Chalkupy!

Several weeks ago, I ran into a long-time activist comrade at the Lakeview School sit-in in Oakland. Lakeview is one of five schools slated to be closed due to budget cuts, so parents, teachers and community members staged an occupation of the grounds. The day began with a march from Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza in downtown Oakland and ended with a rally at the school. Hanging out at the rally, my friend introduced me to Naomi Pitcairn who in turn told me about the project her group, Fresh Juice Party, does: Chalkupy.

I’d seen some of the images that had been chalked on the Plaza via online photographs, but wasn’t aware that it was a regular project. Turns out they’ve been doing it every Friday at the Plaza for months. The concept is brilliant in both its simplicity and replicability. A design is produced digitally and then overlaid with a grid scaled to the actual pattern of the pavers in the Plaza. Once on site, the grid is laid out on the ground, allowing a perfect reproduction of even large, detailed designs. A .pdf explaining the entire process is on Fresh Juice Party’s site.

Chalkupations are participatory, political and ephemeral. Like the planned, ritual destruction of Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas, the weekly power-washing of the Plaza by City workers destroys the work, but creates a new blank canvas in its place. Unlike certain *cough* *Banksy* *cough* street artists whose work has become so valuable that walls are dismantled by wealthy art collectors wanting it for their galleries, Chalkupy’s work is unlikely to ever be fetishized. If people want some of it, they are free to create it themselves to their heart’s content.

When I showed up about 2:30 pm Friday, the pattern had been mostly laid out and the first areas were being chalked in. I immediately jumped in, stopping occasionally to livetweet photos and comments. I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking.

(PS, it’s come to my attention that not everyone automatically makes the connection between Chalkupy and the Occupy movement, hence mispronouncing it “Chalk-UPPY” and not “CHALK-u-pie”. The former kinda works, but it’s the latter that is correct.)