Wednesday, February 24, 2021

City Council approves repairing Police Memorial Trail after damage by Hurricane Matthew

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2021 at 10:28 AM

click to enlarge Savannah's dilapidated Police Memorial Trail has been officially closed to the public for years. - NICK ROBERTSON/CONNECT SAVANNAH
Nick Robertson/Connect Savannah
Savannah's dilapidated Police Memorial Trail has been officially closed to the public for years.
A recent vote by Savannah’s City Council to rebuild the Police Memorial Trail will provide another segment to Chatham County’s Tide to Town trail-network system, which aims to connect diverse communities with a series of safe pathways for walking, skating, or biking.

Located on the west side of the Truman Parkway from near the intersection of Bee Road and E. 52nd Street to Dixie Avenue near Victory Drive and Daffin Park, the forested Police Memorial Trail has been closed for years due to its state of disrepair. City Council unanimously voted to revive the trail at a cost of $599,285 during their Feb. 11 meeting.

Reconstruction of the Police Memorial Trail is slated to begin on March 15, and take six months to complete. When the pathway is reopened, this will become a new segment of the comprehensive Tide to Town trail network of paved trails and safe on-street paths dedicated to walkers, joggers, cyclists, skaters, and other non-vehicular traffic, according to Caila Brown, the Executive Director of Bike Walk Savannah and a Tide to Town board member.

The Police Memorial Trail is planned to be connected with the 3.1-mile Truman Linear Park Trail, which was completed by Chatham County officials in November as the first finished phase of the Tide to Town initiative.

“The combination of the Police Memorial Trail and the Truman Linear Park Trail is really what sparked the idea behind Tide to Town,” Brown said. “We had these two different pieces of trails that would eventually connect, and we looked at what other pieces would come to light in the next few years.”

When discussing the Police Memorial Trail reconstruction, Savannah Alderman Nick Palumbo said that Chatham County’s work on the trail network set the bar high for continuing the project.

“They set a very high standard for us to aspire to as our city trail,” Palumbo said. “We have the Police Memorial Trail that has been in disrepair since Hurricane Matthew. I am really proud to bring this forward, to bring these two trails together.”

Although the council unanimously voted to approve funding the Police Memorial Trail project, Alderwomen Bernetta Lanier and Estella Shabazz expressed concerns about what benefits the Tide to Town trail infrastructure will provide for their individual districts. Lanier said that she sees this project as a luxury.

“When I consider the issues in the 1st District, if we had to make a list of critical life-impacting projects that we needed to spend citizen dollars on, a trail wouldn’t make the list of 25, maybe not even the first 50,” Lanier said. “But, do we understand the merits of a trail regarding health, wealth, and connectivity? Yes, we do.”

Shabazz stated concerns about the equality of the trail project’s overall benefit in proportion to what she considers minimal connections within the 5th District.

“When you look at the layout for the Tide to Town trail, it only comes to a small edge of the 5th District, and the 5th District – especially the west side of the district – has been left out for years and years and years,” Shabazz said.

According to Mayor Van Johnson, several community groups support the Police Memorial Trail renovation project, including the Ardsley Park/Chatham Crescent Neighborhood Association representing the area.

Palumbo noted that the Tide to Town project is intended to boost equity by providing area residents who do not have a car with a safe pathway for traveling to work or school, while also providing healthy recreation areas.

“I look to one day having a comprehensive trail where people can get around and they do not have a car,” Palumbo said. “We take it one piece at a time, and I’m really glad to see the plan coming forward.”

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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Located by North Beach, the structure was purpose-built as a marine-science education center

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2021 at 5:06 PM

click to enlarge The exterior of the new Tybee Island Marine Science Center by North Beach. - NICK ROBERTSON/CONNECT SAVANNAH
Nick Robertson/Connect Savannah
The exterior of the new Tybee Island Marine Science Center by North Beach.
With construction of the new Tybee Island Marine Science Center almost complete, the beachside institution began welcoming visitors at its freshly built location on Feb. 18 with the official opening of their gift shop, while its exhibition spaces are expected to debut later this spring.

According to Cathy Sakas, president of the Tybee Island Marine Science Center’s Board of Trustees, the organization has been working toward building this new facility for the past 15 years, after operating out of the beach town’s former police station near Tybee’s pier since 1988. The new building is located by Tybee Island’s North Beach, and was purpose-built as a marine-science education center at a cost of $3.5 million.

“This move has been a long time coming, but well worth the wait,” Sakas said, while expressing gratitude to Tybee’s government for the use of their former location, even if by the time they closed it, “you could see daylight through some of the walls.”

The new building is sited on two plots of beachfront property worth $2 million that were donated to the center by Dave and Martha Makel and the Fleetwood Family, according to Sakas. With its modern architecture, earth-toned exterior, and sweeping oceanfront views, the new facility was designed to blend in with its surroundings after consulting with area residents.

“Fortunately, what the community wanted to see was exactly what we wanted,” Sakas said, adding that the facility is elevated to withstand storm surges. The ground level will eventually become an open-air classroom for visiting school groups, and the building also houses a 4,600-gallon water tank for loggerhead sea turtles, which are occasionally kept by the center for up to two years before being released into the ocean.

The center’s new gift shop features numerous marine-related stuffed animals ranging from sharks to flamingos to octopuses, as well as ocean-focused coloring books, wildlife guides, puzzles, and other intriguing curiosities – including an initial display of three box turtles and a snake. Proceeds from gift-shop sales benefit the ongoing development of the remaining exhibit spaces, Sakas said.

The center’s West Gallery expected to open on March 25, followed by East Gallery’s planned opening on May 1. Meanwhile, visitors can already step up to the loft level sponsored by the Georgia Ports Authority to enjoy vistas over the nearby shoreline, with two telescopes available for public use.

“The view from up there is spectacular,” Sakas said.

The gift shop is currently open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Thursday through Sunday. Visit tybeemarinescience.org for more details about the Tybee Island Marine Science Center.

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Ellis talks COVID-19 relief, CAT controversies, Chatham fire service, and more

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2021 at 4:13 PM

click to enlarge Chatham County Commission Chairman Chester Ellis in his office. - MALCOLM TULLY
Malcolm Tully
Chatham County Commission Chairman Chester Ellis in his office.
Chester Ellis is accustomed to starting out under tough circumstances.

Growing up poor in Chatham County as the seventh sibling in a family of 10 children, whose parents were continually moving them between rented homes in impoverished neighborhoods, Ellis learned to make the most of what little he had.

“My father didn’t go no further than 3rd grade, my mother didn’t go no further than 8th grade, but they made sure the rest of us, all their children, got the best education they could, and they made sure we were using it like it should be used,” Ellis said, asserting that this upbringing made him a lifelong learner. “Every day is a learning curve for me, because I learn something new.”

Now Ellis is facing the ultimate test of his life's education as the new Chatham County Commission Chairman, after being sworn in on Jan. 4 following a single term as commissioner for Chatham’s District 8. While Ellis has long served in varied leadership capacities – as a coach, a teacher, a pastor, and a community activist – he has never taken on a role like this, assuming direct accountability for the safety and economic wellbeing of some 300,000 county residents.

“It’s an awesome responsibility, one that I have stepped into,” said Ellis of his new position, which he won in the Nov. 5 general election against former Tybee Island Mayor Jason Buelterman, despite his campaign having a relatively meager budget. “My favorite quote to myself if that if you pray for the rain, you’ve gotta deal with the mud that it brings. I wanted to be in this position, I’ve strived to be in this position.”

click to enlarge Chatham County Commission Chairman Chester Ellis being sworn in alongside his wife, Wilmotine. - COURTESY OF CHATHAM COUNTY
Courtesy of Chatham County
Chatham County Commission Chairman Chester Ellis being sworn in alongside his wife, Wilmotine.
It is not a position that many people would be eager to fill right now. While Ellis praises his predecessor Al Scott for leaving the chairman’s office with Chatham County’s finances on solid footing, he also inherited a number of local problems bigger than any one leader can solve.

Ellis is facing the ongoing community-level impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sudden and controversial removal of Chatham’s public-transportation chief, a fire-service agency with a $3 million operating deficit, a growing movement to merge the county’s Board of Elections and Board of Registrars, and innumerable other local issues that mean the world to constituents immediately impacted by each of them.

“We’re in the service business, and our service is to the people we serve,” Ellis said of Chatham’s Board of Commissioners, adding that sometimes the individual leaders’ own goals must be shelved for the greater good of their constituents. “It is our responsibility to take care of assets that have been entrusted to us. It may not be what I would like to do personally, but decisions we make should be the best for the county as a whole. They should not put anybody in a hole.”

With an overarching goal of keeping the tax burden on Chatham residents in check, Ellis is tackling the various problems before him with a collaborative approach of bringing together as many local leaders and citizens as possible to address every issue. He hopes that this will lead to consensus-building that helps the entire county achieve a more prosperous future developed with carefully planned growth.

“It comes from the way I was brought up: you use what you have, you don’t worry about what you don’t have,” Ellis said, emphasizing that he always takes a long-term approach to county governance. “I look at who’s behind me, and how do I pave a way for them to go on the road to success. So the job I do now is actually for those who are coming, those who were born yesterday.”

But will Ellis’ plans to address each issue with painstaking deliberation sufficiently satisfy his fully grown peers and voters who are eager for fast action in county leadership? Ellis sees balancing such immediate needs with long-term planning as an essential challenge of his role.

“I try to look at where Chatham County is in 2021, but I also want to know where we are in 2024. That’s the tenure of my time, even though I’m going to be seeking to carry to 2028, but I gotta take care of ’21, ’24 first before I can talk about anything else. If I’m not up to date here, then I can’t prepare for then,” Ellis explains.

Overseeing the county’s COVID-19 response

No issue is more immediate for Chatham County and the rest of the planet than the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Ever since the coronavirus outbreak first impacted coastal Georgia, Ellis has taken it very seriously, wearing a face mask and rubber gloves at County Commission meetings and public events throughout most of the past year. Even though he’s now received both shots of the COVID-19 vaccine, Ellis still carries on these pandemic precautions, going so far as to now wear two masks in accordance with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have to follow the science and the medical professionals,” Ellis said, insisting that the pandemic would subside sooner if everyone follows coronavirus safety measures. “The longer it takes us to do the things that we are supposed to do, the longer it’s going to take us to come out of this.”

Ellis’ very first act as Commission Chairman was to extend Chatham’s emergency order requiring everyone in the county to wear face masks, which he sees as a way for locals to take care of each other while the rollout of new coronavirus-vaccine supplies remains spotty and limited.

“I wish that we had vaccines for everyone. But we don’t have that. And so in the meantime the scientists are telling us these three things you must do: you must distance yourself, you must wear your mask, and you must wash your hands frequently,” Ellis said, noting that between New Year’s Day 2021 and mid-February, approximately 100 Chatham residents were reported to have died from COVID-19, according to Coastal Health District statistics. “Those are our loved ones.”

click to enlarge Chatham County Commission Chairman Chester Ellis. - MALCOLM TULLY
Malcolm Tully
Chatham County Commission Chairman Chester Ellis.
Beyond encouraging Chatham residents to adhere to face-mask mandates and other coronavirus-safety measures, Ellis is planning to plot a course for local economic recovery from the pandemic by gathering business leaders from the Chamber of Commerce, the Savannah Economic Development Authority, and other impacted organizations to “strategize on how we can help one another” while moving forward.

“We are in the middle of recovery, and we can honestly say that Chatham County has not fared bad,” Ellis said. “We have been hurt in some areas – take for instance the tourism industry, they have been hurt the most – but there is a plan for recovery.”

Ellis added that he expects more federal pandemic aid to arrive in the near future.

“There is some more relief coming for Chatham County and for all the municipalities, and I’m just hoping that when we get these kinds of packages we put it where it’s needed and give it to those who need it the most,” Ellis said.

Controversy at Chatham Area Transit

Within the first few weeks of Ellis’ term, the Chatham Area Transit Board of Directors abruptly voted 6-3 to terminate the contract of agency CEO Bacarra Mauldin during their Jan. 26 meeting. Mauldin, who was hired to run CAT in June of 2020, has since filed a lawsuit against the public-transit agency for unlawful termination.

While Ellis declined to comment on the Mauldin case, citing legal counsel barring him from discussing litigation and personnel matters, he acknowledges that numerous long-term problems are preventing CAT from providing optimal service to Chatham residents.

“This didn’t start with Ms. Mauldin. Even when I was on the CAT board, there were areas of corrections I thought that needed to be made,” Ellis said, citing poorly planned population growth across Chatham as a complicating factor in achieving efficient public-transportation service. “The county has grown and spread out, and so we are behind because we didn’t do any future planning. Now we’re in the present, where the plans should’ve been made 20-30 years ago for what’s coming.”

Ellis is confident that a qualified new CAT CEO can reshape the county’s transit network in a way that will better serve constituents in the not-too-distant future.

“We’ve gotta have a leader over at Chatham Area Transit who is a visionary, because first of all you have to understand how to catch up, and then how to project forward,” Ellis said. “We can have a quality transportation system here in Chatham County, and so it is our responsibility to work to that end.”

If Chatham’s public transit is not improved, Ellis believes this will be detrimental to the entire county’s future economic growth.

“Public transportation is a need and not a want, so it becomes our job to make sure we get the best,” Ellis said, noting that long-term transit planning could include rail service for commuters heading into Chatham from neighboring counties. “If we could formulate a plan to catch up and provide these services that are needed, then we can plan for the future.”

The dilemma of Chatham Emergency Services

During a Nov. 5 County Commission workshop, representatives of Chatham Emergency Services – the nonprofit firefighting agency tasked with extinguishing blazes in most of the county’s unincorporated areas – announced that the organization has a $3 million operating deficit, which they blamed on a large number of county residents not paying subscription fees for fire service. CES Chief Operating Officer Phil Koster said that if the cash crunch continues, the agency’s firefighting units would soon be faced with the difficult position of having to consider declining to put out blazes at homes of non-subscribers.

click to enlarge Chatham County Commission Chairman Chester Ellis, center, during his first meeting after winning the post in November's general election. - NICK ROBERTSON/CONNECT SAVANNAH
Nick Robertson/Connect Savannah
Chatham County Commission Chairman Chester Ellis, center, during his first meeting after winning the post in November's general election.

Since becoming chairman, Ellis has commenced a series of virtual town-hall meetings to gather public input on this issue from residents of each of the county’s seven districts served by CES. His goal is to solicit opinions from the largest number of constituents affected by the options currently under consideration to address the CES cash crunch, which range from launching an entirely new county fire department to mandating CES subscriptions to doing nothing at all.

“That will help us to understand what is it that we’re looking for,” Ellis said of the solution to the CES budget shortfall, which he says will impact Chatham residents no matter what outcome is determined. “You’re talking about something that will affect their taxes and their homeowner’s insurance, so they need to know.”

One complaint that Ellis is hearing repeatedly is that CES subscribers feel taken advantage of when the resources from their fees are used to extinguish fires for non-subscribers. “Some folks want to make sure that the 70% who are paying their subscriptions cannot be penalized for the 30% that’s not paying their subscriptions. You’ve gotta take all that in, and the only way you can do that is to have the citizens get involved,” Ellis said.

However, for now Ellis is not providing a time frame for when the County Commission may move forward with a plan to address the CES budget crisis, noting that after the district town-hall meetings conclude, he plans to launch another series of countywide forums to gather more public input before whittling down the options available for action.

“I look at what Hank Aaron said to me in 1974: every day you get up, try to help somebody else. Then you look in the mirror at night and be proud of the fact that you have helped someone,” Ellis said.

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Merging the county’s balloting boards

With 2020’s drawn-out election cycle now in the rearview mirror, local Democratic and Republican leaders are clamoring for reform to Chatham’s voting systems, as a movement to merge the county’s Board of Elections and Board of Registrars is quickly gaining steam. The Chatham delegation of state-level elected officials, which has the authority to reconfigure the county’s voting-governance structure, is currently assessing how such a merger could be carried out before 2022’s midterm elections.

However, Ellis believes that the powers-that-be should avoid any “knee-jerk solution” based on problems with 2020’s election, which he says was plagued by the onset of COVID-19 and inherent difficulties with adjusting to Georgia’s new voting machines.

“The call to merge the two is based upon the primaries of this past year, and I think that to be reactive to that and make drastic changes is a mistake,” Ellis said. “Is it best to merge them together, or is it best to streamline their duties and responsibilities? It might just be a matter of changing some procedures that they’re using to streamline things.”

Although Chatham is one of very few Georgia counties with separate departments for elections and registrars, Ellis believes that this may be a blessing instead of a curse.

“That didn’t just fall out of the sky,” Ellis said of the past decision to structure Chatham’s two voting boards as separate entities, while encouraging the delegation to carefully examine any newly proposed structure before moving ahead with enacting it.

“Change takes time, and we need to give ourselves that time to make sure the changes we are going to make are the changes that we want. When you do things on the spur of the moment, there are consequences for it,” Ellis said. “You need to make sure that those consequences aren’t going to be negative consequences toward any voter in Chatham County. We want everyone to vote, we want every vote to be counted.”

The long view

With all of these pressing issues weighing on Ellis every day in his short tenure so far − in addition to the usual hiccups encountered when starting any new job − it seems likely that finding time to plan for long-term projects would be difficult or impossible.

However, Ellis considers one element of advance planning to be eminently crucial: the development of a new Emergency Operations Center at the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.

“One of the top priorities that’s on the list is for us to be ready for disaster,” Ellis said, describing the county’s current preparedness status as faltering. “We’re lagging behind in technology for disasters, whether we’re talking about a hurricane, whether we’re talking about a tornado, whether we’re talking about COVID.”

Ellis said that the new Emergency Operations Center will improve the county’s disaster-response abilities by consolidating representatives from Chatham’s municipalities and appropriate public-safety agencies within one reinforced command center.

“In that command building, we’re going to have where all of the instructions will come out of one central area,” Ellis said. “Everybody will be under one roof. The building is being designed now to stand up to a category 5 [hurricane]. It’s also being designed to handle the storm surge and the flooding.”

On the topic of flooding, Ellis also plans to comprehensively address rising sea levels in Chatham during his first term, citing climate change as an existential problem for all county residents. He intends to bring together county business leaders with environmental-agency representatives and officials from local municipalities to develop plans that will keep Chatham from being inundated during upcoming decades.

“It floods everyplace in Savannah. There is no place in Chatham County that is immune from flooding. So how do we handle that before it gets out of hand? Don’t wait until it gets out of hand, and let’s try to make up a plan,” Ellis said.

Above all, Ellis stresses that his primary motivation is to assist his fellow Chatham residents in building a fruitful future for the generations to come.

“I think this is my calling, and my calling is to help people. Personally, there’s no major benefit for me, because I could’ve sit home, because I’m retired and have a good retirement,” Ellis said, recalling a memory with a recently deceased baseball great as a major influence on his decision to continue working as a public servant.

“I look at what Hank Aaron said to me in 1974: every day you get up, try to help somebody else. Then you look in the mirror at night and be proud of the fact that you have helped someone,” Ellis said. “That stuck with me since he told me that in ’74, and so every day I try to get up to help somebody.”

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One man charged was allegedly targeted in recent shooting incidents

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2021 at 11:09 AM

Guns and contraband seized in the investigation to drug activity on Savannah's Reynolds Street. - COURTESY OF THE SAVANNAH POLICE DEPARTMENT
Courtesy of the Savannah Police Department
Guns and contraband seized in the investigation to drug activity on Savannah's Reynolds Street.
Two men are facing multiple drug- and gun-related charges following an investigation into drug activity on Reynolds Street, according to an announcement issued by the Savannah Police Department on Feb. 23.

On Feb. 18, following an investigation into drug activity, officers executed a search warrant at a residence in the 2000 block of Reynolds Street.

There officers seized three firearms, 4.97 grams of marijuana, 53.73 grams of MDMA powder, 10.33 grams of powder cocaine, .86 grams of heroin, and 543 MDMA pills. One of the seized firearms was determined to have been previously stolen in Savannah.

Tysean Davis, 18, who resided at the residence, and Bryant Bigham, 39, were charged with trafficking MDMA and three counts of possession of a controlled substance. Davis was also charged with theft by taking.

Davis was previously shot on E. 37th Street on Feb. 4, and is believed to have been an intended target in multiple recent shootings in Savannah. In all cases, Davis has been uncooperative with police.

Detectives continue to investigate the case.

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Monday, February 22, 2021

Acts expected to perform during the spring-season shows include Wynton Marsalis, as well as David Finckel and Wu Han.

Posted By on Mon, Feb 22, 2021 at 4:23 PM

click to enlarge David Finckel and Wu Han are scheduled to perform during the Savannah Music Festival's spring season. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SAVANNAH MUSIC FESTIVAL
Photo courtesy of the Savannah Music Festival
David Finckel and Wu Han are scheduled to perform during the Savannah Music Festival's spring season.
Savannah Music Festival 2021 programming plans are being modified to provide for a safe return to presenting concerts, according to an announcement by the SMF organizers issued on Feb. 22.

For the spring, this involves an adjustment from a May 18-30 schedule to May 23-30 schedule, with presentations of renowned artists in classical, jazz, and American roots music for limited-capacity crowds with social distancing in place.

Venues include the Metal Building at Kehoe Iron Works and Trinity United Methodist Church, with free livestreaming available for specific performances. Acts expected to perform during the spring-season shows include Wynton Marsalis, as well as David Finckel and Wu Han.

A complete schedule announcement will take place on Monday, April 12. A weeklong pre-sale for donors and sponsors, including SMF In Unison members, will run from the season announcement until the public on-sale date of Tuesday, April 20.

“Our organization is committed to resuming live music presentations in a measured and safe way,” said Artistic Director Ryan McMaken. “The SMF team is excited to roll out this modified season for May, and to continue with what is likely to be our organization’s busiest fall on record.”

click to enlarge Wynton Marsalis is scheduled to perform during the Savannah Music Festival's spring season. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SAVANNAH MUSIC FESTIVAL
Photo courtesy of the Savannah Music Festival
Wynton Marsalis is scheduled to perform during the Savannah Music Festival's spring season.
Event modifications were determined based on several issues related to the pandemic: recent industry trends including festival and concert cancellations and postponements, the impact of those trends on artists’ tour schedules, and input from local officials about recommended benchmarks for community transmission levels of COVID-19 as they relate to safe large-scale gatherings. Those benchmarks are more likely to be reached later this year.

Artists previously scheduled for SMF’s large-scale outdoor Trustees’ Garden presentations are being considered for SMF’s Fall Season (dates to be announced) and for the 2022 festival, which will take place March 24 - April 9, 2022.

Additionally, SMF is planning collaborations with other local organizations throughout the Fall Season and into 2022, along with a free public concert to celebrate the generosity of supporters and SMF In Unison members.

A combination of indoor and outdoor venues will be in place for SMF’s Fall Season in order to accommodate any social distancing necessary, with a gradual increase in audience size as COVID-19 metrics allow. A complete schedule for the SMF Fall Season will be announced in the summer.

Visit savannahmusicfestival.org for more information.

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Sunday, February 21, 2021

Featured artists include Sanford Biggers, Kate Cooper, and Rose B. Simpson

Posted By on Sun, Feb 21, 2021 at 2:07 PM

click to enlarge 'Rigged' by Kate Cooper. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SCAD
Photo courtesy of SCAD
'Rigged' by Kate Cooper.
For over a decade, the Savannah College of Art and Design has welcomed culture-defining international artists for its renowned deFINE ART program. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s deFINE ART proceedings will be held virtually, altering the experience but expanding the reach of this annual event’s showcase of intriguing contemporary works.

click to enlarge 'Ghettobird Tunic' by Sanford Biggers. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SCAD
Photo courtesy of SCAD
'Ghettobird Tunic' by Sanford Biggers.
Typically, the SCAD Museum of Art hosts deFINE ART as a grand premiere of featured artists’ new exhibitions, celebrating them with guests over the course of a weekend filled with presentations, themed discussions, and other creative events. Adapting to the times, SCAD is hosting 2021’s virtual deFINE ART events midweek during Feb. 23-25, with all events open to the public online.

“SCAD deFINE ART is the museum’s biggest moment of the year,” said Associate Curator of Exhibitions Ben Tollefson.

SCAD deFINE ART organizers say that although they will miss the crowd this year, the virtual format actually allows for more people across the world to tune in to three days of arts programming, including a virtual opening reception, gallery talks, artist conversations, and more. The entire program is free to watch, making it even more accessible to art lovers.

All artists featured in deFINE ART 2021 have new exhibitions here in Savannah at the SCAD Museum of Art. Organizers are encouraging participants to tune in to the virtual programming, learn all about the artists and their works, and then see the installations in person by visiting the museum, which is open to the public with coronavirus-safety measures in place. The exhibits featured during deFINE ART will be on display through springtime.

This year’s deFINE ART exhibitions include Rose B. Simpson’s Countdown, featuring the renowned Native American artist’s signature figurative sculptures bringing bodily forms to an groundbreaking totemic stature, as well as the Mainly for Women exhibit by leading Polish artist Paulina Olowska, with both already on view at the SCAD Museum of Art.

click to enlarge 'Conjure' by Rose B. Simpson. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SCAD
Photo courtesy of SCAD
'Conjure' by Rose B. Simpson.

Additionally, a trio of exhibitions by other internationally prominent artists will debut during the deFINE ART festivities. Canadian artist Marcel Dzama’s An End to the End Times presents paintings and drawings addressing political issues with his distinctively surreal storybook style, while videos by Amsterdam-based British artist Kate Cooper challenge perceptions of bodily perfection in Symptom Machine, and Contra/Diction is a retrospective of works by celebrated Harlem-based interdisciplinary artist Sanford Biggers, who is the SCAD deFINE ART 2021 honoree.

“In a season of reimagination, SCAD’s renowned fine arts program showcases the shifting explorations and revelations of self,” said SCAD President and Founder Paula Wallace. “From Sanford Biggers’ ‘future ethnographies’ to Kate Cooper’s representations of the feminine ‘ideal,’ SCAD deFINE ART constructs − and deconstructs − identity through works by internationally celebrated contemporary artists. This year, your home and SCAD museums become one.”

Biggers will deliver the keynote lecture on Wednesday, Feb. 24. Organizers say his exhibition is visually compelling and communicates deep feelings about the human experience and the lives of Black Americans.

“Sanford works in a wide variety of media and really connects with important African American histories,” Tollefson said. Tollefson says some of his favorite works by Biggers “remix” different perspectives of life and history into one work of art.

click to enlarge 'Dark Before the Bright Exit' by Marcel Dzama. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SCAD
Photo courtesy of SCAD
'Dark Before the Bright Exit' by Marcel Dzama.
“I hope that viewers will leave with a better understanding of Sanford’s work. He’s a really important artist on our roster,” Tollefson said.“I also hope visitors see SCAD’s commitment to bringing international artists to Savannah for the community.”

Also featured in deFINE ART will be a conversation between Dzama and famed comedian Amy Sedaris, a virtual tour of the studio of SCAD alum and Black Panther muralist Brandon Sadler, and other inspiring talks, gallery tours, and presentations.

Visit scad.edu/defineart2021 to see a complete list of deFINE ART events and for registering to participate in virtual presentations.

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Saturday, February 20, 2021

‘Revisiting W.W. Law’s Negro Heritage Trail’ is a combined exhibit and Savannah excursion

Posted By on Sat, Feb 20, 2021 at 8:47 AM

click to enlarge A scene from the ‘Revisiting W.W. Law’s Negro Heritage Trail’ on view at Savannah's Massie Heritage Center. - COURTESY OF THE MASSIE HERITAGE CENTER
Courtesy of the Massie Heritage Center
A scene from the ‘Revisiting W.W. Law’s Negro Heritage Trail’ on view at Savannah's Massie Heritage Center.
Authentic Savannah grey-brick buildings, centuries-old oaks, and implanted Georgia Historical Society markers adorn trails that highlight varied tales of Savannah’s extensive history.

This month, the Massie Heritage Center partnered with the Savannah Municipal Archives to highlight another trail showcasing often-overlooked Black history in the Hostess City: the new Revisiting W.W. Law’s Negro Heritage Trail combined exhibit and walking tour. The initiative revives the historical walking tour created by Savannah native W.W. Law (1923-2002) – a local icon of the civil-rights movement as a historian, teacher, and preservationist – to honor the community’s important African Americans.

The journey begins in an old classroom within Savannah’s Massie Heritage Center, which was one of the city’s first schools to educate newly freed Blacks after becoming a Freedmen’s Bureau school in 1865. The classroom holds an exhibit about Law including historic documents provided by the Savannah Municipal Archives.

The archival documents include pictures of Law guiding groups on his walking tour, along with maps of his original trails, Law’s handwritten notes on a recreation of his desk, his vinyl record music collection, and more.

Heritage Specialist Ayela Khuhro guides the experiences by beginning the walking trail inside of the exhibit room. Khuhro said that Law had many variations of the trail, but he would always include the Massie Heritage Center.

According to the guide, Law would often go on to speak about the “Pioneers of Education” like seamstress and clandestine school founder Mother Matilda Beasley, and former First African Baptist Church Deacon James Simms, both of whom risked their lives to educate Southern Blacks prior to emancipation. Simms was whipped publicly in Savannah for running an underground school.

Roughly 100 years after emancipation, Law led efforts to integrate Savannah’s high schools in 1963, picking outstanding Black students (known as the “Savannah Seven”) to begin attending classes with whites months before the federal Civil Rights Act was passed to end segregation across America in 1964.

“They were the brightest, the smartest, the most profound students that Law hand-picked to attend the previously all-white school,” said Khuhro.

The Massie Center sits nearby Calhoun Square, which is the first stop of the “Negro Heritage Trail” tour after exiting the exhibit.

Khuhro said that Law would often recount hidden legends, such as stories of Calhoun Square once being home to a pauper’s graveyard − but Law would have added that in fact it is Whitefield Square, found a couple blocks away from Calhoun Square, that was an actual graveyard for Blacks before their bodies were moved to Laurel Grove South Cemetery.

click to enlarge A scene from the ‘Revisiting W.W. Law’s Negro Heritage Trail’ on view at Savannah's Massie Heritage Center. - COURTESY OF THE MASSIE HERITAGE CENTER
Courtesy of the Massie Heritage Center
A scene from the ‘Revisiting W.W. Law’s Negro Heritage Trail’ on view at Savannah's Massie Heritage Center.
Next on the tour was Lafayette Square, named for the Marquis de Lafayette, the French nobleman who fought under George Washington in the American Revolutionary War.

The house of Andrew Low, who inherited his family’s cotton business and treated the enslaved like family, sits on Lafayette Square. Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, was Andrew Low’s daughter-in-law, and according to Khuhro she hieed Morisana Millage − a formerly enslaved woman who cooked and lived in the basement of the Andrew Low House − as her personal chef.

From Lafayette Square, the tour continues down Macon Street to Madison Square, which was named for Founding Father and former President James Madison. On the northwest corner of Madison Square is the Green-Meldrim House, where Union General William Sherman spent 41 days after his “March to the Sea” in 1864.

After Khurho recounted the well-known tale about the Union general burning Confederate resources from Atlanta to the outskirts of Savannah, she said that Sherman later met with pastors who served as leaders in Savannah’s African-American community during that time to discuss the best ways for the newly emancipated to fairly integrate into society. It was decided that they should each receive 40 acres of land and a mule to work the soil, since the formerly enslaved were already skilled at working with land.

Sherman ordered this land-allotment plan to be carried out, but after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Vice-President Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency and repealed Sherman’s order guaranteeing the formerly enslaved their “40 Acres and a Mule.” Khuhro says that Law would have challenged his tour participants to imagine what life might be like for Blacks in America had the order never been repealed.

“These are the kinds of stories W.W. Law would have told during his tour,” said Khurho.

The Revisiting W.W. Law’s Negro Heritage Trail exhibit and tour continues at the Massie Heritage Center (207 E. Gordon St., Savannah) through March 8, with the tour beginning at 2 p.m. every Monday through Friday. A $10 admission fee grants access to both the exhibit and the walking tour. Visit massieschool.com for more details.

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Friday, February 19, 2021

Capt. Gregory Jacobs, Engineer Ben Spence, and Advanced Firefighter Lucas Abrunzo receive top honors

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2021 at 4:05 PM

click to enlarge From left: Capt. Gregory Jacobs, Engineer Ben Spence, and Advanced Firefighter Lucas Abrunzo. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF SAVANNAH FIRE
Photos courtesy of Savannah Fire
From left: Capt. Gregory Jacobs, Engineer Ben Spence, and Advanced Firefighter Lucas Abrunzo.
To honor its best and brightest firefighters for their outstanding service and heroism, the Savannah Fire Department is honoring its most commendable employees for their contributions to the community in 2020, according to a Savannah Fire press announcement issued on Feb. 19.

Capt. Gregory Jacobs, Engineer Ben Spence, and Advanced Firefighter Lucas Abrunzo were named Fire Officer of the Year, Firefighter of the Year, and Rookie Firefighter of the Year, respectively, for 2020.

Each year the employees who make the most significant contributions to the department are nominated by their peers to receive these honors. Additionally, several units have been awarded commendations for their heroic actions in 2020. The honorees will be publicly recognized and presented with awards by Savannah Fire Chief Derik Minard.

Jacobs was selected as Chief Officer of the Year because of his distinguished leadership and 15 years of dedicated service to the Savannah Fire Department. The firefighters serving in his unit say his knowledge, experience and mentorship enable them to handle a high volume of calls and hazmat incidents.

Spence, an 18-year veteran of the Savannah Fire Department, was selected as Firefighter of the Year because of the powerful impact of his leadership. Spence is a passionate, hard-working, and resourceful leader who is always eager to build his skills and share his knowledge.

Abrunzo was selected as Rookie of the Year because he distinguished himself as a self-motivated and disciplined worker who constantly strives to improve. Since completing the training academy in June of 2019, Abrunzo has helped fight major fires, including the devastating fire at the massive Eastern Wharf construction site.

Additionally, Unit Commendations are awarded to employees who have performed service to the department in a highly commendable manner. The following units earned commendation ribbons for action taken in 2020:

Capt. Bryan Billotto, Advanced Firefighter Logan Gutierrez and Firefighter Austin Lewis, of Truck 2, B Shift, rescued residents from a burning apartment building in the 200 Block of West Montgomery Crossroad on October 20, 2020.

Fire Engineer Dewayne Hendrix, Fire Engineer Roger Williams, Advanced Firefighter Daniel Lucas, Fire Engineer William King, Fire Engineer William Fulton, Advanced Firefighter Stephen Williams, and Advanced Firefighter Michael Schonfeld of Engine 7 and Rescue 2, B Shift, revived an unresponsive electrocution patient in the 5700 Block of Lovett Drive on September 25, 2020.

Capt. Sam Coppola, Advanced Firefighter Brent Copenhaver, Advanced Firefighter Stephen Brierly and Firefighter Benjamin Potter of Engine 8, A Shift, revived an unresponsive patient in the 1000 Block of E. Victory Drive on November 11, 2020. Advanced Firefighter Frank D’Amico, Capt. Christopher Hanks, Capt. Roy Howard, Advanced Firefighter Hector Melecio, Advanced Firefighter Josh Duran, Captain Christopher Fennell, Fire Engineer Justin Goldberg, Fire Engineer Michael Greene, Battalion Chief Nicholas Earley, Fire Engineer Tyler Hall, Advanced Firefighter Daniel Lucas and Advanced Firefighter Jeremy Veale of Rescue 1, Engine 3 and Truck 5, B Shift, rescued a motorist who had been knocked off a bridge on January 17, 2020.

Battalion Chief Joseph Shaw, Advanced Firefighter Rachel Scott, Advanced Firefighter Christopher Bargeron and Advanced Firefighter Darren Bradley of Engine 3, A Shift, revived a patient with no pulse in the 200 Block of E. Broad on November 18, 2020.

Capt. Michael Martin, Fire Engineer Michael Maier, Advanced Firefighter Todryk Rentiers and Firefighter Andrew Gill of Engine 1, B Shift, revived an unresponsive person in a vehicle at DeRenne Avenue & Paulsen Street on October 22, 2020.

Awards ceremony details will be announced at a later date.

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Thursday, February 18, 2021

More than 20 area schools will house food banks available to anyone in need

Posted By on Thu, Feb 18, 2021 at 10:28 AM

click to enlarge A sample of the items contained within giveaway boxes provided by the newly established food pantry at Andrea B. Williams Elementary School. - NOELLE WIEHE/CONNECT SAVANNAH
Noelle Wiehe/Connect Savannah
A sample of the items contained within giveaway boxes provided by the newly established food pantry at Andrea B. Williams Elementary School.
Those in need around Chatham County will have access to new food pantries based at more than 20 area schools, thanks to a partnership announced by Savannah-Chatham County Public School System and the Second Harvest Food Bank.

The initiative’s first food pantry opened and received its first shipment at Andrea B. Williams Elementary School on Feb. 16.

“It’s a historic day for us,” said SCCPSS Superintendent Ann Levett.

The pantries will be stocked with basic food items – staples and non-perishable items – to be replenished and maintained by Second Harvest Food Bank.

“It makes my heart glad that we are able to announce a partnership like this today,” said Stacy Jennings, director of communications for SCCPSS.

The food in the pantry will be available to school-age children and their families, as well as community members unassociated with the schools to help meet their daily nutritional needs. Giveaway boxes will contain three meals per family.

“Because of this new partnership with Second Harvest, our 502 families will have access to this wonderful food pantry that is such a needed resource and will be so valuable to our school community,” said Susan Ambrose, principal at Andrea B. Williams Elementary School.

click to enlarge Savannah-Chatham County School System Superintendent Ann Levett announces the arrival of the first shipment of food from Second Harvest Food Bank to Andrea B. Williams Elementary School on Feb. 16. - NOELLE WIEHE/CONNECT SAVANNAH
Noelle Wiehe/Connect Savannah
Savannah-Chatham County School System Superintendent Ann Levett announces the arrival of the first shipment of food from Second Harvest Food Bank to Andrea B. Williams Elementary School on Feb. 16.
Levett said the pantry and partnership offers the school system an opportunity to address food-insecurity issues that are prevalent across the community, and especially as the pandemic continues to create economic uncertainty.

“We would not be able to do all of the things that we are able to do with our students, for our families without strong partnerships,” Levett said, while recognizing Second Harvest and their executive director, Mary Jane Crouch.

Crouch pointed out how quickly the school system and Second Harvest came together to meet this need, saying the opening of the first food pantry started with a conversation in January.

“We are really excited to make sure these 23 schools will have access to food for their children in their schools, with the hope that we’ll be able to add all the schools in Savannah-Chatham and make sure all children have access to food,” Crouch said.

America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia was established in 1981 in Savannah, and is a volunteer-driven nonprofit food bank and community partnering organization. In 2020, Second Harvest food bank provided more than 21.3 million meals – more than 25.5 million pounds of food – to those in need.

“What I can tell you, in the Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools, and in this community, people care about children,” Levett said. “I’m happy that we are going to be able to serve our children; I’m happy that we’ll be able to serve our families, and I’m happy that we’re also going to be able to serve our neighbors.”

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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Savannah-area students have until Feb. 19 to submit entries

Posted By on Wed, Feb 17, 2021 at 5:45 PM

click to enlarge Leopold's Ice Cream is providing tasty prizes for the writing-challenge winners. - NICK ROBERTSON/CONNECT SAVANNAH
Nick Robertson/Connect Savannah
Leopold's Ice Cream is providing tasty prizes for the writing-challenge winners.
Savannah-area schoolkids who enter a creative-writing challenge can win ice-cream feasts thanks to the Live Oak library system teaming up with a classic local confectionery once again.

Savannah’s famed Leopold’s Ice Cream announced its collaboration with Live Oak Public Libraries for the ice-cream shop’s 11th Annual Creative Writing Challenge, themed “Family & Friends,” according to a Live Oak announcement.

All schoolchildren − including home-schooled children − in Chatham, Effingham, and Liberty counties are invited to submit a poem of 20 lines or less for this 11th-annual writing challenge. Students will be judged on the creativity of their poem, which should focus on the “Family & Friends” theme.

Prizes are awarded in four separate groups by grade: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and high school. The top winners in each group will receive a cooler filled with Leopold’s Ice Cream delivered to their homes, while second-place winners are awarded a $25 Leopold’s Ice Cream gift certificate.

“We’re always excited to see and encourage the art of written word in this community,” said Leopold’s owner Stratton Leopold. “The first ten years of this challenge have been great, so we look forward to many more years of engaging with young people in Savannah.”

Hundreds of entries are expected, based on responses to the challenged received in previous years. The deadline for submissions is Friday, Feb. 19, and winners will be announced on Friday, March 5 at leopoldsicecream.com and liveoakpl.org.

Submissions can be emailed to baldwinc@liveoakpl.org, or printed and dropped off at any Live Oak Public Library or the Leopold’s Ice Cream shop on Broughton Street in downtown Savannah. Entries must include the student’s name, teacher’s name, home address, age, school, grade, and e-mail address. Visit liveoakpl.org/events/cwc2021 for more information.

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