There is only one thing better than building sand castles on the beach on a warm, sunny day - doing it for awards and prizes.

That's just what Savannah College of Art and Design students, alumni and faculty do at the annual SCAD Sand Arts Festival. This year's event is set for May 12, when competitors will vie for awards and prizes, including the coveted SCAD Spirit award.

"In May, the breathtaking Tybee Island beach hosts the unbridled joy of this beloved SCAD tradition," said SCAD president and founder Paula Wallace. "Sand Arts Festival is an annual celebration of pure imagination and invention as SCAD students fashion castles, chairs, cephalopods and more from the sandscape. It's a sun-soaked swath of sculptural marvels.

"Who doesn't love an art gallery with an ocean view?"

The festival has been held most recently on Tybee Island's North Beach, but this year has been moved to the South Beach, near the pier.

"The event can trace its beginning back to 1998. The event highlights the creativity and collaborative skills of our students," says Maureen Garvin, dean of the School of Foundation Studies.

"⦠The original prizes were gift certificates for North Beach Grill, right next to the beach, and the winners used them immediately after the contest."

The competition is limited to the SCAD community, although high school teachers or administrators are invited to organize field trips for classes or student organizations to participate. The public is encouraged to watch.

"We draw a huge crowd often in the thousands to see the results of the day," Garvin says. "Families and friends often come and interact with students, taking pictures and expressing admiration. We have several high schools that are coming to participate."

The top award and most coveted prize is the SCAD Spirit Award, which carries a $1,500 cash prize.

"The top award selected from any category, the SCAD Spirit incorporates the values and images that represent the SCAD spirit," Garvin says. "Bee and/or acorn imagery can be prominent in artworks from any category.

"This is the top award and represents the essence of what makes SCAD successful," she says, "promoting a cooperative team spirit, demonstrating excellence and being innovative."

The event encourages cooperation.

"The artists usually work in teams of three or four," Garvin says. "We have a new category this year, a class category - so an entire class can work as a team."

Just as the annual Sidewalk Arts Festival in April draws alumni back to compete, so does the Sand Arts Festival. Last year's winners of the SCAD Spirit Award were Will Penny and Liz Winnel, SCAD alumni who received bachelor's and master's degrees in painting.

"Alumni often compete," Garvin says. "Many alumni who live in the region enter the competition; however, alumni travel from great distances to attend this and other SCAD events throughout the year."


What: SCAD Sand Arts Festival

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 12

Where: Tybee Island's South Beach near the pier

Cost: Free to onlookers