Recently the air in Savannah has been thick with more than just the coastal humidity. Unity around the arts has spurred a palpable buzz that is spreading outside area art circles.
With recent acknowledgements of the creative hub Savannah is becoming in leading national news sources (New York Times, I'm talking about you) and hometown recognition of community-wide art events, such as the First Friday Art March being voted by the readers of Connect (thank you all very much) the Best Art Show in Savannah, it seems that art is increasingly becoming an essential part of the Savannah experience.
As a leader of Art Rise Savannah, an arts non-profit that produces the programs the First Friday Art March, Fresh Exhibitions and the Savannah Art Informer, I’ve witnessed firsthand the excitement the public has about the strengthening art scene.
Art Rise isn’t the only group that is actively propelling Savannah’s creative identify forward. We are joined by new arts organization, ARC Savannah, led by some of Savannah’s principal artists and art advocates, and long-time organization, the Savannah Art Association.
But it’s not just about art organizations. What would the Art March be if there weren’t a neighborhood of galleries and small businesses embracing art? A growing number of galleries throughout the city offer beautiful and stimulating cultural experiences.
On a grander scale, the City of Savannah’s recent unveiling of designs for a new Cultural Arts Center demonstrates the city’s investment in the arts both as a cultural and economic engine.
And it’s impossible to talk about art in Savannah without mentioning SCAD. While SCAD is the most prominent art entity in town, this has come with benefits and downsides. While SCAD has attracted thousands of talented artists, both faculty and students, and presents art programming to the city, its presence has in many ways shadowed the local art community.
An institution of its size in a small city can suffocate grassroots efforts to gain visibility for arts, since many art outsiders see SCAD as the beginning and end of art in Savannah.
But perhaps the tide is changing. I recently wrote an article for the Savannah Art Informer about SCAD’s decision to retire the sculpture program on its Savannah campus and to relinquish its lease on the program’s home, Boundary Hall.
Boundary Hall, beloved by students as a haven for messy, hands-on art making, will be the new home of The Creative Coast. TCC plans to transform the old industrial brick space into the Creators’ Foundry. This new space hopes to be home to entrepreneurs, funders and creatives, highlighting the relationship between art, innovation, and economic prosperity.
With signs that SCAD is focusing more on the Design in its name, than the Art, perhaps this is the moment when art propagators will rise to fill the void. With new artistic ventures and organizations, local arts are now offering a widening community, as well as forgotten fine art students, a lens into a world of creativity and fine arts.
Artists and art organizations working together to grow and highlight local talent can bring value to the arts locally, while also attracting the attention of a larger audience. As artists’ careers expand and cultural events boom, Savannah can launch into the national consciousness as an art destination, a designation that would encourage more than just the arts to flourish in the city.
So, what’s the point? Beyond it being an optimistic view of Savannah’s future, it’s also an introduction to the current climate and to the perspectives of this columnist.
I’m here to share stories of the people, places, and events that are influential to the art scene from the inside. This column aims to bring thoughtful commentary, awareness, and appreciation to ground-up efforts to transform Savannah into a thriving art city.
Although you can always look to this page to find accounts of the action, I do invite you to witness it first-hand this First Friday at the Art March. This is my first and only shameless plug (my fingers might be crossed as I write this), so come experience the artistic and cultural contributions your neighbors are making to the community.
And while you’re there, say hello to me, your source for the heartbeat of Savannah.
Lauren Flotte is President of the Board of Directors of ArtRise Savannah.