed away.

“We’re optimistic,” he said. “And if we demonstrate that it works this year, I think it’ll continue on in the years to come.”

For more information, visit the festival online at chalknrock.org

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