Art mattered this weekend in Sacramento.
That was the message adorning the entrance to Fremont Park at 16th and Q streets, where scores of local artists had already assembled hours before the event’s official start time Sunday morning, ready to touch up their work.
But for Mary Adorno, who had no shoes on but at least 100 chunks of chalk lined up at her feet, “Art Matters” was not just a slogan used to fill a small sliver of concrete. It was a necessary reminder to the community.
The 28th annual Chalk It Up festival kicked off the previous morning, as both commissioned and amateur artists started turning designated sidewalk squares into temporary concrete murals.
By 9 a.m. Sunday, though, Adorno said she had already seen at least one fellow artist’s work ruined by a careless cyclist. A square decorated by koi was no more. Its artist had to start from the beginning.
Tire marks also put a damper on Adorno’s own swirling designs at the park entrance.
“I had people riding over this, and I had to come and touch it up,” she said, explaining her slogan as an effort to get the community to respect local art. “But I’ll be doing a dragonfly later today when I’m really warmed up.”
It wasn’t just bikes causing setbacks. Another trio of artists, Shelly Nolan-Gonzalez and her two eager daughters, were putting the finishing touches on their sidewalk square. In it: three colorful horses set against a purple and black background. The mother called it a family project representing “fantasy through youth.”
They started it Saturday and were nearly finished but returned in the morning to find that footprints had muddied the chalk. Nolan-Gonzalez said it took about two hours to repair the damage, showing off her hands, which had turned pitch-black from the extra work.
Nolan-Gonzalez and her daughters, 9 and 10 years old, were one of relatively few groups not drawing on behalf of a sponsor. Chalk It Up, which has served as a fundraising and awareness effort for arts education each Labor Day weekend for nearly 30 years, has what Nolan-Gonzalez called a straightforward registration system for those not commissioned — sign up, be assigned a sponsor and a square, and start drawing.
But with no sponsors left when they got their spot, Nolan-Gonzalez and her daughters had free rein to draw what they wanted in Square No. 205.
“I’ve done (chalk art) before, raising funds for day cares, but I’ve never done this event before,” Nolan-Gonzalez said, adding that it’s the first chalk project in which her daughters have joined her.
Perusing the Fremont Park perimeter, sponsorship is prominent, and the event’s rules dictate that sponsors’ names must be included using at least 6-inch letters.
Many squares are dedicated to education and the arts, with schools and K-12 art advocacy groups promoting themselves with colorful portraits and messages.
Others are more in the vein of corporate marketing, by businesses both local and nationwide. Dad’s Kitchen in Land Park has a square advertising its Guy Fieri-approved burgers. Famous Footwear has at least two at the park, within a short stroll of each other.
The art styles range from realist to abstract to plain written text. Squares with overt political or religious statements are forbidden by the event’s rules.
The mother-daughters team worked solely in dry chalk, as did Adorno. But a few artists crumbled chalk into plastic cups filled with water, then applied it to the concrete using paintbrushes or other tools.
It’s a technique that Adorno likened to watercolor. She personally believes it’s cheating and shouldn’t be allowed.
“It should be done with your hands or with other pieces of chalk or stubs,” Adorno said. “A lot of them can’t get it done without doing the water-based coats first. ... All my work, you feel it in your fingertips. They’re bleeding afterwards.”
On the opposite corner of the park from Adorno’s space, Andrea Johnston worked hard at a double-wide landscape of birds flying over rice fields and wetlands. Her work was sponsored by the California Rice Commission, a Sacramento Valley-based organization.
It was an educational experience for the artist.
“I asked a lot about what kind of animals were in the rice fields,” Johnston said, “and I had no idea that the white-faced ibis were so prolific in the rice fields. I thought, ‘What a cool bird to do.’ ”
A Sacramento native, Johnston has a decade of chalk experience, evidenced by her close attention to detail in a piece more photorealistic than most on display. Working all day Saturday and resuming the next day, she was about one-third of the way done by 10 a.m. Sunday.
Though not an artist by profession, Johnston said she has participated in the event for at least eight years. She considers the Chalk It Up festival to be performance art, working in public and interacting with an audience of passers-by.
“We all get along and share techniques,” she said.
The slogan Adorno etched beneath Fremont Park’s entrance, “Art Matters,” isn’t an official one on behalf of the festival but does echo its mission statement: “to empower and support the next generation of Sacramento artists through targeted art grants for young artists.”
More information about the annual festivities can be found at its website.
The event continues Monday, with festivities including live music inside Fremont Park and chalk art for public viewing from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.