It was a Wednesday and the weather cooperated. Strange to have the sun, wind, and rain decide to favor my friends with a day of mild, partly-cloudy, almost-perfect atmospheric blessings. The weather has been anything but cooperative lately and my friends being the Arts Altoona board members and organization at large. As described on their site http://www.ArtsAltoona.org : “(An organization) that works work with community leaders to serve and inspire a more creative region. Culture and creativity are built into everything (they) do, from the way (they) envision new opportunities and evaluate outcomes to the way (they) collaborate across programs and cultivate deep partnerships.”
So it was. A very nice day. I snuggled into my business of selling comfort food designed to satisfy lunch appetites – as I’ve done, gladly, over the past fifteen years – when my eyes glanced over to notice the beginning of an event.
My food cart this year is located, over the expected lunch hours, in the very lot where this happening was occurring. Daily, I rush about … slathering original recipe chili sauce and cheese on hot dawgs (yes, this is my spelling), piling wonderfully odorous grilled peppers and onions on cheese-steaks for those so inclined (nod to D.G.), or serving up a side of my famous Chili-Mac and Cheese. Other menu choices keep my feet and hands busy, of course, as happy customers fill my mid-day with smiles and my cash box with essential future bill-paying currency.
Wednesday, the lot had a few extras. Kids and chalk. Arts Altoona hosted a “Chalk in the Lot”, “POP UP Chalk event”, or”Chalk Talk” event. I’m not quite sure what the actual name of the event was. After a few consults with friends in charge, it was still a bit unclear to me. Whatever the advertised splash any of us decided to wet our whistles with, it really didn’t matter. There were kiddos on their knees with chalk, dusting up plumes of joys, drawing stick figures of pets, parents, and planets, … caring the least about covid, conflicts, or conspiracies.
This was not only a small happening in the lot, it was also a huge step for the Arts Organization. That stride being Number One. A hesitant – but necessary – step in the gradual shuffle of finding a way forward this summer after a state-wide shut down. I’ve been fortunate, as a food vendor, to be open for business at this location since May 1st. Their building – a recently acquired church that has been repurposed and generously donated (for lack of a better descriptor … ) for their use sits conveniently beside the very lot I scoot in and out of four days a week. This paved space, once full of church goer’s cars in years past, has been ghostly empty recently. An understandable, but unfortunate, outcome of so many spiritual gathering places.
As the time folded in and out between busy and idle Wednesday, I Spielberg-ed my way around the crowd – as I like to do – with my camera/phone. Reasons being: #1) Facebook Live is a great opportunity to promote events, #2) I am a fan of spontaneity, and #3) I find most folks enjoy talking about themselves and their lives / businesses.
While sauntering through the lot, I caught the above image on camera. It was designed by Anthony Pater, a guest artist invited to the event. With my sincere apologies to him, I do not remember most of his inspiration behind the design as I type, however, it was recorded that day on my FB Live feed. I can recall a reflection of suicide awareness and an unending circle of thought … suffice to say, I was impressed by his two hour dedication to the finishing of his design amidst the scampering of little feet, stick figures, and parental “don’t do thats” …
Today is Friday by my calendar and I’ll go back to an empty lot. “Empty” by comparison to last Wednesday. Yes, I’ll most assuredly have customers lined up waiting for sausage off the grill and ice cold bottles of Pepsi. The weather will be – according to the always 40% accurate forecast – partly sunny with a chance of wind and rain, so up will go my canopy and display flags welcoming in my regulars. The flames under my steam table are bound to keep sauerkraut, pork bbq, and chicken warm for those wishing such fine lunch fare instead of my beef dawgs. Life, you see, goes on as normal.
Normal in one sense. In another, I’ll be able to glance over, about 15 adult paces should I choose to walk, and see Anthony’s artwork. It is still attached to the pavement two days later. The kiddos are gone. Laughter, smiles, chalk dust headed over Ohio by now, and parents probably finding other ways to entertain their little ones … but the etched chalk circle remains still.
Isn’t this the real value of Art? Experience it once, but have it last beyond the first encounter? Have it live in you over and over again?
Maybe this viewpoint is too simplistic … I don’t know. I’m a pianist / musician at heart. Listening to Chopin over and over gives me chills. But, then again, so do the words, “Hey, pick up your laundry, goofball!” from my wife … so, I’m at a loss sometimes.
Whatever the reasons, life is wonderful. If you’re around Blair County, PA … specifically 6th Avenue and 23rd Street Altoona, stop by the lot. See me for some lunch “eats” and check out the chalk art before it is gone. There will be more events in the lot this year I’m sure. How, where, and when are to be determined as all of us try to navigate our way through the rough, bumpy road of a virus-slathered future.
All said and accounted for, I’d say we can “Chalk One Up To A Win” this past Wednesday. Congrats to Arts Altoona for getting one in – finally – and giving the community an opportunity to see the arts in motion.
Now, I must find a way to convince “some” that grilled peppers and onions DO belong on sandwiches.