Transforming the asphalt grounds of The Marketplace parking lots into an Italian canvas begins hours before most frothy lattes are served for the day.
But it's an early morning schedule required of artists descending on the southwest shopping center for this weekend's Via Arte Italian Street Painting Festival.
Now in its 15th year, the free community event presented by the Bakersfield Museum of Art, draws thousands of people to marvel at renditions of classic masterpieces and original works brought to life by a gathering of professional, amateur and student artists.
"This is absolutely my favorite weekend in Bakersfield," said Bakersfield Museum of Art curator Vikki Cruz, who lends her own skills as an artist to the event. "Nowhere else can you find the talent of high school students, local professional artists and traveling artists."
After days of intense preparations to clean and measure the area, artists will begin to arrive as early as dawn on Friday to commence work, using only a box of colored chalk and pure artistic skill. More than 150 pieces will be rendered on squares measuring from 4-by-6 feet to 15-by-18 feet.
"Even though the works they are creating only last for a few days, the bonds and friendships developed last a lifetime," added Cruz. "This is truly an event made for everyone in our community."
By Saturday morning the grounds will begin filling with a mix of both artists and spectators.
The Via Bambino area of the festival allows parents to buy small squares and chalk so that any budding young artists can create their own masterpiece. Setting the mood with music will be several Bakersfield bands, plus local dance troupes, near The Marketplace fountain.
As artists put the finishing touches on their works Sunday, celebrity judge Robert Townsend will begin the difficult task of judging in three categories: Visiting Artist, Artist's Copy, and Original Art. (Townsend's work is currently on display as part of the BMoA's fall exhibitions.)
Bakersfield artist Beth Chaney, 28, took home first place in the Artist's Copy category at last year's festival with a 7-foot-by-7 foot black-and-white chalk portrait of singer Bob Dylan.
"I've been involved since I was a junior at Centennial high, so it was pretty exciting to win," Chaney said. "For me, it's always been a challenge and really interesting. Dylan was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone last year and everyone knows him as the young icon from classic photos. I wanted to show the old cowboy Bob. I also like the contrast of my black-and-white piece with all the other colorful pieces."
Chaney, who studied art at CSUB, now works as an art teacher and yearbook advisor at West High. Despite her new role as instructor, she plans to work alongside her students.
"I love it. It's going to be a little different this year, since I'm going to be coaching about 10 students. This year's piece will be a portrait of some kind, I'm just not sure yet."
While she expects to narrow her artwork decision before Friday, Chaney said it's not so much the art but the camaraderie that makes Via Arte a fulfilling experience.
"I consider it almost a performance piece where you can work on it and have people view your progress start to finish, and I enjoy being part of the draw of the local art community."
All proceeds from art squares and festival sponsorships will go to support ongoing BMoA art education programs.
-- Matt Munoz is the marketing director for the Bakersfield Museum of Art.