Instead of contributing my own Best of 2018 list in this space, I've decided to take a different tack. The Best of 2018 series from members of the arts community that ran here in previous weeks covered just about everything I would have mentioned and nothing was said by others that I could say any better.
So I'll instead to focus on some of the positive trends in Savannah's art scene over the past year and what might be beneficial to see in 2019.
Departures, new faces
Overall I'd say 2018 was a positive year for the arts in Savannah, though it was a decidedly mixed bag. We saw some high-profile departures, like Telfair Museums' Director and CEO Lisa Grove's move to Chicago to be deputy museum director for the Obama Presidential Center, as well as the retirement of longtime Department of Cultural Affairs Director Eileen Baker. Some well-loved members of the arts community also made their exits, like the extraordinary artist, advocate and fashion maven Meredith Gray.
On the positive side, the former executive director of the highly esteemed Frick in Pittsburgh is stepping in to take Grove's place at Telfair, and the potential energy of new leadership at the recently renamed Department of Arts, Culture and Historical Resources will hopefully dovetail nicely with the opening of the downtown Savannah Cultural Arts Center in 2019 (though we'll certainly miss Baker and her contributions).
We also saw significant developments in the arts infrastructure of the city. Laney Contemporary firmly established itself in 2018 as a serious player in the arts firmament; Sulfur Studios continues to expand its outreach with new, exciting avenues for artistic exploration; and, though controversial, there will be substantial additions in arts venues with the opening of the Cultural Arts Center and the soon-to-be-constructed Starland Village. I'm also personally looking forward to HAZA Gallery soon getting situated in its new space.
And while some artists have relocated, others are becoming more entrenched. Artist Lisa D. Watson, a favorite of this column, had one of her best years in 2018, though she claims she still can't make a living strictly as an artist on Savannah art sales alone. Another favorite of this column, artist Rob Hessler, also established himself as one of the premier arts advocates for Savannah with his radio show “Art on the Air” with co-host David Laughlin, which airs at 3 p.m. every Wednesday on nonprofit community radio station WRUU 107.5 (it can also be streamed online at wruu.org).
Cooperation is key
The things I'd personally like to see continue are the type of cooperation and community involvement that benefit everyone. The Square Art Fair that took place in Calhoun Square last summer is a great example of various facets of the Savannah arts community coming together to pool resources and put on an arts event that's welcoming to everyone. Other events in nontraditional spaces like ARC Savannah's Artists & Artisans Tour and Shea Slemmer's art exhibition at the Boiler Room are good templates for what Savannah needs more of.
I've long been tossing around the idea in conversation of an event much like Savannah Stopover for the visual arts. Whereas Stopover began as an event for bands traveling to the more established South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, Savannah could have a similar visual arts event like an Art Basel Miami stopover, or something to that effect.
The persistent challenge and inevitable downside of any of these efforts is Savannah's stubborn resistance to substantially support smaller arts organizations and individuals with their wallets. The comparison with the music scene here also applies. When people complain about paying a $5 cover to see live music while not thinking twice about racking up a sizable bar tab, how can the music scene truly thrive? Similarly, if people continue to buy generic art at chain stores instead of reasonably priced local art, how can artists continue to call Savannah home?
Show your support
Part of the problem lies with the intrinsic culture. I've never lived in a city that was so resistant to paying for things, whether it be live music or a cultural arts building.
I realize not everyone has the same means and may not have very much disposable income, but if you have money to buy beer at a bar, you have the money to pay for live entertainment. Those musicians aren't wealthy, either. And if you go to art openings and drink the free wine and eat the hors d'oeuvres, you can spare a little for the artists who created the work you go to enjoy. Those artists have to pay the bills, too.
And to the artists, I'd say some of the responsibility resides with you, as well. You have to start thinking outside the box more often. Now more than ever, artists need to engage in more entrepreneurial thinking. Savannah isn't a market like New York or Los Angeles, where you can get a gallery to simply sell your work while you spend all your time creating.
Until the Savannah market gets bigger, artists will have to be more innovative with how they make a living here. It's unfortunate, but true, and I realize it's easier said than done, but nothing was ever accomplished by just complaining about the state of things. You also can't change a deeply ingrained culture overnight by browbeating people into submission, though we all should keep beating the drum for supporting the cultural arts with cold, hard cash.
Resolutions to keep
Here are my recommendations for 2019 (these can be suggested resolutions if you like):
• If you have enough time and energy to actively oppose something, you have enough time and energy to build something.
• If you've never bought a piece of art in your life, commit to buying just one artwork from a local artist next year.
• If you have bought something, commit to going one step farther (whatever that may mean to you).
• If you haven't been actively involved in the arts community, consider joining a board like the Cultural Affairs Commission, or volunteering with a local arts organization.
• And let's all try to work together more and lift each other up, not just in the arts, but in our everyday lives.
Kristopher Monroe is a writer documenting the intersection of art and community. Contact him at email@example.com and follow on Twitter @savartscene.