Urban Scrawl goes online with Virtual Scrawl

Joel Oliphint

Last year, about 7,500 people attended Urban Scrawl, the beloved summer festival in Franklinton that features dozens of artists creating large-scale murals while interacting with passersby. It was the biggest year yet for the event, said Franklinton Arts District Board President Adam Herman.

But other than the sweltering heat and the tornado sirens every Wednesday at noon, Summer 2020 has very little in common with Summer 2019. As Ohio continues to battle the coronavirus, festivals have had to adapt. “Urban Scrawl is, at its heart, an outdoor event that takes place in a compact, enclosed loading dock area, which would have made social distancing impossible,” Herman said.

And so, instead of the traditional event, the Franklinton Arts District will host Virtual Scrawl on Saturday, Aug. 29, from noon to 10 p.m., featuring 30 artists creating live art on quarter-size panels from their homes and studios. Throughout the day, all participating artists will share photo updates, time-lapse videos, livestream feeds and more, which the Franklinton Arts District will then feature on its Facebook and Instagram accounts.

“We thought it was unlikely that artists would be able to transport and fit a 4-foot-by-8-foot plywood panel in their studios, so we decided to reduce the panel size but keep the same dimensions, which are essentially 1x1, 1x2 and 2x2 feet,” Herman said. “In keeping with the spirit of Urban Scrawl as an in-person, live festival, artists will be creating the work on the day of the event and only on the day of the event.”

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Ten of the Virtual Scrawl artists will also be interviewed by emcee Travis Hoewischer. “To have one artist interviewed each hour is a lot of in-depth content that we hope will replicate the experience of a spectator or participant,” said Herman, noting that viewers can also comment and ask questions. “It's not going to be a perfect comparison between the two experiences, but we're hoping it will be similar to the interactivity of the in-person event.”

There are a couple of upsides to going virtual. For one, anyone can attend Urban Scrawl when it’s in your pocket. Plus, some artists may be intimidated by the fest’s typically large-scale format. “Virtual Scrawl may allow some artists who may not have been ready to take the leap into a large-format mural at a very loud, hot, sweaty, immersive event to sort of dip their toe in the water,” said Herman, noting that the biggest advantage of going online is the most obvious one: “Everyone is kept safe.”

Normally, Urban Scrawl is a fundraiser. The completed murals are sold at auction to the highest bidder, with proceeds supporting artist grants, arts education and arts programming in Franklinton. Virtual Scrawl will continue the charitable cause, but with a necessary twist.

“Because all of these programs are on temporary hiatus during the pandemic, we decided that this year's proceeds should be directed to artists with immediate needs,” Herman said. “Many people are unaware of how bad the COVID-19 pandemic has been for artists and the overall arts sector. In our community, performances have been canceled. Gallery shows have been pushed to 2021 or converted into online exhibitions. And, in general, opportunities for artists to show their work have been far fewer. … So we are going to sell the panels created by this year's Virtual Scrawl artists for a flat price at ROY G BIV Gallery in Franklinton to raise money for the Urban Scrawl Artist Relief Fund, which will help past and present Urban Scrawl artists negatively impacted by the pandemic with direct financial assistance.”

Online or no, the main thrust of the festival remains the same. “The beauty of it is, as in every year, Urban Scrawl is artists helping artists,” Herman said. “Our organization just exists as a facilitator. It's really all about the art and the artists.”

Virtual Scrawl artist Ashley Carroll is interviewed by Travis Hoewischer in her studio during a dry run for Saturday's online fest.


Virtual Scrawl artist Ashley Carroll paints in her studio during a dry run for Saturday's online fest.