The Chalk Door Project was a roving art piece by K. C. Madsen with collaborators Temple Lentz, Cameron Suttles and everyone who made their mark in chalk. The mobile installation asked people to describe what they love about their Clark County community. Viewers were invited to finish a sentence any way they want, doodle, or expound on their thoughts using colored chalk. Before the chalk doors were erased for a new location, photos were taken to document the comments left by those who participate.

Clark County and Vancouver are on the north shore of the Columbia River, across from Portland, Oregon. There are approximately half a million residents of Clark County yet their only local media sources are The Columbian daily newspaper and smaller papers for the many individual smaller communities within the county. All of the TV stations and radio news outlets serving Clark County are located in Portland. While The Oregonian, Portland’s daily newspaper, is read by many people in Vancouver, The Columbian is read by very few in Portland.

Through the news media, Portlanders hear mostly about crime in Clark County and little else. In this Portland-dominated media environment, the successful branding of Portland is accelerated while the challenge of making Vancouver visible in a positive way is made more difficult. Few Portlanders realize how close by Clark County communities are in comparison to most of the suburban communities surrounding Portland. They are left with the impression that Vancouver is a high crime, low socioeconomic population with many more “rednecks” than on their side of the river. This false impression is reinforced by nicknames like “Vantucky.”

In reality, Clark County is a thriving, educated, and wonderful place to live with as diverse and engaged a community as Portland and its suburbs. Yet the stereotype persists. Even Clark County residents themselves are sometimes weak in the face of this onslaught, reacting with self deprecation or excessive defensiveness to the oft-asked question from their Portland friends, “why Vancouver?”

The Chalk Door Project: What I Love About will went to various events throughout the county in 2011-12. The Chalk Doors were three sets of two hollow core doors that were hinged together. They were painted with chalk board paint. An unfinished sentence, “What I love about [community name] is” was stenciled in rows on one side of the doors and a single statement “What I love about [community name]” was stenciled at the top of the reverse side of the doors. The reverse side allowed for free-form writing and drawing by viewers. Colored chalk and chalkboard erasers were held in wire baskets, attached to the sides of the chalk doors. The doors were stabilized with steel straps at the top.

There were no rules or right answers for participants. Inscriptions or drawings could be personal or universal. The Chalk Door Project was, and remains in documentation, an art piece, not a civic promotion or community marketing piece.

This project was sponsored by Arts of Clark County.