SAFETY HARBOR — Bridget Lyons spent two days bringing a picture she chose over a year ago of a psychedelic, multicolored cat to life on the sidewalk of Safety Harbor’s Main Street. Judging from the light drizzle that hung over the Safety Harbor Bloom N Chalk N Art Fest on Sunday afternoon and Florida’s history of temperamental rain, she guessed that the rainbow cat that had haunted her dreams wouldn’t live to see the following weekend.
“Was it worth it? Absolutely,” the Tampa-based artist said. “It’s all about the moment, and to me this is performance art. The non-permanence and scale is what makes this so cool and brings your art in front of countless people — because, really, who goes to museums anymore?”
Though it’s rained during the festival every year, Lyons and about 50 other chalk artists decorated Main Street from Bayshore to Eighth Avenue over the weekend for the fourth annual festival. Thousands crowded the street to peruse everything from a half-Frida Kahlo, half-deer concoction to a near-replica of 17th century oil painter Herman van Swanevelt’s “Italian landscape with bridge and castle” sandwiched between a floating piece of pizza and a literal child-sized bag of Funyuns.
Proceeds from the festival go to the Safety Harbor History Museum, which will use them to restore an 1840s piano owned by the McMullen family, who founded the town.
The art is just a reflection of the area’s eclectic and often eccentric population, said event co-creators Bobbie Wheeler and Stacy Roth. Though the festival has attracted artists from as far away as Georgia and Missouri as its reputation has grown over the years, a majority of the artists are from the Tampa Bay area. The high concentration of artists and art appreciators has created a community air around the festival that is hard to replicate anywhere else, she said.
“Whenever it started raining, all of the artists and people in the neighborhood started helping each other cover their art with plastic, and because we don’t have very many hotels in the area, a lot of the artists are staying with local people that volunteered to be host homes,” Wheeler said.
“Everybody’s friendly, everybody helps each other, and everybody’s interested in the art.”
It took about 17 hours for Temple Terrace-based artist Dave Conley to recreate one of his favorite memories with artist Laurie Pinna: a photo of Conley with his two children, Steven, then 1, and Christine, then 5, on his back. Underneath the portrait, he scrawled the phrase “Every daddy should be a horsey.” Now 23 years old and 6-foot-3, Steven is a bit too big to climb on his father’s back, but the picture is a reminder for “all fathers to stay involved with their kids and play with them whenever they can,” he said.
Artist Amber LaChance, 12, a sixth-grade student at Channelside Academy of Math and Science, said her Minecraft cat-like character with square, computer-generated-looking flowers took about two hours of creating and a weekend’s worth of tweaking and doodling.
“I started when I was 9, when my aunt Bridget took me to a festival to help her work on a piece and I kicked her off of it,” said Amber, Lyons’ niece. “But even though I’ve done this for a while, and I can always make a new one, it’s still sad when it rains.”