It’s no secret that the arts enrich our lives. Artistic expression gives society a lens through which we can deepen our understanding of our neighbors, our community, our own emotions, and the world around us. Increasingly, art is moving beyond the walls of art galleries and into the public spaces we share – through murals, sculpture, colorful streetscapes, and collaborative projects. A recent addition to Parkersburg’s ArtOberfest followed suit, bringing art and artists into the streets for a public celebration.

Chalk the Block joined the ArtOberfest for the first time this year, organized by a committee led by local photographer and artist Michelle Waters. While music, food, and art have always been a part of the fall festival, event organizers wanted to add an interactive aspect, giving festival goers a chance to see artists in action as they transformed Market Street into a public art gallery.

Elle Rosenstock getting into the creative process.

“I’ve always loved urban art, improv, installation art, and trying new media,” said Waters. Waters and the Parkersburg Art Center enthusiastically reached out to recruit artists and met their goal of having ten artists participate their first year. Participating artists included Brianna and James Bodie, Jeoria Province, Lavana Lemley, Bella Marteney, Isabella and Airika Gainer, Cam Benson, Bobby Rosenstock (with help from his daughter Elle), Ivy Herziges and Erica Ash. Water and her daughter Parker also joined in the fun, creating a flower piece together.

It was a great community building experience, as much as it was a great show of creativity!

Artists were each given an empty ‘frame’ on the street surface to fill with their vision. While a few of the artists participating had used chalk as a medium, most had never used chalk to make art before. “It was awesome to see a group of madly talented people take on a medium they’d not played with much, and just explode with it,” said Waters. “Everyone left with some pride in their commitment and the discovery of a new tool they might play with.”

Cam Benson working on his piece for Chalk the Block.
Each artist received a box of chalk pastels, thanks to sponsorship from Hall Financial.

Event organizers had no idea what type of art would be created, their goal was to bring people downtown and play. All were pleasantly surprised by the variety of pieces on display. Each artist brought their own flare to their work, creating a truly unique addition to the festival.

Each artist received a box chalk pastels, sponsored by Hall Financial as a part of the event. As the art grew on the streets, Waters said some of the artists were getting low on colors. Other artists, who were working in different color schemes, shared their colors with others. “Everyone also shared tips they’d picked up for blending, highlighting, and defining parts of their pieces,” she said. “It was a great community-building experience, as much as it was a great show of creativity!”

Artists working on their pieces for Chalk the Block.

In addition to the artists’ frames, festival-goers were able to make their own art in the Kids/Family areas on the sidewalk. Waters said there was a lot of engagement from the community. “I saw so many smiles on Saturday.”

There’s something empowering about knowing you’re trusted with a part of a busy, public real estate, and given free rein to fill it with your personal art.

A key part of Saturday’s experience was the closure of Market Street. Water said she and the other artists appreciate living in a city that is willing to block of a portion of a downtown street for the arts. “We felt like we were important enough to set aside space for. There’s something empowering about knowing you’re trusted with a part of a busy, public real estate, and given free rein to fill it with your personal art.”

Bobby Rosenstock’s final artwork on display on Market Street.

ArtOberfest enjoyed its largest crowd yet this year, thanks in part to beautiful weather, but also to the community’s growing appreciation of arts-focused events. In addition to Chalk the Block, ArtOberfest celebrated local theatre, music, sculpture, and more. Waters said she’d like to see poetry and spoken word, dance, and movement showcased at the festival in the future.

Artists working on their pieces for Saturday’s ArtOberfest.

“I think it’s important for people to see the arts as accessible and something they can be a part of,” said Waters. “It’s important for everyone to realize they can be an artist and/or an arts lover, and to know people who live in our city are capable of creating amazing things.” As an artist, Waters also believes it’s important to partner with groups like the Parkersburg Art Center, Artsbridge, and Downtown PKB, and to understand their role in wanting to see and encourage local artists. “Sharing our art with the public helps us connect on a level that can’t often be communicated with words, and when we can do that with our local neighbors, it only helps build community.”