Amherst Chalkwalk: Burgueño ’19 Bridges Campus and Town
Issue   |   Wed, 04/26/2017 - 01:32
Photo courtesy of Helena Burgueño
Burgueño got the inspiration for the ChalkWalk this Saturday from a similar festival at her high school and one in New Haven that she attended with her father.

I sat down with Helena Burgueño ’19 who organized the Amherst ChalkWalk — an artistic, community-wide event taking place on downtown Amherst sidewalks this Saturday, April 29.

Q: Could you give a basic description of your ChalkWalk?
I’m working on The Amherst ChalkWalk, which is a festival happening this Saturday, April 29. I’d like to think of it as a daylong celebration in downtown Amherst of sidewalk chalk and spring in the town of Amherst. So part of my idea was that there are different groups in Amherst. There are Amherst College students, UMass Amherst students, families [and] older people, and we all sort of just coexist but don’t really interact with each other. So I wanted to create a community event that would bring people together sort of. It’s been varying degrees of success in terms of getting people involved. There will be people and artists of all ages and experience levels drawing on the sidewalks. And then on the common there will be badminton and croquet and music.

I wanted there to be stuff going on in Amherst, and the farmer’s market will be up as well, so I’m hoping it’ll be a pretty fun day.

Q: How did you come up with the ChalkWalk?
At my high school, we had an annual event — basically the only fun thing that my high school did — which was the chalk festival. And we drew outside all day on the sidewalks and in our courtyard. Then this summer I went to the first annual chalk festival in New Haven, and it was super fun. I drew a lot with my dad, and we won a gift card to a local restaurant. And it was beautiful and sunny and I thought it was something that would translate to Amherst really well. So that’s been a goal as an outside project of the year, which has become my obsession. High school was fun, but New Haven was really a model that I could follow in town. There were people of all ages participating and chalk available so that you don’t assume that people are able to buy chalk.

I got local businesses involved, so I went door-to-door with the local businesses and told them about the chalkwalk. So I got really generous donations from four of them, which I’m going to compile. For example, Pita Pockets donated two free falafel pockets and Amherst Cinema gave some movie tickets. I’m going to put those together along with T-shirts that I made, because I made T-shirts, and I’m going to make a People’s Choice Prize.

Q: What was the hardest part of your project?
Getting things rolling was a little bit difficult. I did this by myself, so I reached out to a couple of the arts commissions in Amherst who were so incredibly helpful. And these two people from the Public Arts Commission named Renee and Amy who run the Amherst Art Walk met with me multiple times at The Works every week. They owed me absolutely nothing, but they were so generous with their time, which was so incredible. They pointed me in the right direction. Again, getting the ball rolling was kind of difficult. I had to apply for a grant from the state of Massachusetts and ended up getting some grant money, which was the majority of my budget. It’s been an ongoing project, but it really started the week after we got back from winter break.

It’s been really great because I’ve felt super stuck at Amherst College, and I didn’t know town very well. But this project has been a great excuse to walk around and go to local businesses and talk to people. It’s been really fun. My goal for this project in the long term is that’d become an annual event. Ideally, it would be more official and sponsored by the town. I think it may be smaller this year, but there are a range of ages.

Q: What arts do you do?
I’m a film major, and I like painting, but I’m not very good at it. My favorite medium is construction paper, and I really like paper crafting, But the reason I like chalk in particular [is] because I think it’s very universal in the sense that it’s a material you associate with childhood. People are less intimidated by it. Not everyone has had a childhood where they use chalk on the sidewalk, but I think the association makes people less intimidated by using it. I also like the outdoorsy and public aspect of it. It’s also a very temporary thing, so it’s just there and gone and just a beautiful, communal moment where there’s chalk around town. It’s a very approachable medium that people don’t feel that they need to have much skill to have.

Q: Do you think the other mediums you practice are less accessible?
I think film is more technical, and painting we associate with fine art in a museum. I can’t do that. Ninety percent of the population can’t do that. Paper crafting is just random, and people don’t really think about it, but it’s really fun. I’m waking up at 6 a.m. to mark off areas of the sidewalk, and the sidewalks in Amherst are really weird, like all different sizes and angles. So I’m going to mark off some by the Amherst dorms and some around the common and near the bus stop on the other side and down towards the main strip down South Pleasant and potentially down the side by Johnny’s Tavern. I have just been walking around town looking for good places for people to draw on.

Q: Do you think that living in an arts community has helped you with your art?
I feel very uncomfortable calling myself an artist or a musician because I think that’s a disservice to people who actually are artists or musicians. I love art and crafty things, and I love playing music. But I don’t think it’s a craft I practice, but I think Marsh makes me feel like I’m a part of a community, doing art for the sake of getting better or practicing. It’s also just made me more comfortable saying, “Yes, I am a filmmaker.”

Q: What do you think we can do to have more art on Amherst’s campus?
One of the super frustrating things about Amherst is that people complain about how there’s nothing to do but then never show up to things. By being present at arts events, you’re showing that you think that they’re important. It’s also a great way to collaborate. But showing up and knowing you’re in a group of people who are interested in similar things is a start.

Update: Burgueño received funding from the Business Improvement District of Amherst, and their Managing Director Ann Tweedy met with her multiple times to help her with the planning process. She received additional assistance from Paul Gallegos.