Paintings cover the ground and gymnasts dangle from trapezes. A pirate waltzes past on stilts. A Shakespearian sword fight begins while the sound of a heavy metal band clangs in the distance. The distinct smell of fried food wafts across the hot air.
This is SparkCon, Raleigh’s annual festival of creativity. Sprawling across four square blocks of downtown Raleigh from Sept. 17-20, the festival celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. Sarah Powers, executive director of Visual Art Exchange, the organization that produces SparkCon, said this year the festival drew even more visitors than last years’ 55,000.
SparkCon includes 12 “sparks,” or themes, including artSPARK, theaterSPARK and circusSPARK. Powers said the organizers tried to integrate the variety of sparks instead of segregating each spark into a specific location.
Running through the event was ArtSPARK’s annual street painting contest, where 800 people transformed 300 squares of asphalt into works of art along Fayetteville Street, Powers said.
The Cruz family painted two of these 5-by-5 squares. Jose Cruz, an artist and art teacher at Wake Forest Middle School, is a seven-time winner of the street painting contest and has been a participant since the festival began in 2006.
This year, he surprised his wife and daughters by getting them a square too. Cruz’s wife, Dawn, their daughters, Ariana and Alana, and Alana’s best friend, Maia, won for “Best Family Design” this year.
“I was cheering them on and getting inspired by them,” Jose Cruz said.
For those who didn’t register for an official square, there was a large piece of asphalt open to the public to draw on. By 4 p.m. on Saturday, it was covered in chalk. Nadia Harris, 8, and Avery Wright, 9, could be found there drawing their own masterpieces. Monique Harris, Nadia’s mother, said they were inspired by seeing the art on Fayetteville Street.
“I like being creative with everything I do because it makes me feel more calm and relaxed,” said Avery, sending up a cloud of chalk smoke as she worked on her drawing.