Weather relents for VSAA’s annual sidewalk art display

By Howard Buck, Columbian staff writer

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Talk about collaboration, that was the official theme for Monday’s annual chalk art event at the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics.

Eighth-grader Tala Karmy-Jones, born to Canadian parents, wasn’t sure how many stars and stripes should grace her large American flag.

Better yet, someone showed her how to use a paint brush to smear a few strong chalk strokes into a solid sheet of color. A huge time savings, after she’d drawn a large patch of blue sky using a mega-chalk stick the size of an aerosol can.

“It’s fun,” said Tala, 14, who concedes she’s a bit obsessive-compulsive. “So, I have to have everything colored in, and it’s taking forever,” she said.

Actually, the biggest assist came from Mother Nature.

Despite some gloomy clouds, the day stayed dry. That’s a far cry from three postponements and cancellation a year ago. Or the June 2009 downpour that washed away hours of students’ effort just prior to completion.

“That was kind of sad. They got to understand what temporary art is,” said Michael Carr, VSAA humanities teacher, who introduced the chalk exercise five years ago after seeing its power in Europe.

No such troubles this time, as more than 40 students at the grades 6-12 school colored in large squares on the school’s concrete courtyard.

Inside six hours, they brought to life detailed sketches they’d drawn, incorporating written poetry for deeper meaning. Normally restricted to Literary Art class students, the event was opened to a broader group this year. That included several students skunked by the near-ceaseless rains of 2010.

Haylie Bolte, 14, an eighth-grader, was glad for a second try. Though like others, she found the task of reproducing a clever sketch on a large concrete panel, more than 10 feet square, a bit taxing.

“Yeah, when you do a smaller drawing, it’s a lot easier,” Haylie said, giving Tala some moral support.

The chalk colors were bright; the emotions and meanings, more nuanced.

Tala’s patriotic square was based on a striking photograph of a toddler atop his father’s shoulders, kissing a name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C.

Haylie used large footprints to represent “a guy who leaves the mainstream” to carve his unique life journey, she said.

Emme Shoup, a sixth-grader, outlined leaves on a tree of knowledge that sprung from a pencil shaft.

Her written text spelled out: “This pencil is a tree. Its leaves are ideas. Write now. Here lies your future.”

Some old skating kneepads eased her task of portraying the power of good decisions.

“I was really excited to try chalk art. It’s a whole new element,” said Emme, 11. “I’ve gotten a lot of chances here (at VSAA)” to branch out, she said.

Overseeing the affair — as was an upstairs mounted camera, to capture the work in time-lapse style — was Haily Heath, whose junior project was organizing and chronicling the entire day.

For an encore in 2012, she’d like to take it all to the streets: a prominent, accessible site such as Esther Short Park or outside Vancouver’s new downtown City Hall.

“The point of this is that it was to be shared with the community, and it never really has been,” Haily said.

The 17-year-old was perfectly happy to stage and manage, rather than sketch. “I don’t have the patience to sit there” for hours to complete the short-lived creations, she said, admiringly.

Howard Buck: 360-735-4515 or howard.buck@columbian.com.