Nothing beats free.

One of the many things you can do that doesn't cost a dime - and always provides some degree of intellectual and aesthetic stimulation - is to patronize one of the many local galleries that dot the fertile creative landscape of the Coastal Empire. There are numerous downtown galleries featuring new and exciting exhibitions and events every month of the year, but there are also many other options outside of the downtown area.

Running through Jan. 17 at the Fine Arts Gallery at Georgia Southern's Savannah campus (formerly Armstrong State University) is the seventh annual National 2-D Competition. You'd be hard pressed to find a more engaging assortment of art currently on view outside the typical downtown gallery corridors.

Started by former gallery director Pang-Chieh Hsu, the yearly exhibition is comprised of beginning and mid-career artists from across the country working in 2-D formats (i.e. photography, painting, drawing, collage, etc.). Each year the selections represent an exceptional variety of talent and techniques. Raymond Gaddy, acting gallery director and assistant professor of painting and drawing, has taken the reins for the 2018 exhibit, and he's more than satisfied with this year's outcome.

"I'm really pleased with this show," says Gaddy. "The big thing for us is that it's an opportunity to get national artists on campus so the students can see them."

The show isn't strictly for students, though. It's open and available to the general public, which many folks are still probably not aware of, but they certainly should be because there's plenty of talent on display.

"It's a dynamic gallery," says Gaddy. "We're very active. We turn over a lot of exhibitions because a lot of them are student exhibitions, so it's really about every two or three weeks there's a new show."

Even though the current exhibition doesn't include student work, there are plenty of local and regional artists on display. Some of the upcoming student exhibitions also show real promise. While SCAD is a great creative resource, they don't necessarily have a monopoly on all the artistic talent in Savannah.

As per usual, the judge of this year's exhibition is the winner from last year, Jason John. And as it happens, John is a former colleague of Gaddy's from the University of North Florida. He will be at the closing reception, where the winner and runners up will be announced.

"I was struck by the quality of work that was submitted," explains John. "The work wasn't only striking at a first glance, but had a lasting significance. A lot of the work was also very advanced in the craft."

There will inevitably be some changes ahead with Armstrong's integration with Georgia Southern, but Gaddy is excited about the potential opportunities for cross-pollination. Gaddy - who is an accomplished artist himself and former chair of Savannah's Cultural Affairs Commission - even has some ideas about how to expand the competition in years to come.

"As I move forward with this exhibition, I've been thinking about expanding it to three-dimensional work, too," says Gaddy. "Instead of a 2-D National Exhibition, it would just be a national exhibition."

He hasn't made any solid decisions as of yet, but next year could provide some interesting possibilities. For the time being, this is a great opportunity to support an institution that may be off the beaten gallery path, but is no less intriguing.

IF YOU GO

What: Seventh annual National 2-D Competition

When: Through Jan. 17; closing reception noon-2 p.m. Jan. 17

Where: Georgia Southern's Savannah campus, Fine Arts Gallery, 11935 Abercorn St.

Cost: Free and open to the public

Info: armstrong.edu