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A World of Art At Their Feet

Like an untouched sandy beach at low tide, or a perfectly smooth blanket of fresh snow, there's something about a stretch of blank sidewalk that gives kids - and grown-ups - the urge to leave an impression.

What could be better, when that artistic instinct strikes, than a tub of brilliantly colored sidewalk chalk?

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Not much, according to Spencer Perez, age 7-1/2.

"It lets you do creative pictures on public property," says Spencer as he proudly puts the finishing touches on a bold sidewalk drawing titled "Alien."

Spencer is one of hundreds of children, art students, and adults who made their mark recently at the annual Sidewalk Arts Festival in downtown Savannah, Ga. Each aspiring artist transformed one square of gray at Forsyth Park in the city center, creating a kaleidoscope of color on concrete.

Under a canopy of twisting trees draped softly with Spanish moss, the outdoor artworks were charmingly framed by nature. Best of all, the sidewalk show attracted thousands of curious onlookers, who browsed slowly through the park the way connoisseurs do in an art gallery.

No wonder the unique festival has grown over the past 18 years from occupying only a few blocks to canvassing one of Savannah's biggest downtown parks.

Anyone may sign up for a box of chalk or section of sidewalk to create his or her own masterpiece. The event is hosted by the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

Like sand castles or snowmen, each of the powdery statements had its own special character. There were splashy cartoons and subtle reproductions of classics by such famous painters as Paul Czanne. There were Aztec calendars, political statements, and squares inspired by the movie "Mary Poppins."

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"This is my fiance, Brenda," says Andrew Sullivan, a photography student at SCAD. He was standing in front of a drawing in purple shades of a young woman doing a pirouette.

Chalk art requires physical stamina and stick-to-itiveness.

"It's hard on your hands and knees," says Rhonda Baker, a graphic design student who is kneeling on a folded-up towel as she completes her drawing of a scene from the film "Titanic." "It's a big task."

Some of the drawings are planned, others are purely spontaneous.

Nine-year-old Molly Holmes, working side by side with three girlfriends, was coloring a gigantic sunflower when a green footprint suddenly showed up in the wrong place.

"We were like 'Oops!' Then we decided to make it a falling petal," says Molly. In fact, what started as a mistake ended as a master-stroke. Molly and her friends Emily, Clara, and Patricia decided to title their work "A Falling Petal, or He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not."

Yet just as waves wash away sand sculptures and the sun melts the snow, so an afternoon thunderstorm can erase even the most masterly sidewalk art.

No one seems to mind that fact, though. It might be nature's way of making room for more chalk drawings.

"I wouldn't care if it rains," Spencer says. "I can do it again next year."

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