Janine Ybanez/Highlander
Janine Ybanez/Highlander

In a week highlighted by Veteran’s day commemorations, an ASUCR-led protest, a homecoming bonfire and basketball season openers, this year’s fourth annual “Chalk the Walk” event seemed one destined for obscurity. As a few uninterested students simply put it to me, “it’s just chalk.”

Perhaps this echoes your own sentiment, but for those who are apologetically unaware of “Chalk the Walk,” it is an annual event organized by the Highlander Union which affords 30 or so student-artists the opportunity to draw chalk art along the pavement of UCR’s most populated walkway next to Coffee Bean. Traditionally, there are themes for the art and this year there were three on display: R’World (a work solely of the artist’s creation relating to UCR), Tartan Art (a piece inspired by previous works of art) and Scotty on the Silver Screen (an artistic rendition of one’s favorite film or film character).

I sat and watched as a select amount of students and faculty gravitated toward the neatly aligned canopies that enclosed the campus art. Each person seemed drawn to a different area, staring downward in awe, often sharing laughter with those around them.

As it seemed, there was a distinct appreciation relayed by each observer and perhaps it is so that divided time afforded the art its most appreciative spectators. After all, it would take a fair amount of fortitude for any casual passerbyer to stop here amidst the rallying cries of the Million Student March and fiery spectacles.

However, what I — and I am sure many of the other observers — found, is that such a simplistic medium of colored chalk and a blank concrete canvas was one that, above all else, exuded serenity.

This joy was expressed by both onlookers and artists. Take third-year business marketing major, Myranda Carter for example, whose work on “Inside Scotty” — a twist on the Disney movie, “Inside Out” — served as a much-needed release post-midterms. As she put it, “The stress of school has been getting to me and I wanted something to just vent out. Art is that for me.”

Carter was not at all alone in this sentiment. In fact, each artist I spoke to found a sense of therapeutic relief in their work. Third-year art major Angela Lerias’ smiled at her Scotty-infused “Titanic” rendition (Scotty was Rose, you guys!) as she jovially reflected on her self-described “one chance to do something fun” outside of those oftentimes critique-laden art studios.

Fourth-year marketing major Adele Chen — whose depiction of Seth Macfarlane’s “Ted” as Scotty was one of my personal favorites — professed she was “having a pretty bad week” before coming out to the event and subsequently losing complete track of time. “I was working on Tuesday and it got dark really fast, which was insane because I didn’t even realize that I had been sitting here for five hours.”

For most, “Chalk the Walk” was an alleviation from the daily stress that come along with classes, tests, work, extracurriculars and the like. For others, such as fifth-year music major Gerardo Perez, it allowed them a comfortable haven in which they could revisit an old companion.

Perez was still working on his piece titled “Indiana Scotty: Raiders of the Lost Final” when I asked how he discovered his gift as an artist. He didn’t hesitate to tell me about a former high school teacher, an “amazing artist” who taught him how to work with an array of mediums over the years. When I asked what his biggest influence for this particular piece was, Perez couldn’t help but speak from the heart: “My teacher, Steven Talley. He passed away recently, so that’s why I wanted to get back into art.”

Whether you were an artist attempting to get a break from weeks of school-related anxiety, looking to rediscover a lost passion or even a student simply wanting to appreciate the work of your peers, this year’s “Chalk the Walk” event seemed to hold a place for anybody willing to stop and observe.

Sure, it’s just chalk. But for the artists and those involved, therein lies a deeper significance to this area of expression. The themes themselves allowed one the freedom to find their underlying adolescence while the intimacy of the venue gave the works a more candid appeal and relayed the passion behind each and every piece. It isn’t easy for something so grounded as chalk art (literally and figuratively) to elevate the emotions of those around it, but it is safe to say that this year, “Chalk the Walk” successfully did.