On a Houston Street closed to traffic Saturday, Alyssa Hermosa, 4, grinned as she put the finishing touches on a smiling chalk stick figure holding a massive purple and yellow flower.
“They get to show their creativity,” her mom, Sandra Hermosa, said when asked why she and her daughter spent their afternoon downtown for Artpace’s 15th Chalk It Up event.
Chalk It Up organizers transformed busy downtown blocks into community canvasses Saturday for the annual festival. It featured free-drawing zones and more intricate murals from individual artists, school teams, and corporate sponsors.
Chalk It Up is the largest community event Artpace puts on each year. It is a significant fundraiser for the nonprofit entity, founded by philanthropist and artist Linda Pace, known for its international residency program.
Since its inaugural year in 2004, the festival has also helped breathe new life into the downtown area around Houston Street, said Riley Robinson, who has served as Artpace’s director since April.
“Today Houston Street is a vibrant center of business and tourism, frequented by San Antonians and tourists,” Robinson said at a news conference ahead of the event.
Scattered rain showers didn’t deter thousands of people from visiting the four blocks of Main Avenue and two blocks of Houston Street shut down to traffic on Saturday.
Around 70 teamwork groups representing school and community groups created painstaking murals, many of them depicting themes from San Antonio’s 300-year history.
The main sponsors of the event included Argo Group, H-E-B, and VIA Metropolitan Transit, which offered free bus service on its VIVA routes downtown. The Rivard Report was among the event’s media sponsors.
Also on Houston Street, Bryanna Derderian, 32, and her friend David Alvarez worked on an elaborate mural featuring a mashup of Super Mario characters and the Grecian hordes from the movie 300, a play on San Antonio’s Tricentennial.
At the center of the mural was Derderian’s rendition of Bowsette, a genderbent version of the Mario villain Bowser that’s emerged from Internet meme culture in the past few months.
“I do this every year, kind of pick something topical,” she said. Her past chalk murals have featured the animated show Rick and Morty and a mashup between Stranger Things and Pokémon GO.
“I think it’s a very open environment; it’s very relaxed,” she said when asked what it’s like being a visual artist in San Antonio. “It’s not uncommon to show up for a gallery in bluejeans.”
John Medina, who teaches art at Henry Ford Academy, said ahead of the event that Chalk It Up is vital for “place-making in San Antonio” and a fun way to engage residents in the arts, often for the first time.
“It takes art into the community,” Medina said. “It gets people involved who have never created art before. … Whatever walk of life we come from, everybody can pick up a piece of chalk and draw.”