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Sidewalks Become Canvases For Sidelined Artists

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Cynthia Lake, an art teacher at John Muir High School in Pasadena, makes chalk art in front of her home, April 24, 2020 (Sharon McNary/LAist)

The one thing you have to believe about artists is that come hell or pandemic, they are going to make art. So it is with Cynthia Lake.

On a walk through my Pasadena neighborhood, I came across Lake, sitting on her butt, red Crocs-clad feet spread wide, busily scraping chalk on the sidewalk in front of her Chester Avenue house. A friend was doing the same thing about five concrete panels away.

Her plans to enter the Pasadena Chalk Festival in June crumbled, like so many other arts and culture events that have vanished during our months of pandemic prevention.

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So she’s turned to the streets for a creative outlet.

“I'm working on a Georgia O'Keeffe calla lily now, one of her expanded views that is enlarged to abstraction,” she said. “I mixed my colors on the ground and then I rub them with packing material to blend it, as if you're painting.”

She was layering gold on yellow, and adding a background of white and some little orange and black dots in the center of the flower. The harder she rubs it in, the more durable it remains underfoot.

It's quite hilarious to watch people walk by the front of my house at night,” she said. “They're jumping over the images (to avoid them) thinking they're going to ruin them. I'm telling them, no, walk on.

Sidewalk art in Pasadena during the pandemic (Sharon McNary/LAist)

Lake teaches art at Pasadena’s John Muir High School, and has been doing it for 27 years. She’s disappointed that only a fraction of her students have the internet access and tech equipment to continue her art classes online.

“So we are having a huge disparity with the students who have and have not,” Lake said.

On the sidewalk, wearing her festival souvenir T-shirt from a past event, she joked that she was channeling her inner Bob Ross, the iconic “Joy of Painting” TV artist famous for celebrating “happy little trees.”

“It’s just a happy little flower I'm creating here, just trying to brighten spirits,” she said.

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