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ChalkFest: Gone with the click of an automatic sprinkler

by on July 17th, 2008

Wausau’s ChalkFest was a hugely successful event…on Saturday and Sunday when the artists were spending literally hours creating their chalk masterpieces. Fast forward to Monday and reality hits as the city’s automatic sprinkler system kicks in. Thoughtless oversight? Or intentional washout?

I talked to many of the artists during the weekend, some of whose fingers were rubbed raw from blending chalk colors on the bumpy blacktop as they painstakingly etched their drawings to perfection. Some camped out next to their allotted square space (seriously, there were tents) and spent the entire two days creating and improving their personal masterpieces. Many of the drawings were group efforts: the “Last Supper” was a conglomerate of art students from UWMC; a peace sign mural was created by two best friends; a series of three cartoons was set in sequence by an entire family. Every chalk drawing seemed to have a story.

It was an honor to be a part of the event as an observer…as well as a family member of one of the artists. If you attended the event, you couldn’t help but feel intense pride from the artists, their families and friends. Smiles, hugs, oohs and aahs were prevalent as you walked around the city square, studying and admiring unique presentations from amateur to accomplished artists. And there was one overhanging and often-spoken phrase that marked the weekend: “Thank God it didn’t rain.”

This year’s ChalkFest was a well-publicized event and the kind not to be missed by many in our community. If you happened to be out of town that weekend, you could be calmed by the fact that, if it didn’t rain, you could take a trip downtown on Monday and view the drawings in their finality.

As it didn’t rain at all on Sunday, I took a trip back downtown on Monday with my children to ooh and aah at the chalk masterpieces and have fun talking about the sharks and Nemos and lions and Tiggers and tweety birds and daffy ducks and Sylvester the cats… What we found were shadows of artworks, empty squares of blacktop and award signs posted next to top-voted drawings– but no drawings to view.

What happened? Did it mystically rain throughout the day or night? Did the stronger-than-average wind blow all the chalk off the square? Did too many people walk on the drawings and erase the chalk with their shoes? As I was asking these questions out loud to my children, a passerby noted: “The automatic sprinklers came on and washed all the drawings away.”

Wow. That answer blew my mind. Were the artists aware this would happen? Was Wausau Area Events made aware of the quick demise these drawings would receive? It’s rather ironic. With such a looming fear of rain washing away the personal presentations, our own city sprinklers washed them away within hours of their completion. I’m sure there are logical reasons why the automatic sprinklers couldn’t be delayed a day or two to preserve this unique event, but seriously, it feels a bit hard-nosed that the efforts of our community could be so effortlessly erased.

There’s always next year. And the lesson learned is….well, you can fill in the rest of that statement.

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