CHALK THE WALK: SCAD – Sidewalk Chalk Art Delivers

Posted by: Rick Pariani in Uncategorized

Savannah_2011 070At a mere 150 miles from Jacksonville, Savannah, Georgia – the City built on a Bluff with a main street named Bull – is a must-see-and-do for anyone living or vacationing here in our community. The infrastructure work on the perennial construction of I95 has essentially been completed, making the drive up the Georgia Coast, both smooth and enjoyable. A two-night stay is the best way to get introduced and be able to absorb the character of Savannah – but with the recent travel ease, even an overnighter with a morning arrival and a next day, evening departure, will provide you with an entertaining and educational opportunity.

Savannah, founded in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe, has one of our nation’s largest, intact, historic districts. The City, best experienced on foot (www.TheSavannahWalkingTour.com), delivers intriguing details and storylines at every turn. Oglethorpe’s City Plan, with geometric Wards with Squares, has been studied for centuries and has served as inspiration for urban planners, architects and landscape architects from around the world.Savannah_2011 051

Oglethorpe’s City Plan may have been truly original, no one knows for sure. He organized each Ward into 8 Blocks. The largest 4 Blocks were Tything Blocks for residential purposes. The other 4 Blocks were Trust Lots for civic and commercial uses. The Tything Blocks were subdivided with East-West Lanes, creating today’s service alleys at the rear of homes. At the center of each Ward, was a Public Square; the beloved civic spaces that have helped make Savannah famous. To expand the town, Oglethorpe simply replicated and extended the patterned grid. The original Plan called for 4 Squares; Johnson, Wright, Ellis and Telfair. Today, there are 22 Squares gracing the City.

For a time Savannah was overlooked, forgotten and under-appreciated. The decades of the 60’s and 70’s, and into the 80’s, were not kind to the fabric of the City. Many historic buildings were either abandoned or demolished and a few really ugly, mostly municipal, buildings were forced on the scene. The backbone of the City’s residential retail and business district, along Broughton Street, was all but empty. By the late 70’s, the City experience for most visitor’s was confined to the riverfront honky-tonks and souvenir shops along the stone-cobbled River Street and bluff-top Factor’s Walk. Braver tourists would sometimes venture out to explore the City’s many Squares, but usually they were satisfied with a quick trolley tour to see the most promoted sights.

Over thirty years ago, in the midst of Savannah’s urban decline, Paula Wallace, May and Paul Poetter and Richard Rowan had a vision to create, from the ground up, a premier academic environment for art and design education. Today, the Founders’ vision has evolved into an internationally revered and distinguished university led by President Wallace. The Savannah College of Art and Design : SCAD was instrumental in helping spur a downtown renaissance. As SCAD grew in prominence and prestige – they acquired numerous historic structures. All of their acquisitions were ingeniously adapted, painstakingly restored and respectfully transformed for a variety of academic uses. With over 8,000 students, the Savannah location is comprised of almost 70 separate buildings, most of which are in, or adjacent to, the nationally registered historic district. The district was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966, named the Savannah Historic District.

Savannah_2011 090SCAD offers a unique college experience that is in beautiful harmony with the City and its historic heritage. Seemingly overnight, SCAD has grown to be recognized as the most comprehensive art and design university in the world, offering more degree programs and specializations than any other art university. SCAD has an urban location in Atlanta, Georgia, a study-abroad location in Lacoste, France and in 2010, became the first U.S. art and design university to establish a degree-granting location in Hong Kong.

SCAD has been wholly embraced by the City of Savannah. It is the City’s pied-piper, helping launch countless boutiques, shops and restaurants and symbiotically inducing the construction and renovation of historic homes, hotels, inns, apartments and condominiums. Even redevelopment of the original 1733 Ellis Square/1763 Market Square has taken place, further expanding the City’s visitor and resident entertainment, shopping and dining options. SCAD’s presence and its events, choreographed by its student/faculty personalities, have helped define a modern-vibe. That vibe is juxtaposed against the rich and historic tapestry of the City Center. The SCAD Family of administrators, educators, students and visiting participants conduct themselves with élan, while respecting the past, energizing the present and projecting a promising future for them, The Arts and the City.

One of the best ways SCAD gives back to the City is through its annual SCAD Sidewalk Arts Festival. This year, on Saturday, April 30th, the festival celebrated its 30th Anniversary – growing from an initial 40 to over 600 artists.  The festival now takes over the 1840 Forsyth Park, from Park Avenue on the south to the gorgeous, 1858, cast-iron Forsyth Fountain on the north. The park’s sidewalks are divided into approximately 5’ x 5’ squares. Each participant is given an identical box of colored chalks and then turned loose at 11:00AM. There were 520 squares for current students, 162 squares for alumni and 168 squares for prospective high school seniors and juniors. Prior to the 4:00PM Awards Ceremony, a panel of distinguished judges made the rounds to select the various categorical winners. This year, the judges dispensed a number of awards and prizes.

Savannah_2011 141The festival drew thousands of visitors and also serves as the centerpiece for SCAD’s Parents and Family Weekend. All visitors are amazed by the chalking of the walks. You can literally watch the art come alive as you walk the walks – as all participants start and stop at the same time. Students from all of the university’s many disciplines create masterpieces, either working alone or in teams. Some artists prepare well in advance with careful compositions and layouts – others take a more existential approach, creating as their muse informs. Everyone has fun and the festival promotes an interactive and celebratory atmosphere. With good, dry weather (like this year) visitors can stroll the walks in the evening or return the next day to witness and appreciate the art with less commotion – and great photo-ops.

When you plan your visit to Savannah, be sure to check the SCAD Calendar of Events (www.scad.edu). With careful timing and planning, you will be able to see student gallery exhibitions, plays, performances and shows by the next generation of fame, take in a movie at the always lauded Savannah Film Festival or secure a ticket to the consistently sold-out and world-wide attended, annual SCAD Fashion Show.

Savannah has history, heritage, culture and wonderful southern hospitality – it also has a partnership with SCAD and the “Future of Arts”. Together, it is an unbeatable and enviable combination that makes any visit memorable.


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