If you go
What: Flowertown Festival
When: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday
Where: South Main Street and Azalea Park in Summerville; streets surrounding the festival will be barricaded and U.S. Highway 17A traffic will be detoured
more info: 871-9622 or www.flowertownfestival.org
Parking garage: Richardson Avenue near Town Hall. No charge.
Street parking: Available downtown spaces. If parking on streets around the park, get the vehicle off the roadway but stay in the right-of-way and off private property. Do not park where streets have been roped off, at intersections or fire hydrants.
Shuttle: No charge
Friday, noon-7 p.m.: Heritage Square (corner of Berlin G. Myers Parkway, U.S. Highway 78)/Town Hall.
Saturday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.: Heritage Square/Town Hall/Joyce Lane at Main Street.
Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.: Heritage Square/Town Hall/Joyce Lane at Main Street.
In the midst of the masses that will buzz like bees around Azalea Park for this weekend's Flowertown Festival, 76 kids will be chalking up the tennis courts.
Don't call the cops; it's art. The competition will be judged, and the story behind Chalkfest tells a tale about the nearly half-century-old Summerville blowout.
The festival is a three-day arts and crafts event held one weekend each spring to celebrate whatever stage of bloom the parks' signature azaleas and other flowers find themselves in.
Started in 1973, the event served as a modest way for what was then the Young Women's Christian Organization to raise money to expand their newly established operation.
Today, the Summerville Family YMCA's event has gone big time. The total weekend crowd has been estimated at 200,000, making it a blockbuster bookend to the hugely popular Cooper River Bridge Run and a pillar of one of the biggest weekends in the tourist mecca called Charleston.
This year, the Flowertown Festival features more than 200 arts and crafts booths alone, including quirky stuff like pluff mud T-shirts.
The sideshows feature muscle cars and a kid's train along with other rides and ubiquitous food and musical offerings.
It is a day on your feet, so wear comfortable shoes. And pets are a no-no, so leave Fido at home.
Now let's talk chalk.
In 1973, the fledgling festival featured a lot of hometown art, puppet shows, marble shooting and a horse panorama (don't ask). But the popular exhibit was a children's art tunnel created by the kids at Summerville Elementary to show their stuff. People lined up to get in.
The festival has grown to draw regional artisans and a crowd that comes from far and wide. Hanging onto those folksy, hometown roots has been a trial at times.
But when Summerville YMCA Development Director Linda Walton took on the fest, local artist Charlsie Vorwerk pulled her aside and told her something that stuck: Don't forget the kids.
That's what Walton had in mind when she and other organizers brainstormed the first Chalkfest for this year's festival, working off Blooming Artists, exhibition booths of artists ages 8-18.
For Chalkfest, spaces will be squared off in the park's Cuthbert Center tennis courts on Saturday. Kids 14 and under get a space on a first-come, first-served basis until all the spaces are filled. They go to work 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Judging is at 3 p.m..
Like the festival itself, chalk art is both a throwback and a little edgy. It's a folksy kids' pastime that anybody who sketched out a hopscotch board on the sidewalk remembers.
"It comes from the playground, just having fun," said Josh Breland, Redux Studios outreach coordinator, who introduces kids to chalk art and other mediums through the AmeriCorps WINGS for Kids program.
But there's a spontaneous element to chalk; it's become one of the "rogue art" mediums associated with graffiti artists and other impromptu performers. It has become enough a part of the street scene that restaurants and other businesses have latched onto it as a trendy way to display their menus.
The colors are bright pastels, the lines have that swirl of watercolor, and even in the midst of hundreds of arts and crafts and foods and songs and rides and exhibits at the Flowertown Festival, the tennis court is sure to capture a lot of attention.
Sophie Estoppey of Mount Pleasant will be at the Keys for Hope booth selling keys she and friends recycle into ornaments for a $5 donation to benefit Crisis Ministries homeless shelter. But the 13-year-old crafter said she'll want to get a peek at Chalkfest.
"It's a cool idea," she said. "Chalk is easy to blend. It's easy to work with. It's not supposed to look too professional. It's supposed to just look fun."
And, at the heart of it, that is what the YWCO women had in mind more than 40 years ago: "a wonderful show of bloom," as one of them described it in 1973.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.
Colored chalk will await the hands of young artists during the inaugural Chalkfest on Saturday at Flowertown Festival in Summerville.×
Tracy McLean looks at glass wind chimes at the Bottle Bender booth during a past Flowertown Festival in Summerville.×
Joshua Varner enjoys a snow cone during a previous Flowertown Festival in Summerville. Food vendors abound during the three-day event.×
Emily Milliken flies by on a ride at a previous Flowertown Festival. A special section of the festival is designated to kidsí rides.×
The Flowertown Festival, which attracts thousands of people to Main Street in Summerville, offers a variety of foods.×