Sunday, September 15, 2013

Drippy Preview of Autumn, and a Poem

Mural in the Lower Courthouse Park, by professional chalk artist, Lee Jones
The image is of the Rock Aqua Jays water ski team members

It's September, and the back yard garden has seen better days.  Everything that intended to bloom already has, and our recent dry weather has encouraged the maples to start dropping leaves in the yard and on the deck.  The squirrels are feeling it too, making a first class mess building a nest in the tree that has our deck built around it.  We encouraged them to move.

Kids are back in school.  Football is back on the television.  The farmers market is overflowing with cherry tomatoes and other fall bounty.  And Janesville's ill-fated Art Infusion has ended the drought once more.  While the weather was ideal yesterday, today gray skies and steady rain made it necessary for Lee Jones to work under a tent to finish her work, and for the handful non-professional artists to tape plastic over their creations in order for them not to not be washed away.
The event started in 2011 with a $10,000 grant from the state tourism bureau to the Janesville Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau. The convention folks' stated goal was to bring 5,000 new people downtown to listen to  musicians, watch chalk artists of all ages at work , and a be delighted by a flashmob (remember those?). They hoped to infuse the local economy with an extra $250,000.  The group hired the talented and amiable Wisconsin native Lee Jones to teach chalk painting workshops to the general public and to school children, and to create a large work downtown.  They bought boxes of chalk, hired billboards, wrote press releases, and did radio interviews,  then hoped for the best.  But bad weather - and probably other circumstances - conspired to make participation less and less each year.  The first year had two days of unrelenting rain, the second unseasonably cold weather, and this year much-needed rain one of the two days.  And each year fewer and fewer participants.  I walked downtown today and peeked at Jones' chalk art, and saw only five others, total. None of the sweet young children's artwork I remembered from last year.  No music.  No flash mob.

I am in no position to judge why this happened.  Bad luck?  A misguided effort to concentrate publicity in Illinois and Wisconsin counties other than Rock?  I wonder how many Beloit folks or people from Walworth county would really come to Janesville and then stay over night for an activity like this one.  Requiring a $10 fee to participate?  Parents of local children who paid the fee last year and still had the boxes of chalk from 2012 may not have felt like shelling out another $10 for this year.  Lack of involvement by the local arts community?  Were the Janesville Art League, individual artists, or groups like the Rock Valley Woodcarvers, who had a show the same weekend, involved?  Perhaps this just isn't a community that appreciates sidewalk art. I don't know.

Looking at the small number of entries for the $250 first prize this year, part of me thought I should have given it a go, but I am not sure the prize (if I were able to snag it) would cover the pain-relievers I'd need for my knees and hands if I did. 
 Amateur entry in chalk painting contest - the only one not covered with plastic this afternoon

Mushrooms, by Mary Oliver

Rain and then
the cool pursed
lips of the wind
draw them
out of the ground --
red and yellow skulls
pummelig upward 
through leaves, 
through grasses, through sand; astonishing
in their suddensess,
their quietude,
their wetness, they appear
on fall mornings, some
balancing in the earth
on one hoof
packed with poison,
others billowing
chunkily, and deicious --
those who know
walk out to gather, choosing
the benign from flocks
of glitterers, sorcerers,
panther caps,
chark-white death angels
in their torn veils
looking innocent as sugar
but full of paralysis:
to eat
is to stagger down
fast as the mushrooms themselves
when they are done being perfect
and overnight
slide back under the shining
fields of rain.

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