Annual 'Chalkfest' and new musical play space keeps the arts and honored community member's memory alive

Summer music and a Chalkfest were born out of a passion for the arts by the residents of Hazen, a prairie town in North Dakota, a state that borders Canada in the USA. The town holds weekly outdoor musical performances on its long northern summer evenings. Hundreds enjoy these hours with music in the air, and now the children love to chime in, playing Percussion Play’s newly installed outdoor musical instruments.

The instruments were purchased to celebrate the life of a community member, Bonnie Johnson, who was a great supporter of the arts in Hazen. The dedicated group of friends decided to help enhance an area of the local park which had long been under-utilized. After coming across Percussion Play on the internet, everyone felt they had found the perfect way to honor Bonnie – through the arts and music. The arts are vital to the life of the local community in Hazen.

Today both children and adults enjoy the park’s musical instruments.

Chalkfest organizer Lauren Donovan says, “There is a strong feeling for the arts here in Hazen. We put on theatre productions and wanted to bring the arts to our local park. The park is very prominent in the downtown area, with a canopied staging area surrounded by benches in the grass. There was an open area near play equipment, so we chose to enhance it with outdoor musical instruments. Now, children and older people enjoy these instruments – it helps bring the community together.”

As a town with a solid link to the arts, Hazen has gone one step further and combined art and music with an annual Chalkfest. By inviting chalk artists from around the country, the town came to life last Summer with a portion of Main Street adorned with fascinating three-dimensional artworks. Artists encouraged children to chalk their own creations and help make it a truly memorable event. Musical entertainment and nightly meals added to the festival feeling.

Community Mandala Artist, Sandy Forseth, was a part of this event where she had the task of chalking a sidewalk for children to help color in. Sandy created a mandala at the sidewalk intersections, with large music scales and piano keyboards. The winding art led down the curving pathway to where the Percussion Play instruments are now.

The festival was conceived as an opportunity to dedicate the instruments to Bonnie Johnson publicly.

Sandy says, “Bonnie was very active in the community, in the theatre, and the community wanted to celebrate her life through musical instruments. The Chalkfest was a heart-warming day. Grief was fresh within Hazen, and we all know music and art helps and heals. The instruments are wonderful- I particularly loved the xylophone, which was really interesting and caught my eye.”

Lauren Donovan says Bonnie Johnson was singular in her devotion to the arts, and the musical instruments will celebrate her life for generations to come.

The community is looking forward to Chalkfest II this August. Chalk artists will once again create unique temporary art on the street while children make happy sounds on the Percussion Play instruments.