In some urban areas, sidewalk chalk art is as revered as fine oils and watercolors. Artists learn, experiment, teach and compete with everything from total naturalism to multicolored 3–D imagery.
In Savannah, it’s all about having fun.
The SCAD Sidewalk Arts Festival has been a local tradition for 29 years – current and prospective students, along with alumni (some come back year after year) are assigned squares on the labyrinthine walks of Forsyth Park, and given three hours to come up with a masterpiece, a cartoon – or whatever.
This year, approximately 850 of those squares will be concrete canvases.
“I think it’s to celebrate what SCAD offers, and the talent of our students,” says David Blake, director of student activities. “It celebrates A), the weather in Savannah in April, and B), it showcases the really amazing things they can do, regardless of their major. They all have a strong foundation in art, and drawing, and use of color.”
There are prizes awarded, too, from the likes of co–sponsor Gray’s Reef (“Best Underwater Scene”), American Greetings (“Flora and Fauna”) and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (“Where the Spirit Meets the Art”).
The 2010 judges come from the Cartoon Network, Tokion Magazine and other art–savvy concerns.
Fourth–year architecture student Matt Welker is competing in his third consecutive Sidewalk Arts Festival. “Part of Sidewalk Arts, as an entity, is it’s so appealing coming in as new student,” he explains. “You hear about this huge festival, and it sounds like fun.
“In architecture, you spend so much time moving away from the fine arts – and this is the broken–down fine arts, in a sense. It’s attainable and highly participatory.”
Welker is part of a five–member team – they call themselves the SCADicorns – with students majoring in creating writing, fiber art, performing arts and motion media design. “So we’re all from these totally different fields, different practices and I think different ways of thinking,” he says. “And it’s having fun, being a child again ... it’s a great afternoon.”
The SCADicorns have yet to decide on a final design for their chalk painting, for which they’ve been assigned three consecutive squares. “We haven’t sketched it out yet, although we’ve been talking,” says Welker. “It’s sort of difficult because there are five of us, and we’re all busy. We’ve talked about several different things, but we haven’t nailed down anything yet.”
By the time Saturday rolls around, they’ll be ready. The first order of business is to sketch the outline in white chalk, to keep everyone’s proportions in order. “It is a competition, after all,” he laughs. “We’re in it to win it.”
Two years ago, in Wekler’s sophomore year (and his first as a competitor), an early afternoon rainshower almost spoiled what had up till then been an idyllic experience.
“We dragged our blankets out – everyone was trying to protect their drawings, and trying to protect the drawings of everyone next to us. Everything sort of turned out muddled.”
However, he adds, “It was really so much fun ...it was a great day in the park. You leave with a sunburn or a tan – I’ll leave with a sunburn, ‘cause I’m very white and burn very easily.”
Although SCAD offers a limited amount of chalk–art technique workshops to any interested students, David Blake says, for the most part the artists rely on their own creative wiles and instincts.
“It’s not something that they get to do every day,” he says, “so it is a break from their classes, or the work that they’re focusing on.”
SCAD Sidewalk Arts Festival
Where: Forsyth Park
When: 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday, April 24
Addenda: Children’s drawing area, live music, food and drink vendors