Organizers are still cobbling together figures and analyzing drone pictures (yes, they’ve arrived in Southwest Florida), but the Sarasota Chalk Festival held in Venice this weekend brought in an estimated 100,000 people and may have broken a Guinness World Record for the largest 3D pavement art.
The megalodon shark, honoring Venice’s unofficial status as Shark Tooth Capital of the World, brought together 45 artists from 28 countries to create a painting a quarter-mile in perimeter on a runway at the Venice Airport. Two other staging grounds—on Miami Avenue and at the Venice Cultural Arts campus—gave artists a huge canvas to sketch their interpretation of extinct and endangered species, including professional, teen and toddler-aged artists.
“It’s been so great, just crazy great,” said Chalk Festival founder Denise Kowal, who was in the midst of giving tours to school children Monday morning. She expected 450 children before day's end.
Kowal, who moved the festival to Venice after years of bumping heads with Sarasota leaders, praised Venice community leaders for being “so involved and supportive. I’ve talked to the mayor and the city manager every day,” she said. “It’s been exhilarating.”
Mayor John Holic helped park cars at the airport, where 4,000 cars paid $10 to park on Sunday alone.
“The fest brought a lot of life to the city,” Holic said Monday morning as he walked down Miami Avenue to view the artwork, minus the big crowds. “It brought in a lot of people who had never been to Venice before and a lot of people saw the city in a new light. We have new restaurants and businesses. The downtown merchants are just tickled.”
Kowal served as a docent in front of the megalodon drawing Sunday afternoon (the only way to experience the breadth and detail of the pavement art was to pay $5 for a turn to stand on a platform in front of it). Hundreds of others milled around airport grounds, many waiting to board a charter bus to go to the rest of the festival, about a mile away.
On her knees, Vermont artist Katie Runde worked on her mélange of endangered animals drawing at the Cultural Campus, as throngs of people circled past her. She enjoyed staying at the nearby Tropical Breeze motel with the community of other artists and being able to walk everywhere.
“At first I was worried about enough people showing up,” she said. “But the crowds have been great.”
The Kim family enjoyed the fest with their two young daughters, Sunday morning, arriving at 10 a.m. to beat the heat and the crowds.
“This is crazy good for kids and good for families,” said Janna Kim, a Venice mother. “I’m so glad they decided to do this.”
The Clevenger family from Winter Haven spent two days in Venice to go to the Blues Festival, held Saturday at Maxine Barritt Park, and the Chalk Festival. “It’s been great,” said Robert Clevenger, as his daughter Zoee, 7, and son Davis, 9, sketched chalk drawings in the “Little Chalkers” children’s area on the Cultural Campus. “We’ll be back.”
Special thanks to Marsha Quimette for helping with photos.