Savannah is at an interesting point in its overall cultural development and seems poised to reap some substantial rewards, but there are also a number of pitfalls that could pose risks if not managed properly.
Within the last year or so, Savannah's cultural institutions have experienced seemingly unprecedented turnover, with organizations like the Savannah Music Festival, Telfair Museums, Savannah Philharmonic, Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, and the Cultural Resources Department seeing leadership changes at the highest levels.
Even outside the arts, Savannah has experienced many shifts in leadership in various city departments and otherwise that, when taken together, could signal a significant shift in the way business is done. One could argue that with so many organizations and departments changing hands at the highest levels, it's time to rethink how business has traditionally been done.
To put it bluntly, the bar needs to be raised and more professionalism needs to be brought to bear in every aspect of the Savannah community, including the arts.
Raising the bar starts at the top. Savannah is a wonderful city for so many reasons, but it's also a city that all too often accepts the minimum amount of effort for everything from the most mundane activities and positions to the highest levels of civic leadership.
There's an undeniable appeal to the laid-back vibe that defines Savannah, but there's also a difference in being laid-back and simply accepting the bare minimum as the standard. For a city looking toward the future and trying to promote economic development in the arts and otherwise, a higher standard is needed.
For highly qualified creatives, Savannah can still be a tough market. There simply aren't enough high-paying creative jobs to attract the kind of demographic Savannah needs to flourish in the next 10 to 20 years. That could very well be changing, but it won't change on its own.
There needs to be a real conversation at the highest levels about what the economics of Savannah look like in the next five to 10 years and then there needs to be some real implementation and standards in place that allow for that kind of smart growth.
Within the same last year or so, a surprising number of highly skilled creatives and artists who I've known have left Savannah for various reasons. Some reasons were entirely personal and some had to do with policies at the state level, like the lack of affordable health care in Georgia. But many others left because of the lack of opportunities in their chosen field.
Part of the problem has to do with the fact that Savannah is so much smaller than larger metropolises and necessarily has fewer opportunities, but there's also a vast amount of unrealized potential in Savannah. Realizing that potential starts at the top, but it includes efforts by everyone.
With the new Cultural Arts Center coming online and new cultural venues like The Vic on Victory Drive opening soon, the soon-to-be-built Starland Village, and of course the new arena and attendant development, Savannah is positioned for a real burst in growth in the cultural sector. But again, it won't happen simply on its own.
I've personally been diligent in this space about trying to promote the positive in Savannah's arts scene, but there's a point where even the best intentions can get beat down. For the 20 years I've been writing professionally for various regional, national, and international publications, I've tried to adhere to a personal policy of promoting the positive and ignoring the negative. That's not to say I haven't written critically about anything, but I've tried to focus on solutions and not just be about the problems.
Less criticism, more solutions
It's easy to complain. It's much harder to come up with viable solutions. Unfortunately, one of Savannah's favorite pastimes is complaining and it's enough to get even the most optimistic among us down.
I've been criticized for not addressing more controversies in my writing, but my response has always been that there's no shortage of people addressing controversy. What's needed is more people coming up with solutions.
I've joked that if it rained gold in Savannah, there would be a solid contingent of complainers that would gripe about how gold prices are down and why couldn't it be diamonds.
Tearing something down is easy. Building and creating something is much more difficult. Savannah should stop taking the easy route.
Not all of Savannah's problems are specific to Savannah and the only reason I'm taking time to point them out is because I care. As anyone who reads this space with any regularity knows, I try not to editorialize too much. I try to promote what I think is good and worthy and mostly stay out of the way while using this platform for voices that aren't always being heard.
I've steadfastly resisted the impulse to promote controversy because I firmly believe the world needs more solutions, not more conflict. Even still, there are times where even a freelance columnist's faith wavers and it's enough to get you down. Savannah needs to come together with more solutions, strong leadership, and less divisiveness, something our country needs as much as our city.
Savannah is at a series of crossroads and we need to rise to the challenge and choose the path that leads to a bright future, not stagnation that's mired in the past. There is an exceptional amount of highly qualified leadership in place, but that leadership needs community support at the molecular level to seize the day.
Carpe diem, Savannah.
Kristopher Monroe is a writer documenting the intersection of art and community. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @savartscene.