Chalk art photoshoot transports children with special needs into colorful scenes

A chalk art scene of a UFO abduction brings a smile the face of a girl who lives with special needs.

For children with special needs, sometimes it can be difficult to see life beyond their disabilities. But at one annual event, they get to let their imaginations run wild and chalk it up to a special experience.

Kari Olavoson's son Jacob was born with a rare neurological disease that left him with seizures every day. Before he passed away when he was seven years old in 2018, one of his teachers suggested taking his picture in a couple of giant sidewalk chalk scenes as part of a bucket list his family was putting together.

"It's just fun to see him in an environment where it’s not medical or where we're not thinking about special needs, to see how excited he was to see the big colorful pictures. We still have the pictures up in our house," Olavoson said.

Now every fall, Olavoson and two of his teachers put on the ultimate sidewalk photoshoot in the parking lots at Jacob's old school, Sorteberg Early Childhood Center. Artists draw a half dozen 15-foot-by-20-foot chalk scenes and anyone with special needs can have their picture taken in the middle for free. Whether it’s being beamed up by a UFO, flying above the city as a superhero, or floating as a mermaid under the sea, the kids are immersed in a colorful new world.

"It’s amazing to see them have an opportunity to just be a kid," said Kathleen Murphy of Ultimate Sidewalk Chalk Photoshoot. "Just be an everyday kid who doesn’t have to do therapy today, who doesn't have to do something as part of a treatment."

The three women also formed a nonprofit called Brave Souls Photography, where they take family photos for people going through a difficult time. They say the sidewalk chalk event is the picture perfect way to keep Jacob's memory alive.

"It’s just really special to see all these people coming together and making it special and remembering my guy," said Olavoson.

The 5th annual Ultimate Sidewalk Chalk Photoshoot will be held on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Sorteberg Early Childhood Center on 11400 Magnolia Street NW in Coon Rapids. The 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. hour will be reserved for those who are high-risk or have sensory needs. There will also be a family photos area, a food truck, accessible bathroom and changing area/privacy tent on-site. For more information, click here.