Creative people are powering one Iowa community

Festivals have the ability to bring people together, create new friendships, and celebrate something special. For the small communities like Mount Vernon and Lisbon, Iowa, festivals have become central to their identity in part because they invite the whole community to get involved.

The most popular festival that the community organizes is Chalk the Walk, an annual street-chalking weekend, based upon the historic Madonnari street painters.

By the numbers.

  • 8,000 people participate in Chalk the Walk each year (representing double their population)

  • 500 volunteers plan and power their events each year

  • 80 people curate and chalk their own squares

  • 14 different festivals bring the community together throughout the year

Making an art event interactive and memorable

While the curated spaces are an important component of the festival, the interactive component of Chalk the Walk is equally critical to their mission.

Joe Jennison, who has been a part of the festival for thirteen years, speaks to this intentionality:

“When we first started [Chalk the Walk], one of the things that was really important was to have one large artwork that everyone could help create… At the end of the festival we all hold hands and reveal the piece that we chalked together.”

Contributing to community wellbeing

Jennison believes that art events like Chalk the Walk offer a simple way to nurture creativity in the community, which in turn enhances the social and economic well-being.

“Chalk the Walk is something that gets you to come back,” Jennison exclaimed, referring to how important the event is for their economic development and community pride. Although the financial benefits to the community should not be understated, for Jennison it is far more personal: “To have an event with people of all ages, races, and abilities on their hands and knees together is incredible…. I think it is really important that we remain accessible and diverse. I say if anyone wants to be a part of something, they can.”

Photographer, Mehrdad Zarifkar, captures photographs of the festival every year. Banner and slideshow photos courtesy of Zarifkar.