By Sara Smola
On Father’s Day weekend, Pasadena’s sidewalks underwent a colorful transformation, turning into a multitude of murals that ranged from renditions of famous paintings to contemporary interpretations of popular culture to completely original and imaginative displays—all made with chalk. Thousands flocked to the 26th annual Pasadena Chalk Festival to experience the family-friendly event, produced by the Paseo and Light Bringer Project.
Founded in 1990, Light Bringer Project is a nonprofit, Pasadena-based arts organization whose mission is to build community through arts and educational programs for underserved youth in the greater Pasadena and Los Angeles area. The organization also partners with local organizations, including Villa Esperanza Services, to help individuals with special needs.
Light Bringer Project devotes the bulk of its attention to youth development with programming in nearly a dozen schools. “While we became known along the way as a major producer of cultural events, like the Pasadena Chalk Festival, LitFest Pasadena, and the Pasadena Doo Dah Parade, 90 percent of our work is done with schools, with public schoolchildren in relation to not only developing a creative voice but creating career pathways that connect the dots from where they are now on to college and career,” explains Tom Coston, president of Light Bringer Project. “Our programs are not necessarily teaching art in classrooms per se, but they’re [connecting] young people with creative professionals who mentor them.”
The Pasadena Chalk Festival was inspired by a Light Bringer Project intern’s travels abroad. “[The intern] had a beautiful photograph of a rendition of a masterpiece that an artist had done on the boulevard of Paris, and she said, ‘Look what this guy did with chalk! We should do this in front of City Hall.’ And back then, our deal was we just wanted to try different things; we put out the call in 1993 for visual artists to come out and draw in chalk in front of City Hall,” Coston recalls. “We got a hundred artists who came out and they were really nervous about it. They’d never done chalk paintings, number one, and number two, they were nervous about the fact that the public would be watching them. It was a real experiment. It was 95 degrees, the concrete in front of City Hall was not great, and we had everything going against us.”
Yet, despite the initial obstacles in its inaugural year, the event drew more artists the next year, and the next. In 2010, the festival was named the largest street-painting festival by Guinness World Records—thanks to more than 600 artists creating murals over the expanse of three football fields at the Paseo Colorado and the Civic Auditorium Concourse. “Every year we have larger numbers,” Coston says, noting that more than 200 murals by 600 artists were completed over Father’s Day weekend, drawing a crowd estimated at more than 100,000. “We’re really proud of that.”