This year's Sarasota Chalk Festival is scheduled for November 10-17, but for the first time since 2007, Burns Square streets will not be adorned with artwork.
On Tuesday, the Venice City Council approved a special event agreement that makes the city the new host of the Sarasota Chalk Festival. Since its inception, the Chalk Festival has called Burns Court home and drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area, but event founder Denise Kowal said issues between her and the city were too significant to overcome.
Kowal said she began seriously thinking about moving the event to Venice in January or February of this year. Community and arts leaders from Venice heard about Kowal’s interest, and asked her to come down and have a meeting with them. She started evaluating the area to see whether it was capable of hosting the festival, and by the third time she met with the group from Venice, she had made up her mind about pursuing the move.
During the Chalk Festival’s time in the city of Sarasota, the event was often the target of complaints from nearby merchants or property owners. Kowal thinks these disputes received undue attention in the media; she said they didn’t contribute to her decision to move the event because she thinks they will pop up no matter where it is held.
She believes most Sarasota residents appreciate and enjoy the event. Instead, the festival is moving to Venice because she believes the Sarasota City Commission wasn’t as accommodating as it should have been, considering the magnitude of the event. Last year, commissioners waived $2,780 in fees for the event, but denied a request to waive the cost of city police services.
“They clearly have not found this to be as much of a benefit to the community as the community has felt,” Kowal said. “There's a big disconnect there”
Kowal, who lives in Burns Square, said it was a difficult choice to move the festival, but her attention is now focused on Venice. She left the door open for another potential move in the future, but said she planned to give the Venice location at least five years to succeed. Still, in making the move, she’s leaving behind her ideal venue for the event.
“I thought Pineapple Avenue was the best location for it,” Kowal said “I thought it was perfect.”
Contact David Conway at [email protected].