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Tuesday October 21st 2014

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Chalk It Up

By Lewis Stockham

Imagine not being able to read. Being able to read is something we take for granted, but adult illiteracy is a very real issue. It’s hard to even imagine that there are adults who are functionally illiterate, but, unfortunately, it is a reality. We may ask ourselves, how is that possible?  How can an adult not be able to read? We may even want to lay blame on that person. But, the question we should ask is: what can be done to help the functionally illiterate?

Learn to Read, a non-profit organization, helps in every way possible. The organization provides free one-on-one adult tutoring, just tutor to student. Their motto is: “Turn a page. Change a life.” On Saturday, May 12, the Second Annual Chalk It Up! Pensacola Sidewalk Art Festival will be held at Commendencia Slip in downtown Pensacola. The festival was created by Learn to Read to bring awareness of adult illiteracy through art in Escambia County.

Hal Anderson is the event’s coordinator. While on a visit with his daughter to Savannah College of Art and Design, he learned about their sidewalk art festival. It was a student competition and it was there that he got an inkling of an idea. Learn to Read had held several fundraisers, but had no signature event. “Learn to Read had been looking for a signature event. I saw the sidewalk art festival and thought ‘that’s something Pensacola would love,’” Anderson explained.

One in five Americans are considered functionally illiterate, meaning they have trouble filling out a job application, reading a menu, writing a check and reading road signs, just to name a few examples. These are things the rest of us don’t think twice about. Think about being a parent who is unable to read a bedtime story to their child – or, even worse, the parent of a child who swallows something harmful and can’t read how to help them.

It is estimated that in Escambia County alone, the adult illiteracy rate is as high as twenty-five percent. It is very real problem that affects all of us because in our society you are talking about a workforce, training, social services, and cost on the criminal justice system. “The cost to all of us is quite eye opening,” said Anderson.

At the same time, Anderson points out that you cannot stereotype the functionally illiterate as many are holding down jobs and juggling families. “They are volunteers too, because they have to find the time to come to us to get the help they need,” Anderson explained.

This year the Chalk It Up! Festival will include food, music and art.  Father John Licari and the Escambia High School Jazz A’s will perform. There will be various arts & crafts and food vendors. The radio stations WXBM and Cat Country also are attending.  Interestingly enough, there will be an exhibit of the eleven different species of turtles that live in Escambia County.  Even the Blue Wahoos’ mascot will be present.  Adults and kids alike will have lots of fun.

Several artists will be in attendance. “We have twenty-five so far, but we’re looking to have fifty.  Last year several signed up in the last two weeks,” Anderson said. “Last year, people were pleasantly surprised by the artworks.”

The artists that participate have four categories to choose from for their chalk-work.  In the first category, “Turn a Page, Change a Life.,” art will depict the impact of literacy on society or individuals. The second, “Off the Wall and onto the Sidewalk” is limited only by the artist’s imagination.

This year, two new categories have been added. The first, “Pensacola is…”  is open ended; pertaining to any aspect of Pensacola whether it is a landmark, a person, anything – whatever defines Pensacola for them. The last, but not least category, is self-explanatory: “My Favorite Book.” One can only imagine how many amazing chalk murals will be created through the four unique categories.

The Chalk It Up! Pensacola Sidewalk Art Festival promises to be a unique and fun event.  Plus, it brings attention to the very real problem of adult illiteracy. “Hopefully it will raise awareness of our organization and what we do. That’s the reason for the event to let people know who need our help that we’re here,” Anderson said.

CHALK IT UP! PENSACOLA SIDEWALK ART FESTIVAL
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 12
WHERE: Commendencia Slip, Downtown Pensacola
COST: free
DETAILS: chalkituppensacola.org