Iowa has a lot of unique festivals and community celebrations and it's a big part of what makes our state so great. Personally, I love a good community celebration - especially in rural Iowa. Often, it's the biggest event of the year for that town and it's a great way to discover and cultivate new community leaders. That's important for the long-term success of our state.
Last week, as I was scrolling through the Travel Iowa website, I found something out of the norm. I saw where the town of Mount Vernon, in southeast Linn County, was scheduled to have a "Chalk the Walk" festival.
What does Chalk the Walk mean?
Well, the name sums it up pretty well.
Essentially, professional and accomplished artists as well as children and their parents or grandparents spend a weekend and utilize more than a 1000 pounds of colored chalk to create very beautiful masterpieces on the streets and sidewalks of downtown Mount Vernon. The concept is called Madonnari and it's the largest festival of it's kind in Iowa.
The Visit Mount Vernon / Lisbon page does a much better job explaining it than I could. However, there is judging of the art work and even prizes. First place is $250 and an invitation to be next year's featured artist.
Mount Vernon is a nice community - it's very historic in nature. In fact, many of the old houses and narrow streets give it a distinctly Northeast United States feel. It has a population of about 4500 and It's also home to one of Iowa's premier private colleges: Cornell College and it's 1200 students. It's close enough to Iowa City and Cedar Rapids that someone could commute to work there but certainly the college and economy locally looks to be quite healthy. I've been to Mount Vernon a time or two previously, but never for this festival - now in its 13th year.
After spending my morning first at the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market and then out and about in Clarence, which is about 20 miles from Mount Vernon, a buddy and I decided to check out the Chalk the Walk Festival.
After finally finding some parking, the first thing you notice is that there are people everywhere. It might have helped that it was one of the nicest days of the year (up to that point). If you are looking for a way to get people to your downtown, an event like this is very smart.
Artists are given an 8x10 section of pavement to create their masterpieces. According to the website, the organizers anticipated approximately 500 artists would participate in some way over the course of the weekend.
My friend and I walked up and down the streets several times. Some of the masterpieces were closer to being completed than others. There were some that seemed like they were just getting started.
As you can see, many/most artists created a grid system so they can ensure that their rendering closely matched the product on the concrete.
Here's an excellent example of how the grid system is implemented.
There is also a "collaborative centerpiece" where anyone, for a $10 donation, can sign up to take on a small square of a larger effort. This year's picture coincided with the Cinco de Mayo date. However, at the time I was there, very little of it was done.
I am sure it would look great once it's done.
Of course with any festival, especially on a warm day, they had some tents with refreshments for sale.
For those who wanted some music while they worked or enjoyed the art work, a few musicians were performing.
Just off the street, I found this beautiful statue.
There are also two gorgeous churches that are literally right across the street from each other.
Before departing the downtown area, my pal and I paid a quick visit to Chameleon's Pub and Grub. That's one of the better names for a college town watering hole that I've seen.
On our way back to the vehicle, we popped into an old school building that has since been turned into a commercial and artistic hub. There are a lot of old school buildings around Iowa and I'm glad to see Mount Vernon was able to utilize their old building for positive purposes. I would love to spend more time at the First Street Community Center during a future visit to town.
I definitely plan to get back to Mount Vernon again soon to do more exploring and to wander around the campus. There are some astonishingly beautiful buildings on campus. Perhaps you have a child or grandchild that loves art or playing with chalk in your driveway? You may want to add this to your itinerary for next May. It's always the first weekend of the month.