With 600 artists expected, Street Painting Festival returns to Lake Worth Beach pavement

LAKE WORTH BEACH — Putting together the Lake Worth Beach Street Painting Festival requires a year of intense planning.

Lauren Bennett was given around six months.

Bennett, Lake Worth Beach's director of leisure services, was placed in charge of the city's signature event last year after Street Painting Festival Inc., the non-profit that oversaw the event since it began in 1995, was voluntarily dissolved by its board of directors.

The city took over and Bennett was given the task of running the weekend-long chalk fest, a job handled expertly for 26 years by Maryanne Webber, who stepped down last year as executive director.

The poster for the 2022 Lake Worth Beach Street Painting Festival from artwork created by artist Jessi Queen.
The poster for the 2022 Lake Worth Beach Street Painting Festival from artwork created by artist Jessi Queen.

"We got six months notice so we were already six months behind," Bennett said. "It's all been this big moving wave."

The festival returns Saturday morning to Lake Worth Beach's downtown after last year's event was forced online by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of hundreds of artists and thousands of visitors gathering to watch the city's streets transform into a gallery, artists used their driveways as canvasses and their computers and phones as a virtual audience.

Chalk work by Atlanta-based artist Jessi Queen
Chalk work by Atlanta-based artist Jessi Queen

"A large part of what we do is engage people and tell them about the art process and what we’re drawing," said Jessi Queen, an Atlanta-based artist whose work is being used on the 2022 festival poster. "That whole aspect was missing last year. It was just myself in my backyard."

Jeanie Burns, of Lake Worth Beach, has participated in the festival as an artist since 1996. She took part last year virtually, joining several other artists at a private driveway in Royal Palm Beach, and referred to it as a "nice little event."

But different?

"Oh yeah," Burns said. "Nobody came."

Lake Worth Beach artist Jeanie Burns and her dog Apollo share the love at the 2016 festival.
Lake Worth Beach artist Jeanie Burns and her dog Apollo share the love at the 2016 festival.

Related: 'Time to pass the torch': Street Painting Festival changes ownership - what does it mean?

More on the festival: What brings the Lake Worth Beach Street Painting Festival to life: Chalk, passion and Maryanne Webber

How large a crowd shows up this weekend is uncertain. In recent years, up to 100,000 visitors massed within the festival's footprint – from Lake to Lucerne avenues and between U.S. 1 and Federal Highway.

"Maybe it will be less because people are still worried or maybe it will be more because people are tired of being in the house," Bennett said. "I’m going back and forth on that.”

Statistics regarding new coronavirus cases and positivity rates are trending in the right direction, but it was little more than a month ago that Bennett was prepared to "either scale back or pull the plug entirely" on the festival.

"That’s kept me up at night," Bennett said. "How am I going to produce this event in a safe way but also make people feel like the world is not over? It’s been the biggest pressure.”

Facemasks are optional, but will be available this weekend. So will more than 900 pounds of hand sanitizer and plenty of COVID signage with safety information.

Lauren Bennett, Lake Worth Beach director of leisure services
Lauren Bennett, Lake Worth Beach director of leisure services

Queen, who will attend the festival with husband and fellow artist Zachary Herndon, is the mother of two young children and worries about getting them sick. So she and Herndon chose to stay by themselves instead of sharing a home with artist friends and have requested to work in a less-congested area.

"Everyone has their own level of comfort," Queen said.

Bennett got "really lucky" because she didn't have to turn away any artists who applied to participate in this weekend's event. Over 600 are expected to appear.

Burns said the accumulation of so many artists at one venue creates "the vibe you get from playing music with other people who are good and make you play better."

"The thing about the Street Painting Festival – it’s not that we don’t enjoy the crowds – but it’s really about convening and communing with your artist friends," Burns said. "Sometimes I don’t see any of them all year long, but I see them at the Street Painting Festival."

Jessi Queen, from Atlanta, will be a featured artist at the Lake Worth Beach Street Painting Festival.
Jessi Queen, from Atlanta, will be a featured artist at the Lake Worth Beach Street Painting Festival.

On the eve of the 2022 festival and after six months of non-stop preparation, Bennett isn't ready to coast just yet. For the past half year, she's juggled her festival responsibilities with her job in leisure services, which requires her to supervise eight managers, around 80 employees and countless projects.

At times, Bennett had to ask staffers to drop what they were doing to assist her because she was so overwhelmed with festival chores, but she said overseeing the event has been her "dream" since graduating from the University of Florida.

"There’s a lot of pressure in the sense that I want to make my city proud," said. Bennett, who began working for Lake Worth Beach in December 2013. "But I’m really excited about it.”

jmilian@pbpost.com

@caneswatch

Lake Worth Beach Street Painting Festival

WHEN: Saturday (10 a.m. to 9 p.m.) and Sunday (10 a.m. to 7 p.m.)

WHERE: Lake and Lucerne avenues between Dixie and Federal highways

COST: Free

PARKING: Shuttle service to the festival, departing from Palm Beach State College Lake Worth Campus, is available 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days. Limited free parking and pay-and-park lots are available in the downtown area.

TRI-RAIL: A free shuttle from the Lake Worth Beach Tri-Rail ticket will take riders to the festival area.

MORE INFO: Go to https://streetpainting.lakeworthbeachfl.gov/

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Lake Worth Street Painting Festival back after pandemic virtual event