Amid pandemic, Berkeley community finds inspiration at chalk art festival

Students painted on the ground with chalk

Berkeley students worked on an illustration depicting the “eye” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. (Photo courtesy of Emma Tracy)

UC Berkeley’s campus community recently put aside the coronavirus pandemic’s turbulent times — for a few days, at least — to embrace creativity and community through public art.

From Sept. 25 to 28, Berkeley’s Dia De Madonnari, an art festival that adhered to social distancing, gave UC Berkeley students and city of Berkeley residents an opportunity to express themselves through street paintings. Participants, both individuals and groups, chose from more than 10 different locations in and around Berkeley to create their own chalk illustrations depicting current events and experiences around racial justice, connection and the environment.

The artists also brought attention to organizations and individuals that they feel are having a positive impact on the community.

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Sponsored by Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design Diversity Fund, the three-day event included more than 20 participants, some as young as age 6 and from local elementary schools.

The event was organized and led by Berkeley students Natalie Musick and Emma Tracy, who provided pastels for the artists and cash prizes of up to $200 for the best entries.

Tracy said the timing of and recruitment for the event were affected by the smoke from recent wildfires, but that “we lucked out by having a weekend with clear skies.”

“I think an event like this is crucial in this pandemic,” said Tracy. “It reminds people that there is hope and provides something to look forward to. For artists, creating something with a purpose and making a statement you are proud of can be fulfilling. It is also super fun to walk down the streets and see the colorful images being created. It brightens up your day a bit.”

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The art, which was spread throughout the city, attracted many onlookers. Tracy said she captured the progression of each chalk drawing, and the images can be viewed at the festival’s website gallery.

Some Berkeley student-artists invited their housemates to work together on some of the entries, said Tracy, adding that it was inspiring to see the “creative excitement” many students expressed throughout the day.

The impact the event had on its youngest artists, though, was uniquely special.

“We heard back from some of the parents telling us how proud their kids were about this accomplishment and participating,” Tracy said. “One of the parents had their children choose what to do with the prize winnings. Her daughter chose to purchase a microphone from her teacher’s wishlist. … This was the best thing to hear, because we saw the ripple effects of the event.”