Sarasota Chalk Festival & Siesta Key Crystal Classic Sand Sculpture Competition

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There are a handful of events in Sarasota that your SarasotaFoodies have on their Do Not Miss List, and, believe it or not, a number of them are not food related.

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My two personal favorite “non-food” events are the Sarasota Chalk Festival and the Siesta Key Crystal Classic Sand Sculpture Competition.  Both take place this weekend, with the artists taking to the streets for the Chalk Festival on Wednesday, November 13th and the Crystal Classic sculptors hitting the beach on Friday, November 15th.  Both competitions end on Sunday, the 17th, but the artwork is left — at least temporarily — until sundown on Monday, November 18th.  If you don’t mind a crowd, Sunday is the best day to view either event and meet the artists, while Monday morning is the best time to view the artwork and sculptures without the crowds — but the artists will be long gone, so you’ll miss the chance to meet and greet these amazing visionaries, many hailing from Europe, the Far East and out of the way places like Bradenton. . .

Let me gush about the Sarasota Chalk Festival first, which covers 4 blocks of South Pineapple Avenue, in the historic Burns Square District of downtown Sarasota.  Each year, artists from around the world apply their craft using just chalk, some of it of the 3-D variety, to create jaw-dropping masterpieces covering the current year’s theme.  Last year’s theme was “Circus City, USA’, which paid tribute to Sarasota’s rich history with the circus and there was no shortage of three dimensional drawings — A trompe l’oeil triomphe– literally popping off the pavement.  In 2013 the theme is Legacy of Valor – commemorating our veterans from the Armed Forces.

The two festies are a coin toss, in our opinion. Seriously, you won’t find a more compelling weekend to get out and enjoy this incredible corner of the planet than this. Just bring your camera (and your chin-strap, ’cause this is jaw-dropping stuff.)

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I enjoy dropping by the Chalk Festival late in the day Friday or early Saturday, while the artwork is being blocked out and the creations are in the process of coming to life.   It is interesting that these creations, some small, and some quite large, all start with a grid that breaks original concept into smaller parts that are drawn, square by square, until the artwork is complete.

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Even when I think the artwork looks complete, you’ll still see chalk artists adding that “one last detail”, right up to the time of the moment judging begins.   There’s even a few side streets cordoned off for kids to try their hand at creating artwork,  so if you bring your children, make sure they try their had at being a part of the festival.

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But, oh!  I forgot the most important part!  The Sarasota Chalk Festival is FREE!  Sure, you’ll want to buy water, beer or food from one of the street vendors, or drop in on one of the restaurants lining Burns Square — but if you do, expect a crowd. and usually a smaller, event specific menu, especially if you drop by Owen’s Fish Camp, Salvatore’s, Nancy’s BBBQ or Matto Matto.

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In 2012, international celebrity and local resident, Nik Wallenda and his wife appeared at the Chalk Festival, working two 60′ sway poles high above the event, amazing everyone as they switched poles in mid-air and then dropped, head first, to the ground!   How nice of both Nik and Erendira to bring the Greatest Show on Earth to the Greatest Chalk Festival on Earth!

Hat’s off to event organizer, Denise Kowal, for founding and sponsoring the event for the last 6 years. (honestly . . . can you believe this drawing is one dimensional?  These kids look like they’re standing on the pavement, not drawn on it!

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Not to be outdone, are the talented sculptors at the Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sand Sculpture Contest.

Now this event, like the Chalk Festival, takes place over several days, and you should try to stop by early on Friday to watch how the artists start with a big pile of sand, and then — with only water and a little Elmer’s Glue (which is biodegradable) create soaring sand sculptures that the artists themselves describe as looking almost as if they were “carved in marble.’

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Also working with a theme, usually one around conservation, teams of artists typically work 360 degrees around each sculpture, sometimes with one side of the piece relating a different or opposing story to the other side.   For example, the piece above, built in 2012, was called The Fine Print, and showed a man looking into a magnifying glass at a woman on the other side of the sculpture.  The opposing side, shown below, shows the woman looking into the same magnifying glass at the man.  Way cool!

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The event, which began in 2010, benefits the Mote Marine Laboratory’s work in sea turtle conservation along 35 miles of Sarasota County’s shoreline.   Visitors pay $5 at the entry to the festival, but also contribute to Mote Marine by purchasing from local sponsors selling food, drink, sunglasses, hats, artwork and other crafts along the perimeter of the sculpture area.

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Want to visit the event and avoid the struggle to find parking?  There’s a Park and Ride Shuttle that charges only $5 per vehicle departing from Riverview High School – located off Proctor Road, east of US 41, from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm on Saturday and Sunday, so bring the kids and make a day out of it.   Just don’t forget the sun screen!

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