The Sidewalk Arts Festival in Savannah, Georgia is sponsored by its local art school the Savannah College of Art and Design. Hundreds of artworks are created using nothing but sidewalk chalk, fingers, and the creative genius of SCAD students and alumni.
The festival takes place in Forsyth Park, a large rectangular park in the heart of Savannah, ringed by Victorian and Neoclassical mansions. The design of Forsyth Park was influenced by 19th century urban renewal projects in Paris, France. Large oak trees provide ample shade for participants and are draped in Savannah’s characteristic Spanish Moss.
A wide, straight path sweeps through the center of the park, around the picturesque Forsyth Fountain, with smaller curvilinear walkways branching off along the way. The edges of the sidewalk are lined off and divided into squares which become the canvasses for local art students, prospective students, and alumni. The center path is reserved for SCAD students, while the winding paths are divided into separate areas for alumni and prospective students.
The sidewalk artists begin their creations early in the day before the swarms of visitors arrive in the afternoon to walk through and view the completed works. Participants are limited to the chalk kit provided at registration in the “Chalk Tent”, so the works are unified by the same brightly colored palette.
Some artists bear the dust clouds created by the chalk while others turn the chalk into more manageable paint by wetting it down. Those who opt for the paint technique often end up painting with their fingers if they forgot to bring brushes. Seeing the SCAD students with their fingers tipped in chalk and their faces smeared with powder like sloppy clowns is almost as entertaining as the artwork.
The finished pieces are judged and awarded cash prizes. Groups and individuals compete for things like best underwater scene and best overall group work. American Greetings, which sponsors the event, also awards several prizes. Most sketch out their ideas before hand and then struggle with translating their drawings from pencil and paper to chalk and sidewalk. The event is nearing 1,000 participants, and is open to all SCAD students, but illustration and painting majors usually go home with the prizes.
Elaborate underwater scenes are popular, but a diverse array of artwork can be seen. Portraits, patterns, multi-square comic strips, animals, and cartoons have all served as subject matter, all created with the tricky chalk medium which can be tough to manipulate. One unique group bodypainted a participant into their artwork as Superman. The idea caught on and has become a fun staple of the event.
SCAD also began a Cyberwalk Arts Contest in 2010 for alumni who won’t be able to make it to SCAD in person. The Cyberwalk Arts Contest utilizes technology and allows alumni to draw on a digital sidewalk to compete for prizes as well.
The event began in 1981, three years after the founding of the school and occurs annually in April. Registration is required to participate but the event is free to attend. Since it takes place in a park, pets are also welcome to attend and there is also a children’s area where children can play with chalk. Vendors are present to provide much-needed refreshment from the humid Savannah climate.
By the end of the day, most of the weary participants’ clothes, hands, arms, and faces are covered in chalk and the park has been transformed into an outdoor gallery. The chalk art is left on display for a brief period of time after the event.