Color, creativity, and community are popping up around town this week. And the front walk of Lt. Job Lane Elementary School on Sweetwater Avenue has been a prime canvas. The art display is thanks to the work of visual arts teacher Jennifer Ferrari’s Chalk The Walk project and the student artists at Lane School.
Chalk the Walk aims to build community and make art more accessible to everyone through the premise of a temporary group public art project – putting chalk to sidewalk. For decades, communities and organizations around the world have supported Chalk the Walk events ranging from large-scale coordinated festivals and juried art displays to impromptu social media encouragement calling on neighbors to chalk a message on their sidewalk or front steps on the same day.
Ferrari (2023 Massachusetts Art Educator of the Year) started the Lane School’s Chalk the Walk two years ago after brainstorming ideas for young artists during the pandemic. With some restrictions still in place, moving the classroom outside allowed students the flexibility to move around and create art more collaboratively. Artists can work alone or in groups but together create a larger scale piece of community artwork.
The essence and philosophy of Ferrari’s classroom, in general, is to allow students choice, freedom, and independence in exploring and experimenting with ways they express themselves artistically. However, in this project, she challenges the students (likening the opportunity to professional artists receiving commissioned assignments) by adding in two constraints – the medium (chalk and sidewalk) and a theme.
In 2021, the teacher set the theme to “Positivity,” taking the lead from a campaign around the school. The 2022 theme was “Kindness.”
This year, Ferrari emailed the Lane School community asking for input and tied together the feedback ideas of inclusion, empathy, and school as a safe place into the theme of “All Are Welcome.”
Ferrari’s Chalk the Walk initiative has been growing with just third graders in 2021 (it was the only classes she saw regularly in person with an altered pandemic schedule), more classes last year (based on schedule), and this year, the project was scheduled around end of year field trips and events to include every class. Ferrari hopes to eventually expand Chalk the Walk to include the entire Bedford community.
Ferrari made a video for the kids to watch prior to art class explaining Chalk the Walk. Some had participated in the past so knew about the initiative. When the kids showed up to the outdoor art class, often with music playing, they heard a few instructions, and most were prepared with ideas to get to work independently or in groups right away. The artists were relaxed and chatting about their lives, and were careful not to step on each other’s work as they looked around at the larger picture coming together.
At the end of each day, Ferrari and Grade 4 teacher Rob Ackerman documented the event with photos. The rain came on most evenings, leaving a blank canvas for the next day.
One frequent way groups of kids portrayed the theme of inclusion was with stick figures of all colors, shapes, sizes, handicaps, and hairstyles holding hands. Drawings ranged from Pokemon to peace signs, rainbows, hearts, and dozens of different flags were drawn throughout the week. And there were many colorful versions of the word “Welcome.”
The theme of a supportive community wasn’t just chalked on the sidewalks of Lane, but in preparation for the initiative, families from Lane School and the Bedford community donated sidewalk chalk, and a lot of it. Ferrari was very grateful and impressed by the outpouring of support, saying it really shows how the Bedford community “values art and recognizes the value of the art programs.”
To follow more about what’s going on in Ferrari’s classroom check out her Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/theroomwithahue/.