From fire-breathing dragons to a cat that shoots lasers out of its eyes to a 6-foot-tall crooning clown, Chalk the Block has combined local and internationally renowned artists, art installations and music in the streets of Downtown El Paso since 2008.
Organizers announced the five installations, created by artists from around the nation, that will be in place at this year’s free event Oct. 6-8 during a news conference Wednesday at the Rudolph Volkwagen car dealership, the event’s sponsor.
“This is the 10th year for Chalk the Block,” said Ben Fyffe, assistant director of the City of El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department.
“We’re really excited to be at this point,” he said. “The event has grown by leaps and bounds, like the community has, over the last 10 years. When we first started, it was a one-day fest that involved 12 artists and drew about 5,000 people. Over the last few years, we’ve involved over 200 artists, over three days, drawing about 40,000 people to the heart of the Downtown Arts District.”
As local artists make Downtown their canvas and display chalk masterpieces on the sidewalks and walls of Arts Festival Plaza and surrounding areas, the five installations will give the festival its national and international flavor, Fyffe said.
The most well-known of the installations is renowned artist and musician Yoko Ono’s “Wish Tree,” an ongoing interactive art project where visitors are invited to tie wishes on trees, according to festival organizers.
“I’ve wanted to bring ‘Wish Tree’ to the festival for five years,” Fyffe said. “It finally worked out this year. We are incredibly honored and excited. She is one of the premier icons of contemporary art and contemporary music, whether you love or hate her. The piece is really beautiful and poetic.”
After Chalk the Block, wishes will be collected and sent to the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland. The tower is composed of a tall tower of light that is displayed each year starting on Oct. 9, the birthday of former-Beatles member John Lennon, and through the anniversary of his death Dec. 8.
Ono was Lennon’s wife of 11 years at the time he was shot and killed in New York in 1980.
Other installations during Chalk the Block are:
- “Spheres of Influence:” Los Angeles artists Curime Batliner and Jake Newsum’s piece created for the Mextropoli Festival in Mexico is part installation and part performance. It uses a robotic system to paint graphics on large-scale spheres and demonstrates how technology can transform public spaces.
- “Life Cube:” New York artist Scott Cohen’s Life Cube Project creates interactive installations meant to inspire the expression of goals, dreams, wishes and aspirations.
- “Cycle Sonic:” Pittsburgh’s Squonk Opera comprises an ensemble of 10 to 20 artists who create original music and design. “Cycle Sonic” features giant bike sculptures which will roam the festival, performing Squonk Opera’s post-industrial music, combining a live concert with transit. The group recently returned from a residency in China.
- “Sun Metro Bus — Art on the Move:” Curated by El Paso’s Kalavera Culture Shop, Sun Metro will allow one of its buses to be painted by local street artists in celebration of Chalk the Block’s 10th anniversary
El Paso artist Tino Ortega, the winner of Chalk the Block’s chalk-art competition in 2016, the event is important to the community and Downtown.
“(Chalk the Block) mirrors the growth that’s going on in the city,” Ortega said. “You see it in the private and public sectors, in the public installations of artwork and new businesses putting artwork in their (buildings). If you have a strong art community, you have a strong growth in other sectors, as well.”
Four artists — Christin Apodaca, Stephanie Garcia, Abel Saucedo and Matthew “JAM!” Martinez — will use chalk to create pieces on cars donated by the Rudolph car dealership to create “a moving, driving work of art,” Bustamante said.
Visitors to the festival will vote on the best car and the artist with the most votes will win a cash prize of $2,500. Second place will be awarded $1,250, third place $750 and fourth place $500.
Chalk the Block’s musical headliner is still to be announced, but organizers on Wednesday released the names of a handful of local artists who will perform live.
Brandon Bailey Johnson, Gila Monster, Sonido Cachimbo, Sha’Vonne, Fixed Idea and Frontera Bugalu will perform. Area DJs will play throughout the weekend.
“These events are important as we work to raise the profile of El Paso,” Fyffe said. “We often deal with a lot of negative perceptions about our community … and I think events like this help people understand the city is moving forward, that cool things happen here and we support creativity.”