On this week’s episode of Art on the Air, we looked back at the best in Savannah’s visual arts with the 2019 Bobi Perry Awards. Joining me in-studio was art advocate Kristopher Monroe, vice chair of the Historic Site and Monuments commission and board member of the Cultural Affairs Commission.

Named after Bobi Perry, who passed away in 2017 and whom Monroe termed “the patron saint of art in Savannah,” these awards looked to honor the Savannah-based artists as voted on by their peers-past guests of the radio show. Nearly 50 artists, curators, art writers, and advocates made their voices heard.

Here are the results:

Best New Art Space: Cedar House Gallery (122 East 36th Street)

The first time I heard about Cedar House was from City Market artist and gallery owner Brian MacGregor. I was sitting at home one night, and I received a flurry of Facebook messages, including pictures, and the text, “Get your butt over here.” He was at their opening night event on May 18th, 2019 and was “enthusiastic” about what they were bringing to the Savannah art scene.

Well, I didn’t end up coming out that night, but it wasn’t long before the gallery and studio space, curated and directed by Sam Williams, became a regular go-to for me, and many others.

“For people who haven’t been there, it’s well-worth checking out.” opined Monroe, “It’s a huge space. It’s a two-level house with multiple rooms and galleries.”

One of the highlights for me was Shaye Garrigan’s S/HE residency project “The Rest is All Drag.”

Runner up: The Hen House

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Reoccurring Art Event of the Year: First Fridays in Starland

It’s taken a while to get there, and the organizers have changed a couple of times (Sulfur Studios currently leads the charge), but First Fridays in Starland has become the monthly art event in Savannah.

“When I first moved here, this is about seven years ago, I remember going down there on DeSoto [Row] and there was like sort of a few tents, and there was some stuff,” recalled Monroe, adding that back then you’d see a “smattering of people, including Bobi Perry, who would always show up. And then to see [First Fridays] now and go down there and there will be throngs of people walking up and down the street.”

It’s become so much more than just a few art openings too, with a street fair, food trucks, and usually random music on the streets, as well as people out partying at the area bars and restaurants long after the galleries have closed.

“That’s an excellent example of economic development through the arts,” concluded Monroe.

Runner up: Downtown Art March

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Artistic Project of the Year: The Starland Mural Project by various artists and curated by Clinton Edminster

“Fantastic project.” Monroe stated simply.

And he’s right. Eight murals at the corner of Bull and 41st Streets in the heart of the Starland Design District have dynamically and positively altered the landscape. What’s more, the diversity amongst the artists chosen is wonderfully representative of the rich tapestry of art-makers in Savannah.

Moreover, Edminster’s commitment to “doing things the right way” builds upon the legacy of previous public art curators (like the W Projects/Judge Realty partnership, for example) in creating an atmosphere where more such projects can happen because it’s just so good.

“Clinton did a great job and [the Starland Mural Project] actually did come before the Historic Sites and Monuments Commission, so as a board member I voted on this.” Said Monroe, “I made the comment at that meeting about how thorough and well put together the application was and the execution, so they get all the credit.”

Runner up: “Bs3” (Brainstorm 3) Installation by Troy Wandzel and AJ Perez at Sulfur Studios

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Group/2-person Show of the Year: “Danse Macabre” by Axelle Kieffer and Jordan Fitch Mooney at Sulfur Studios

It’s no secret that I’ve long been an admirer of Axelle Kieffer’s work (she was, after all, the very first guest on Art on the Air over two years ago). What was interesting about this exhibition was to see how she and her artistic/life partner Fitch Mooney worked together.

“They’re different but somewhat similar,” noted Monroe, “It just meshes well.”

The themes are a bit darker than most shows you’ll see here in town, with twisted forms and dancing skeletons, but that just goes to show you that excellence transcends subject matter.

“Savannah really has a pretty high quality caliber of artistic output,” said Monroe. “It makes me feel good.”

Runner up: “300&Under” by Various Artists at Location Gallery

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Exhibition of the Year in a Non-Traditional Space: “Matt Toole Sculpture Exhibition” by Matt Toole at Chatham Country Recycling Center

Matt Toole’s environmentally conscious sculptures, made up of found materials both natural and manmade, synergized perfectly with the exhibition space at the Chatham Country Recycling Center. Clearly, the Savannah art community agreed.

“I went there and that was the first time I’ve actually ever been over there,” said Monroe. “And I was like, ‘This is weird, and in a really cool way.’ That’s about as non-traditional as it gets.”

A couple of the pieces from the show can still be seen in front of the recycling center.

“It’s like art beacons on Eisenhower [Drive].” Monroe described, “They’re super funky-looking. If you’ve seen it, you know.”

Runner up: “If Only” by Peter Roberts at Savannah LGBT Center

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Solo Exhibition of the Year: “Five Decades” by Suzanne Jackson at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center

Is there anyone more deserving of the Savannah Art Community’s recognition than Suzanne Jackson?

“She really was a little bit under the radar, and I say that because I think Suzanne says that herself,” said Monroe. “And you know, she’s been around for a while.”

Quite a while, in fact: the 75 year-old Savannah-based artist began her rise to prominence in the late-1960’s and early-1970’s in Los Angeles, but somehow had never gotten the museum retrospective treatment that many of her contemporaries had long-ago received. Thanks to her own tireless efforts and people like former Telfair Museums Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Rachel Reese, she finally got her due with the excellent “Five Decades,” the opening reception for which ended up being a who’s who of the Savannah art scene.

“She’s getting a lot of attention, not that she hadn’t had any attention before, but she’s really getting attention now,” noted Monroe.

Runner up: “Flora” by Josť Ray at Sulfur Studios

Listen to the entire presentation of the 2019 Bobi Perry Awards, where Kristopher Monroe and I delve much deeper into all of the nominees, embedded here.

Tune in to “Art on the Air” every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on WRUU 107.5 FM in Savannah, and streaming worldwide at www.wruu.org. Next week we’ll be joined by Patt Gunn to chat about her new “Savannah Gallery on Slavery and Healing,” with special guest co-host AJ Perez!

Art off the Air is a digital-only column that is posted every week on dosavannah.com as a companion piece to the WRUU 107.5 FM show “Art on the Air.”

Rob Hessler is an artist, host of the radio show Art on the Air on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah, and Executive Director of Bigger Pie, a Savannah-based arts advocacy organization.