AS I OFTEN tell people these days — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — while the growth of Savannah itself over the past decade hasn’t been all that remarkable, the growth of the local arts and cultural scene has skyrocketed exponentially.
(A cynic might say it’s too bad that our staff and budget haven’t also skyrocketed exponentially to keep up! But I’m not a cynic so of course I’d never dream of saying that.)
A cynic might also say that Savannah’s clear and sincere devotion to the arts is one of the major reasons to stay here at all, considering the staggering poverty, ridiculous violent crime rate and the poor state of the school system.
And there’s some truth to that — if you’re going to literally risk life and limb to live somewhere, that place better offer something that most other places don’t.
And Savannah does. I challenge anyone to find a market of comparable size in the U.S. that offers as wide a variety of high–quality, affordable arts and culture.
What’s more: Savannah offers a remarkable assortment of free cultural events. As much as I bash the City of Savannah government in this space, I have to give credit where it’s due: This is thanks primarily to our Mayor and City Council (current Mayor Edna Jackson as well as former Mayor Otis Johnson) deliberately making the arts a priority for funding.
Cities always have a choice whether or not to invest in the arts. Thankfully, our city leaders have so far seen the wisdom in opting to do just that.
Savannah offers so many high-quality free events, in fact, that sometimes arts groups in town who sell tickets will occasionally grumble that it’s hard to sell culture when the city gives so much of it away for free. I suppose they may have a point, but that’s a subject for a different column.
We celebrate Savannah’s cultural scene this week with our annual Fall Arts Preview special issue. Yup, if you’re counting, that’s our second special issue in a row, along with last week’s College Student Guide.
What can I say? We’re productive as all get–out over here.
Gracing our cover this week is a specially commissioned design by local artist and all-around righteous dude Jose Ray, who I think you’ll agree captures the essence of Savannah’s cultural ethos — as we had every faith that he would.
While like most of you I thoroughly enjoy attending concerts and shows around town, the only disconcerting part of the experience is the fact that I typically see so few school–age people in attendance.
I get the fact that parents need a grown–up night out every now and then, believe me I do. But it’s part of parenting to expose your children to arts and culture.
This is true whether you can afford a ticket or must limit yourself to the many free offerings that Savannahians are fortunate enough to have available.
And the argument about the extra ticket or two for the kids costing too much doesn’t wash either, because, you know, babysitters.
To be clear, I’m not talking about bringing your babies or toddlers to shows — please don’t, and leave those ginormous double-wide strollers at home too! — I’m talking about that wonderful, crucial, impressionable (and generally well–behaved) age range between about 8–14.
Call it middle school age, give or take. Whatever the label, it’s an extremely important time in a young person’s moral, emotional and spiritual development, and I think it’s no coincidence that most behavioral problems tend to manifest at that age, if they’re going to manifest at all.
For example, when I take my daughter to the Savannah Music Festival — which regularly brings in some of the best musicians in the world, generally at reasonable prices — she’s often the only person remotely in her age group in attendance.
I worry about the overall mental and spiritual education of the many more children who are not afforded these opportunities, often by parents who can clearly afford to take advantage of them.
These are often literally once–in–a–lifetime opportunities which have the power to literally change lives. Why not invest in the most precious person in your life by taking them to see such a thing?
I interviewed local dancer and choreographer Karen Burns for a story this issue about a Savannah Dance Festival event. One of her quotes which didn’t make it into the story — but which I think illustrates my point well — is this:
“Nothing against sports, but parents take their kids to sports events all the time, and then they’ll talk about them afterwards,” says Burns. “Why not do that with the arts?”
One might be tempted to respond, well all this is easy for you to say, Jim, since you get all those free tickets to things.
It’s true that one of the perks of this job is occasionally getting to attend the occasional show for free. But that’s not always the case, and as I said in any case it’s a parent’s job to expose their children to the personal development that the arts offer.
Rant over. So this week please enjoy our Fall Arts Preview to mark the more–or–less official start of the autumn festival season. We’ve done our level best to provide a complete, accurate listing of upcoming events on stage, on screen, and in the galleries.
There’s no doubt in my mind that there are some things we missed! The remedy for that is to simply make sure and check out each weekly issue of Connect Savannah as it comes out, either in print or online.
Like us on Facebook and find us on Twitter at @ConnectSavannah for regular updates and new developments as they happen.
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"And you deserve better."
Thanks, Jim, for my new campaign slogan.