SALT LAKE CITY — Jessica Grover's favorite subject in school was always art.
"I just thought it was so fun to make anything I could out of my hands," she told the Deseret News.
So when Grover was 13, a neighbor invited the aspiring young artist and her brother to participate in their local Davis County chalk art competition. They were hooked.
"We both just fell in love," Grover said.
Which is why the following summer, Grover and her brother again found themselves participating in local chalk art — this time through the Utah Foster Care's Chalk Art Festival held each year to highlight the need for foster families across Utah. For Grover, whose own family was then providing foster care for two sisters, it was a perfect combination.
Grover, 23, still remembers the surprise she felt when her parents got involved in foster care. She was a teenager at the time and thought her parents were done having children. But, as she tells it, a remodeling of her family's home led to an open room that practically cried out to be filled.
"It just felt really empty," Grover said. "My dad kept having a dream about a little girl who was lost, and he just ended up having this feeling that our family was incomplete."
Soon after, Grover's family welcomed two girls into the family, Brecken and Lexi.
"(They) were actually the first children that were in our home through foster care, and they ended up being the only ones … because we decided to adopt them," Grover said.
For Grover, gaining two sisters through foster care has made participating in the Utah Foster Care's Chalk Art Festival even more meaningful, and now, the artist's work will be on display for the eighth time at the festival, which runs June 14-16.
'Covered in chalk from head to toe'
Kathleen Bowen began doing chalk art 10 years ago at a festival in her Grants Pass, Oregon, hometown. She's since moved and brought her skills to Utah, and this weekend will mark her third time participating in the Utah Foster Care's Chalk Art Festival.
"It has a special place in my heart,” said the 27-year-old artist. “My brother is from foster care, so that's a huge thing for my family. I want to support it in any way I can, honestly."
At its heart, the festival — now in its 17th year — is a large community effort with support coming from local artists like Grover and Bowen as well as local businesses. Rush Cycle will hold a charity spin class on the plaza Saturday morning to raise money for Utah Foster Care, and local businesses can also help fund Utah Foster Care programs by sponsoring an artist. To celebrate Father's Day, the community will come together Saturday afternoon to honor the Foster Dad of the Year, and then there's the prizes The Gateway merchants donate for the festival's winning artists that are announced Saturday evening.
Before the judging begins late Saturday afternoon, registered chalk artists work all day Friday and part of Saturday to complete their pieces. According to Grover, some artists are so dedicated that they end up staying overnight to finish their art. While neither Grover nor Bowen work through the night, they do put in long hours to make sure their pieces get finished in time.
"It's a lot of math, which nobody thinks about," Bowen said. "You have to make sure everything is proportional. … Everything has to be measured precisely."
But as history has shown, both the challenging time limit and the many hours spent in the summer heat don't scare artists like Grover and Bowen away from the festival.
"One of my favorite things (is that) you get to interact with so many people," Grover said. "They come and look at your picture, and they ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ and get all excited. It's just the best feeling ever.
“And it's really fun to get covered in chalk from head to toe,” she added with a laugh.
But even more than the chalky fun, it's the festival's purpose — spreading awareness of the need for foster families — that continues to bring artists like Grover and Bowen back each summer.
"People just don't realize … that there are so many kids out there that don't have homes, that are struggling right now to find a home, and they've been tossed through home to home trying to just find a family," Grover said. "We do need more families to join in."
"Every kid just wants to be loved. They just want to have a home,” Bowen said. “They need somebody to say, 'I will take care of you, I will love you.'"
If you go …
What: Utah Foster Care’s Chalk Art Festival
When: June 14 noon-9 p.m., June 15 10 a.m.-7 p.m., June 16 noon-6 p.m.
Where: The Gateway, 400 W. 100 South
How much: Free