Meet John Howell – Founder of Cordovan Art School and at the foundation of the Annual Round Rock Chalk Walk Art Festival returning this October 7-8, 2022!
I wanted to be an artist
At age five, I knew I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I loved the feeling of holding a paintbrush and creating something from a blank piece of paper. By the time I was in high school, I committed to my dream of becoming an artist. My notes for history class, English class, and math were covered in doodles and drawings. My love for creativity led me to study fine art in college and to land in Round Rock, TX where I started Cordovan Art School in 2009.
My dream for developing the arts in the community
Something was happening in Round Rock at the time, with the formation of the new Round Rock Arts Council. I could feel excitement building around the arts in the area and I wanted to be a part of it. I had participated in several street chalk festivals before, so I presented the idea of a chalk festival to the RR Arts Council. We were looking for a way to promote the arts on a shoe-string budget, and a Chalk Festival seemed to fit the bill. Many talented community leaders teamed up with The Round Rock Arts Council to launch the first Chalk Festival in 2009, and I was excited to be a part of it.
The first year of the festival, I was worried about getting enough artists together. So I paid the entry fee for any art teacher at Cordovan Art School if they would just come and draw at the festival. It was a small beginning, but I realized that the Chalk Walk was going to be a long-term success just a few years later when the festival award winners were actually 1st-time artists who I had never met before. (I still pay the entry fee for any Cordovan Art School teacher who enters; a tradition that started that very first year). Typically, we attract local artists who live in the greater Austin Area. But the festival has brought in a few artists from faraway places like Los Angeles.
The dream comes true
It takes a lot of work to put on the festival each year, and sometimes I wonder if it is worth the effort… but every year I witness something unexpected that makes it all worthwhile. Here are a few of my favorite moments: Katie Bogan entered her first chalk walk at age seven and is the only artist who has participated ALL ten years. As a junior in high school, Katie won BEST of SHOW out of ALL of the artists. It was the only time in 10 years that a high school student has won this award! Another favorite moment was when the daughter of long-time Chalk Walk artist, Becky Porter, was asked what is her favorite holiday. She replied, “My favorite holiday of the year is the Chalk Walk”. I am passionate about the Round Rock Chalk Walk. I helped kick-start this arts festival twelve years ago, and today, I am the only original member still involved. At the last Chalk Walk held in 2020, more than 60,000 people were in attendance! It has become a great success.
Working through challenges
Meanwhile, although I was blessed with many opportunities to create artwork for magazines, books, homes, hospitals, and universities, I wanted to spread the arts further into the community. I tried, but my personal art journey was not without challenges. Because I have a creative mind, I like to dream big and try new things. After I opened up the first Cordovan Art School in Round Rock, TX, I decided if one art school is good, then two is better. However, the second art school failed; it was 100% my fault for bad decisions I had made, and I was devastated. My 3rd and 4th attempts were also flops. I had my hand in many creative ventures along the way and I failed at many of them. I have learned some of the greatest life lessons from my failures. At the low points in my life, I learned how to be more compassionate and caring of other people because there are a lot of people who are going through hard things in life just like I was. I’ve learned that my failures don’t define me. My successes don’t define me. Who I am becoming through the journey is what counts.
I have felt successful this past year after opening up our eighth Cordovan Art Studio (four in Austin and four in Houston) bringing art to thousands of kids, teens, and adults in these communities. This would have never happened without all the bumps and bruises along the way. I wonder what type of person I would be today if I quit and stopped trying after my first failed attempt. I am thankful that I kept going or there would be no Chalk Wall and no Cordovan Art School. At Cordovan, our motto is “We create artists”, and that is really the dream behind all of it that has propelled me forward during tough times.