The Kids' Chalk Art Project is a child's dream: Get
down on the ground, draw all over it, get messy, and
while you're at it, set a Guinness World Record.
For project founder Mark Wagner, a local artist and
dad, the dream is less tangible but just as inspiring: to stoke
children's creativity and demonstrate to the world what kids
can do. Ultimately, he wants the spectacle of the world's
biggest chalk drawing, created by children, to spawn a commitment
to art classes in the elementary schools of Alameda,
California, and beyond.
"Kids grow up unconnected to their creative spirit,"
Wagner says. Giving kids a chance to do art, he believes, taps
the vein of their elemental creativity -- a force that will help
them learn, interact, work, and play throughout life.
Elementary schools in Alameda, an island city on San Francisco Bay,
haven't offered formal art instruction for years. The school
district's Parent-Teacher Association provides materials to
"art docents," parent volunteers who do periodic art activities
with students. But in schools and classrooms without available
parents or teacher buy-in, the kids get no art instruction.
Nationwide, such instruction has declined under pressure
to emphasize subjects tested under the No Child Left Behind
Act, and the impact has been severe in elementary schools.
A survey released in 2007 by the independent Center on
Education Policy found that since the law passed, 44 percent
of districts have cut time in the elementary grades from
untested subjects. (These cutbacks average nearly thirty minutes
a day.) Even before NCLB, tight finances had squeezed
out the arts in some schools.
Wagner's ambition is for local kids and adults this spring to
cover a 100,000-square-foot swath of pavement at the decommissioned
Alameda Naval Air Station with one seamless, communal
chalk drawing. Kids will draw in shifts over two weeks,
culminating June 7 with a festival and
a satellite photo of the finished creation,
to be used to promote children's
art worldwide. The event will also mark
the launch of Wagner's nonprofit
organization, Re-Enchanting the World
Through Art, dedicated to supporting
elementary school art programs.
The Guinness World Record to
beat is a chalk drawing measuring
60,439.3 square feet, made by more
than 700 volunteers for an event in
Eeklo, Belgium, in 2006. That's a
square measuring more than 245
feet on each side.
"If people can see that kids are
doing it -- kids with no art teachers --
imagine what they could do with regular
instruction," Wagner says.
Among kids, Wagner's inspiration
is infectious. When he visited Edison
Elementary School in December to
give students a pep talk for the project,
the kids burst out with exclamations
The second and third graders
pounced on the ground and quickly
laid down thick layers of chalk in brilliant
yellow, green, and magenta.
"I'm drawing a big one!" one girl
"I'm making a monkey with earrings!"
a classmate added.
The teachers got their hands dirty,
too -- Wagner insisted.
Principal Marcheta Williams says
she jumped at the opportunity to
involve her students in the project.
She's also working on a districtwide
task force to bring more arts into the
schools -- the first step being the hiring
of two art teachers this year.
Williams, who is also a jazz
pianist, explains, "When I was a kid, I
didn't think I was good at anything,
and then I discovered that I was good
at music, and I was able to transfer
that to everything in my life."
For now, Wagner is at least
$100,000 away from making his
dream come true. He needs to pay for
marketing, security, chalk, satellite
photos, and his own time. Other parents
and community groups are helping
him plan and raise money.
"Being intuitive and being creative
will be one of the most valuable
assets in the future for hiring and
helping to solve the world's problems,"
he says. "So you put that into
kids, and that's how you invest in the