Once upon a time, the chalk and cement combo meant a whole lot of scribbling, stick figures, and occasionally a few badly spaced hopscotch squares.
But every Friday in downtown Tacoma, from spring to early autumn, that all changes. Professional artists and art students, Web developers and kids, stay-at-home moms and businessmen all try their hand at the dusty, colorful medium, leaving ephemeral, lively traces on a park that had been slated to be fenced off and left for dead.
The Frost Park story began late last winter when a few urban denizens were inspired to “take back” a pocket of land, named for fallen police officer Larry Frost. Kevin Freitas, founder of feedtacoma.com, and Joe Izenman, his co-worker at Sitecrafting, were among the first to try having a weekly lunch at the park as a way to show the city that the space was viable, not just for crime. And then came Web designer RR Anderson, occasional instigator of mischief on “the Internets” as well as local political cartoonist for the Weekly Volcano. Throwing down the gauntlet (via the blogosphere) he challenged all comers to try to beat him for the title of “Best Illustrator in the Universe (of Tacoma).”
Word spread like a computer virus, and the weekly grassroots event became a place where bloggers became visible, where business people actually stopped to look at the ground on their way to lunch, and where politicians and businessmen all took note.
The competitions rules were, and are, simple: competitors pick a spot in the pavement and compose a piece of art. They have from noon to 1 p.m. to complete the work, and then photos — masses of them — are taken and posted to feedtacoma.com to be voted on. At the end of the day (midnight!) all votes are tallied, and the winner is declared.
Last year, key players including Andrea Trenbeath Lowen, James Stowe, Mark Monlux, and Lance Kagey, alongside RR Anderson, showed that even artists in cake, letterpress, and Web design have some pretty impressive technical skills. But then, this wasn’t too surprising, given all had impressive art backgrounds. The big surprises came when newcomers such as Dawn Fortner, Ariel, Jeremy “the Garfield Kid,” Adam Manley “Adam the Alien,” and Elliot Trotter came on board, adding their talents to the mix. And with the latter two, filmmaking became a part of the fun and games.
Now in its fourth week for the new season, the Frost Park Chalk Challenge is on again, with all the aforementioned key players, plus weekly newcomers and passers-through. While the economy seems to have impacted corporate sponsorships, Kevin Freitas doesn’t see this as a troubling thing. “The spirit is still there,” He notes.
[Frost Park Chalk Challenge. Fridays, noon to 1 p.m., (voting online till midnight at feedtacoma.com), corner of Pacific and Commerce and Ninth Street, Tacoma]