Something odd happened in the 500 block of Main Street in downtown Buffalo on Saturday afternoon: There were lots of people.
On weekends, this section of Main, which is still closed to vehicle traffic, usually looks like a ghost town.
But the block bounded by Mohawk and Huron Streets was alive with dance music as hundreds gathered for the second annual ChalkFest – an invitation for children and professional artists to turn paving into artwork. The event continues from noon to 5 p.m. today.
“It’s desolate, usually, during the weekend, so this is nice to have everyone down,” said Tony Deaville, of Kenmore, who teaches naval science at the nearby Western New York Maritime Charter School.
As Deaville spoke, his 12-year-old daughter was drawing an interesting picture of a walrus using a bunny as a life preserver. She was on the side of Main where anyone could draw, but her picture matched the quality of the seasoned artists’ work across the street.
Deaville brought his son last year, and he said this year’s effort was organized better and had more food and more people.
ChalkFest was organized by the 500 Block Association of Main Street, a group of residents and business owners who are trying to revive this section of Main. John Volpe, who is co-chairman of the group, lives in the building next to J.P. Fashion and said he was “psyched” to see so many people enjoying themselves.
Though ChalkFest is free, proceeds from T-shirt sales and rental space for the array of food trucks were donated to Young Audiences of Western New York, which supports education in the arts. The proceeds from the sale of water bottles went to the SPCA Serving Erie County.
On one side of the street, artists who reserved their own square space competed for prizes by drawing pictures related to an “Alice in Wonderland” theme.
Organizers of the event commissioned professional artist Michael Macaulay, who came from East Greenwich, R.I., for the second year. Macaulay was working on a large picture of a spooky-looking Cheshire cat from “Alice in Wonderland” on top of a tree at night, and depicted beneath the tree was a passageway to a serene-looking castle during the day.
Macaulay put an outline of footprints in front of the picture, and the image appeared three-dimensional to observers – as if the tree was coming up out of the pavement and the passageway was underground.
Macaulay noted that he works in all sorts of mediums, but he particularly enjoys doing performance art at events like ChalkFest. Last year, he drew a Buffalo Sabres-themed picture. “You get to do it in front of people, and they get to enjoy it while you’re creating it,” Macaulay said.
Less-experienced artists also joined the fun.
Thomas DeGraff, a University at Buffalo architecture student minoring in art, saw a Craigslist post calling for artists and signed up. He was drawing the “unbirthday” scene from “Through the Looking Glass,” the sequel to “Alice in Wonderland.”
“I didn’t think it was going to be this intense,” DeGraff said of the work involved.
Across the street, Frank Russom, of North Buffalo, was watching the progress of his young daughters, Julie and Josie, who were drawing next to his wife, Gretchen. They were at ChalkFest for the first time.
The Russom family’s Saturday schedule was out of a Buffalo city planner’s dreams. They drove to ChalkFest from North Buffalo and then planned to take the Metro Rail to Canalside, enjoy the waterfront and grab something to eat.
Music playing in the background was interrupted to announce a hopscotch tournament.
Nelson Rivera, who is part of the 500 Block Association and a deejay at ChalkWalk, said this year’s turnout was probably double last year’s.
“There’s a lot of life going on down here,” Rivera said. “Buffalo is expanding a lot.”