Every October, the streets of Grants Pass are transformed into a work of art. It’s not the fall foliage adding the color though, it’s the dozens of artists gathered for the Art Along the Rogue festival. Since 2003, professional and amateur street painters alike have been coming together to decorate H Street in downtown Grants Pass with colorful artwork. The street is closed to traffic so that pedestrians can get up close and personal with the portraits, which range in subject from a sidewalk chalk take on Van Gogh to a trompe l’oeil treatment of “Star Wars.”
This year’s festival kicks off on Friday, Oct. 7 and lasts through the weekend. It’s free to the public, but painters who want to participate either buy their squares or get sponsored by local businesses. Though some of the artists are kids picking up a piece of chalk or a brush for the first time, many of them have been coming to Art Along the Rogue since it began in 2003.
“They keep coming back year after year to get down on their hands and knees for 16 hours and draw,” said Jeff Jones, the event’s coordinator. “Because it’s a performance, and artists don’t get to perform in front of people that often.”
Each year’s festival has its own theme to inspire the artists. Last year’s theme was “Cartoons Meet the Masters,” which prompted Jessica Painter to create what she calls “an art-nouveau rendition of ‘The Little Mermaid.’” Other works included a Mickey Mouse version of Norman Rockwell’s “Triple Self-Portrait” and an impressionistic portrait of Kermit the Frog among the waterlilies. This year the theme is “Legends.”
Street art is unique in that, though the artists spend hours creating their pavement masterpieces, they know the work won’t be there for long.
“I love that it’s not something you can hold onto,” said Tracy Lee Stum, a 3D chalk artist who created a paint-splattered Star Wars battle at last year’s festival. “I don’t think I’d be as happy if it was permanent.”
Jones nodded in agreement. “As of 6 o’clock on Sunday we’ll pull the barricades and the traffic will come driving over.”
Art Along the Rogue 2016 is Oct. 7-9 in Grants Pass, Oregon. See more of these chalk artists at work in the season premiere of “Oregon Art Beat,” Thursday, Oct. 6 at 8 p.m. on OPB TV.