THE Savannah Art Association is the oldest art association in Georgia. It’ll celebrate its centennial next year, but first, they have another big anniversary to celebrate.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of “Forrest Gump,” the Oscar-winning movie that filmed one of its major scenes in Chippewa Square.
The SAA Gallery is also situated on Chippewa Square, so as a good neighbor would, they honor “Forrest Gump” with a special art exhibition.
Beginning Oct. 1 and continuing through the rest of the year, the SAA Gallery hosts a Gump-themed exhibition in its member room. Several of the SAA’s members contributed work inspired by the movie.
“We wanted people to do their own take on the character and the movie and that sort of thing,” explains manager Cathy Sizer. “We didn’t want an exact replica of the artwork that the movie company puts out—we wanted interpretation.”
Sizer says that the association will make prints of the work and rotate the top three on the outdoor rack, which is a great incentive for people to come inside and see the gallery.
As Sizer shares, the themed show came about during a brainstorm to get more visitors into the gallery.
“Once they come in and see the beauty of what’s in here, it’s like a little hidden gem, even though we’re right here on the square,” says Sizer. “People walk by on Bull Street, but they’re walking through the middle of the square. We have this bright open sign that you can see from the square, but this is a project to get more people to come into the gallery.”
The gallery is tucked back on the square in a building formerly owned by Joe Namath, interestingly enough, but with so much going on in that square, sometimes people don’t make it in.
“The ulterior motive is to get more people in the gallery to hopefully bump up sales,” says Sizer. “Right now, July and August are notoriously slow months and that certainly has been reflected here, although recently we had two big sales.”
It’s nice to hear Sizer talk up the sales of other artists in the co-op, which counts well over 100 members and 15 partners who help run the gallery. Through the course of our chat, she name-drops several of the artists and seems to take a genuine interest in the work of her fellow artists.
That attitude is even more admirable when you realize the competition artists face in selling their work, particularly in a co-op.
“For some people, [selling art] is a means of living here,” says Sizer, “which is why we’re so reluctant to discount our art. We’re not a flea market; it doesn’t seem fair. People ask you, ‘How long did it take you to do that?’ Well, probably thirty years, because I started learning my art. By now, I have a lot of experience, and you’re paying for that, too.”
Working artists need to be able to sell their work to be able to afford making more art, which can be a difficult cycle to break into.
“This is an art community,” says Sizer. “Even without SCAD, there’s an awful lot of art here, which is a really good thing. You have to be a little unique.”
The search for being unique, Sizer believes, depends on being true to your own artistic purpose.
“That’s the conundrum with making what you make, creating what you create, and the pricing,” says Sizer. “Do you make what you think people will buy, or do you make what you think is nice? I chose to make what I think is nice, and that has seen me through more than ten years.”
In other words, make it and they will come. But in a saturated market like Savannah, will they?
Sizer makes jewelry and says that she values her art appropriately, but other artists undervaluing their art leads buyers to seek the cheaper price.
“I see other jewelry, and it’s basically junky,” she admits. “I’m asking a fair price, but not an outrageous price, but I can’t compete with her because she’s charging five dollars and I charge $25.”
When other artists undervalue their work, it doesn’t make artwork more accessible. It leads to a decrease in value of artists and original work.
The Savannah Art Association’s work in providing creative, affordable and valued artwork to the Savannah market continues.
“Art should be part of all of our lives,” Sizer says. “There’s no reason it shouldn’t be. You can buy a print, you can buy a little itty-bitty picture. Visitors need something small to pack into their suitcase, something representative or something they can say, ‘I bought this in Savannah.’”