The Squonk Opera

The Squonk Opera will bring Cycle Sonic, a dynamic adventure of eclectic music and whimsical, moving figures.

An army of professional and amateur artists will descend on Downtown streets this weekend at the 10th annual Chalk the Block.

“This is a festival the community has truly embraced,” said Erin Ritter, public affairs coordinator for the city’s Museum and Cultural Affairs Department. “It started as a one-day event in mid July with 12 artists. Since then, we’ve grown to bring artists from all over the region.”

The event showcases more than 50 artists – including participants of the sidewalk art competition – and about 20 food trucks. To honor the 10th anniversary, organizers have curated installations made by a slew of acclaimed artists – the arguably most well known one being Yoko Ono.

Wish Tree 2013

Yoko Ono, "Wish Tree"

Her highly sought-after Wish Tree installation will give festivalgoers the chance to write down their wishes and dreams and tie them to the tree. The wishes will be collected and sent to the Imagine Peace Tower, a tribute to Ono’s late husband John Lennon and his lyrical message of world peace. Located in Iceland, the monument projects towers of light from Oct. 9 until Dec. 8 – the dates of the Beatles legend’s birth and death, respectively.

“We’ve worked several years to get the Wish Tree, and having it in El Paso for the 10th anniversary can send a tremendous message,” Ritter said. “It gives everyone the opportunity to write down their wishes, hopes and dreams and become part of something so big.”

Spheres of Influence

Spheres of Influence: A robotic device from the Swiss mechatronics company Stäubli will paint lines that depict “lifelines of the city” inside large transparent spheres. The installation was originally created for the Mextropoli Festival in Mexico City.

The Spheres of Influence installation is a prime convergence of art and technology. Created by Curime Batliner and Jake Newsum, who work in the fields of architecture and creative robotics, the project uses a machine from the Swiss mechatronics company Stäubli to paint graphics inside large transparent spheres.

The Squonk Opera

The Pittsburgh-based Cycle Sonic Squonk Opera is also hitting the streets with performances that combine musical instruments and moving sculptures mounted on top of large bicycles. The artists behind the design created original music, costumes and staging. Their website describes the project as “a pageant of double-decker human-powered stages that celebrate bicycles and sustainable power.”

Border Youth

A “Border Youth” mural led by El Paso artist Mitsu Overstreet beautifies a Sun Metro bus during 2011’s Chalk the Block. This year’s free festival is bringing back the fan favorite, this time with a mural curated by artist Jesus “Cimi” Alvarado and Kalavara Kulture Shop.

Art on the Move – a collaboration between festival organizers, artist Jesus “Cimi” Alvarado and Sun Metro – will have muralists paint a Sun Metro bus that will be put into circulation next month. Ritter calls this project a “fan favorite” that was featured at the event’s fifth anniversary.

Scott Cohen’s inspirational, one-of-a-kind Life Cube Project will also be featured this year. The installation is a 12-by-12 foot metal box that will be constructed and decorated over Chalk the Block’s three-day period.

Part of the allure of the Life Cube is its community involvement. Cohen encourages attendees to write down their goals and place them on the cube. Different walls of the project will also be reserved for artists to decorate.

“Cohen has such a heart for and cares so much about involving the community,” said Ismael Acosta, MCAD’s marketing and production coordinator. “Everything we’re trying to do for year 10 is highly interactive. We want people to not just see art, but to be part of it.”

Live music and DJ sets will also be a part of this weekend’s free festival. Local acts like ska mainstays Fixed Idea and R&B singer Sha’Vonne take the stage before Mexico City-based headliner El Conjunto Nueva Ola. The featured band, which has been under the spotlight of Telemundo, Univision and Public Radio International, is known for never taking off their luchador masks and for covering hits like Aha’s “Take On Me” with a cumbia – and often humorous – twist.

A creative and financial booster

Ten years ago, the department created this watershed event at a time when the revitalization of Downtown was in its infancy. Now the annual festival is part of a robust, ever-expanding art and culture scene.

Through the course of three days, Chalk the Block pumps a whopping $1 million into the El Paso economy through hotel, food and other expenses. Between 36,000 and 41,000 people attend the festival every year, which boosts the event’s designation to El Paso’s largest public art display.

For Ritter, Chalk the Block serves the community in a number of ways.

“We love showcasing local talent,” she said. “But this also gives us a chance to expose the next generation to the tremendous group of artists, musicians and culinary whizzes out there. You never know what can set that spark in someone.”

Ritter added that through the years, Chalk the Block has helped increase profits for local businesses including Proper Print Shop and Grey Dog, which is within the event footprint.

“This is a tremendous business incubator for them,” she said.

Ritter said she’s also excited about the El Paso Zoo’s and the art, history and archaeology museums’ contribution to the festival. The El Paso Archaeology Museum will have a chalk pictograph activity in observance of International Archaeology Month.

From drawing your own chalk masterpiece on the streets of Downtown to fueling your creative inspiration with internationally recognized installations, Chalk the Block continues to make art accessible to all walks of life.

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