Remember Shakespeare in the Park?


For many years, the nonprofit City Lights Theater Co. received enough funding from the City of Savannah to stage free outdoor productions of Shakespeare plays for one weekend each year. Way back in the last century, the festival started by using downtown squares but eventually moved to Forsyth Park, where the shows annually attracted thousands of spectators.


Shakespeare in the Park continued in various forms even after City Lights Theatre left center stage, but the festival is just a dim memory


I’m not suggesting that any of our fine theatre companies try to revive Shakespeare in the Park in the midst of a major public health crisis, but the pandemic has given us a little distance to consider Savannah’s cultural landscape.


Without the constant rush of upcoming events, we have time to ask deeper questions about what we want from the arts in our community.


What types of events do we want to see more often? Which events from Savannah’s past should serve as models? What are other cities doing more effectively than we are?


And how do we pay for the things that we want?


In previous columns, I have made many suggestions for ways that we can adapt to the pandemic, but let’s forget about COVID-19 and think about what 2021 could look like.


Shakespeare in the Park thrived even before the construction of the fixed stage in Forsyth Park. The Savannah College of Art and Design’s used to produce amazing shows in Forsyth annually on the evening before spring commencement, but those events ended a few years ago.


Despite now having a fixed stage, we have fewer big performances in Forsyth Park than we did when event programmers had to bring in their own stages.


Sure, we need funding if we want free public events, but we have a great deal of wealth and talent in the Savannah community. We should be able to pull off some great things through the combined efforts of engaged citizens and leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors.


Outdoor public events are critical for promoting inclusion. I have focused here on Forsyth Park, but we have great public spaces scattered throughout the region, and we should explore the possibilities for street fairs and other events in areas without suitable parks.


In 2021, I hope that a large number of cultural events and performances will continue to be live-streamed even if the pandemic is in the rear view mirror.


Online streaming opens up new frontiers in terms of accessibility, inclusion and total audience reach. Savannah is lucky to have the production companies and media outlets to handle the logistics, so we just need to figure out the funding models.


In a recent column, I explored the world of public art in Savannah. It’s clear that a wide swath of residents want to see more public art – both temporary and permanent installations.


I love the idea of independent artists doing their own thing, bucking trends, challenging authority and contributing to thriving scenes.


But if we want more community-spirited arts programming that is both inclusive and accessible, we should be using these slow days of the pandemic to lay some groundwork.


Bill Dawers writes the City Talk column for the Savannah Morning News. He can be reached via citytalksavannah@gmail.com and @billdawers on Twitter.