Chalk Festival Orange Portrait

C Fi 9928

Since 2007, chalk artists have gathered annually in Sarasota County to create works of art that will disappear with the next hard rain. It’s an art form that originated in Italy in the 1600s. Those artists – known as “Madonnari” for their religious-themed work – laid the groundwork for what has become one of Sarasota’s most popular annual events. The Chalk Festival is the brainchild of Denise Kowal who, in the interest of full disclosure, came up with the idea for this Avenue of Art.

Kowal was then President of the Burns Square Property Owners Association and conceived of the Festival as an event that would inspire community, culture and commerce. Its first iteration found 22 artists creating sidewalk paintings in Burns Court. Only three of the artists had previous street painting experience. Over the course of the week-end, more than 5,000 visitors watched the paintings come into existence and chatted with the artists about their work. Clearly, there was an eager audience just waiting for this type of experience.

Over time, the Festival grew and moved to the Venice Municipal Airport. In 2010, 250 artists from across the world were there to showcase their talent. The Festival had begun featuring anamorphic – or 3D --street art that would jump out at visitors when they stood at the point conveniently identified by the artist. (Needless to say, photo opportunities abound.)

In 2014, the Festival was the site of a new Guinness World Record for the largest 3D pavement painting when Kurt Wenner designed a 22,000 square foot megalodon shark with its mouth gaping wide open. It took a village to get that painting done. More than 200,000 visitors came to enjoy the work, with an economic impact to Sarasota of approaching $10 million.

Kowal continues to employ her own creative juices to develop additional ways for the community to enjoy this unique art form. In 2020, the Festival created a temporary 3D Illusion Museum where visitors could interact with each painting. It was a memorable experience, although its run was limited due to the onset of the pandemic.

Happily, the Festival will return in full force this fall. Mark your calendar now to head to the Venice Municipal Airport on Halloween week-end to enjoy some “Spirited Festivities.”

Chalk Festival was painted by Lori Escalera, a California artist who has participated in the Chalk Festival since its inception. This work recreates a painting by Sofia Simona Lanfredi, who came from Italy to participate in the 2015 Chalk Festival. The theme that year was “Eat, Drink and Be Merry.”

Notes from the Artist:

Lori Escalera comments "This piece I was honored to recreate. The original was done for the Chalk Festival by Simona Lanfredi Sofia. I was pretty exhausted by the time I got to this last piece. Simona did such an awesome job, I couldn’t do it justice!"


Lori full head

Lori Escalera

Lori Anne Escalera A native Los Angelino, Lori centered her artistic life Southern California. She has had a full career as a corporate advertising graphic designer working with aerospace, advertising, institutional and manufacturing firms. In 1981, at the age of 23, she started her own business. In 1994, Lori organized "The Culver City A.R.T. Group,” serving as its President, as well as “BCR” (environment, community, arts Nonprofit). Lori’s interests shifted away from commercial interests towards fine Art. focus revolved around the figure. Lori questions the artist's place in the continuum of art history, as well as contemporary cultural beliefs in a relationship to history and myth. Lori is a cross medium artist and exhibits her art on paper, canvas, ceramic or in the street. Her work takes on an energy and vibrancy that refreshes the spirit and enlivens the imagination.

Since 1994, Lori has enjoyed participating in many Street Painting festivals in the USA, Canada, China and Mexico, helping raise money and awareness for many causes. She is a professional and award winning Madonnari Street Painter. Lori was an inaugural “Featured Artist” at the 2007 International Sarasota Chalk Festival, and featured pavement artist in 2008 Xian China pre-Olympic festivities. In 2012, 2014 and 2015 she participated as part of an international team of artists on three projects for The Chalk Festival, designed by Kurt Wenner (two of which entered Guinness World Record Projects for the Largest Anamorphic Street Painting).

Over the years, Lori has instructed hundreds of children and adults her ideas about art history, drawing and painting, through cultural arts programming, museum classes, art camps, and private lessons. She has led the creation of several community murals in Southern California, working with community groups and the underserved. Many of these murals provide vocational training for youth allowing local residents to combat community deterioration.

Lori writes and speaks on Art. Her paper on Gender, Art Ideology and Neuro-aesthetics (TRAC 2015 Proceedings – published in “As It Is”); Pavement Art as Fine Art Canon (TRAC 2018 proceedings); The Occident, The Orient and The Odalisque – Reimagined (TRAC 2019 proceedings).

Education: B.A. Design Communication Cum Laude SDSU; A.A.: WLAC, Commercial Art Certification/A.A.: LATTC; Humanities Minor: DHSU


Video documentary about Lori:

"I am eager to return to Florida every year! Traveling for artmaking is integral to my work as an artist. Engaging with new communities is a pleasure. No matter where in the world I travel, learning about other communities enriches me. The research and preparation for the artwork excite me. My mind runs wild as I take in fascinating information about historic people and places. It makes the fabric of my own existence more textured in the process adding to the vocabulary in my visual artmaking. When I was asked to participate, after a year of COVID isolation, I was nervous. Could I do it at age 64? Could I get back in the street, muster the elements (it was over 90˚!), and do a good job? I’ve had multiple joint replacements in the past decade and I was afraid. I am grateful that the “Avenue of Art” staff helped me make extra preparations to succeed. One striking thing is of the many people who stop by to appreciate the art and share their fears about their own artmaking. There is fear of sharing our inner identity thinking that who we are is not “good” enough to find acceptance."

Written By

Nanette Crist

Nanette Crist is a retired lawyer who began blogging when she moved to Florida. It was an online diary of sorts, a way to keep track of her new life. It was also a good way to share her discoveries with friends and family outside the area. Over time, Nanette realized her writing makes her experience the world differently. She keeps an eye out for interesting things to write about and then delves more deeply into them as she crafts her words. It's all about telling the story. Nanette's blog can be found at

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