Greetings to Savannah's art aesthetes, culture consumers and sundry spectators. I've been graciously handed the helm of these crucial column inches — formerly occupied by the venerable Allison Hersh — to offer my mildly amusing musings on the state of Savannah's art scene.
Allison's Art & Soul column ran in these pages for something like 17 years, so she's left quite the shoes to fill. For my part, I'll endeavor to cover something new and unique in Savannah's art world each week for readers to wrap their imaginations around and perhaps have a conversation about.
Interestingly enough, I've been writing professionally for about 17 years, covering art and other symptoms of civilization for a variety of regional, national and international publications. I've been contributing to Do Savannah — this paper's weekly arts and culture section — for about three years now. I also currently sit on the Savannah-Chatham County Historic Site and Monument Commission. Along with being involved in various nonprofits over the years (in Savannah and elsewhere), I also have a strong interest in social issues and community building. Hopefully my diverse range of interests will contribute to a distinctive perspective on the arts and produce something that's entertaining and informative to read each week. At least that's the goal.
I'll do my best to cover the big, important art openings and museum happenings, but I'll also strive to give voice to the lesser-known artists who might be working just under the radar and unsung community organizations that are using art as a tool for development and education. My intention is to write about the intersection of art and community, so I welcome comments and suggestions on everything from public art, to school-based creative projects, to individuals and organizations making a difference using the arts.
As a point of reference, there are two statues perched on the fourth-floor balcony of City Hall's glittering, gold-domed roof. One represents art and the other commerce. The city's devotion to the latter is unassailable, but there's some question in the arts community about the Hostess City's dedication to the former.
To jumpstart the conversation, I'd like to bring attention to an art map that was recently produced by the Arts Resource Collective of Savannah, with research help from Savannah College of Art and Design students. The map — called Art Map Sav — lists more than 100 art locations in the Savannah area, including galleries, studios, exhibits and other points of interest, from downtown, to the southside, all the way to Tybee Island.
The president of ARC, Daniel E. Smith, explains the intention of the map, saying, “The goal of this map is to show how widespread our art opportunities are and how creative and vital our present resources are. By helping people to find all of the many art opportunities in Savannah, we increase the perception of Savannah as a cultural and creative center.”
Smith explains that the genesis of the map came after a number of informal discussions with various stakeholders in Savannah's art community.
“As a nonprofit, we wanted to focus on the perceived decline in the presence of artists in the downtown core and the loss of galleries and other ways of engaging residents and visitors in the vitality of the art scene here in Savannah. We engaged in some focus meetings and market research using SCAD art management courses to do studies of the local scene.
"The overwhelming conclusion was that Savannah has the resources and resident artist density to be a vital cultural center for the visual arts, in addition to its other attractions. What Savannah lacked was the sense of an Arts District, which can be seen in such places as Asheville and Charleston and are further delineated by maps.”
Unfortunately the map isn't available online, but Smith says they are available at just about every gallery in the city, as well as a number of area hotels.
As for the state of the arts in Savannah, Smith thinks there's a lively, creative scene, but much more can and should be done.
“Arts are alive and well, but they need more of a focus from the city and county governments as most cities make a great deal of this type of resource. SCAD has had a great deal to do with the growth of this sector of our population, but is in the education business, not the building of a cultural milieu. The city needs to take a more active role in celebrating and supporting what we have and letting others know we have it. Once that type of promotion and interest takes place, the community will continue to grow and flourish.”
There are certainly plenty of arts institutions that regularly contribute to the vibrant culture of Savannah, but more can definitely be done to enhance the standing of the arts within the city. I look forward to engaging in that ongoing dialogue and hearing what you think.
Kristopher Monroe is a writer documenting the intersection of art and community. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @savartscene.