By Matt Fernandez
Attendees of the Santa Clarita Chalk Festival watched in awe as chalk artist Shuji Nishimura transformed the blank asphalt of Main Street in Newhall into the grinning face of a chimpanzee.
After three days of work, artists proudly displayed 30 different pieces and original works of chalk art on the final day of the 2018 Santa Clarita Chalk Festival, presented by the Old Town Newhall Association (OTNA). As part of the closing day festivities, dancers from the Center Stage Dance Academy performed throughout the day in collaboration with professional street artist Lorelle Miller, who created a piece titled “Fairy Garden in a Teacup.”
“I had been talking with a friend about all the art that we wanted to keep bringing to Santa Clarita, and that’s when Lorelle told me she was working on a fairy piece,” said Kari Hollingsworth, owner of Center Stage Dance Academy. “That’s when we began to talk about the possibility of combining our different types of art together to make the piece come alive. Every time the girls have come up to dance it drew a big crowd, and people told me they were moved to tears.”
Miller said that she worked for about 30 hours on her chalk piece, not including the days spent creating the painted, upright backdrop that combines with the street art to create a three-dimensional effect.
“It was hard to hold back the tears the first time the girls danced on my piece it was so wonderful,” Miller said, regarding her idea to have the dancers come and perform on her work. “I looked at the faces of the audience and it was evident on their faces how much they enjoyed it, I don’t think you can put it into words. This is the first time that I’ve combined dance with my art and I would definitely like to do something like it again.”
Nishimura found out about the festival from other artists he knew. Nishimura said his love for The Beatles and the festival’s theme of “Wonder, Wit, & Whimsy” inspired his original piece, “The Beatlezoo,” which recreated the “Let It Be” album cover but replaced the band members as a lion, panda, koala and a chimpanzee.
“I chose to do a piece with animals because there are a lot of families and kids coming through,” Nishimura said. “I feel like I made the right choice because the kids have been really excited by seeing the lion and the koala. Events like this are great because they allow friends and families to gather for a good time and it also lets me meet new artists and see their work.”
The festival drew over 3,000 residents over the three days and about 1,500 visitors on Sunday alone, according to Sue Bird, chair of the OTNA. One guest, Newhall resident Alex Dedote, said that he brought his family after he saw it while driving by and was glad to see the city host a weekend event where his kids could both see the art and play with chalk.
While there are currently no formal plans for the festival to return next year, Bird said that there has been and overwhelmingly positive reception and high community demand. She said that if the festival does return, she would like to expand to include more interactive events and cater to teenagers and adults as well as young children.
“This event was such a huge success but we couldn’t have done it without the community’s support,” Bird said. “Part of the beauty of it is that chalk is such a simple medium, but as we have seen, it can be used in such diverse ways.”