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Features

What will it take for Savannah to become a true arts destination?  Cléa Hernández collaborates with three art advocates and one editor to imagine the possibilities.  PHOTOGRAPHY BY KATIE MCGEE

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It’s happy hour in Savannah, and it has arrived not a moment too soon.  Lightning slashes the riverfront and a torrential downpour pummels Congress Street as our cozy group watches the drama unfold safely through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls at Ampersand. As we talk, it’s clear that something else is brewing here besides the storm; something that has been top-of-mind for artists and arts advocates in the community for a long time.  With the city’s historic nod to art and commerce, the explosive creative energy generated by resident artists and students, plans underway for a new cultural arts center, and the recent strides made for public wall art by SeeSAW, why isn’t Savannah more recognizable worldwide as a bona fide arts destination the way Asheville, N.C., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Miami are? Savannah magazine associate editor Amy Condon and I wanted to investigate, so we invited local art ambassadors to join us for a liberating round of libations and confabulation.  Our eloquent escorts through Savannah’s creative landscape represent three examples of arts advocacy powerhouses operating right here on the Creative Coast, each one dedicated specifically to the advancement of the arts in our tableau vivant of a city. “Part of the solution is synthesis, and the need to bring people together, which is what our organizations are here to address,” our guest Christen Clougherty points out, as we all raise a glass to elevating Savannah’s status.

Meet Our Guests

_-1Christen Clougherty
ARC (Arts Resource Collective) Savannah A founding board member of ARC Savannah, Christen leverages the unifying power of her organization to serve as a platform for art advocacy, vision and action.  She is a professor at Savannah State University, where many of her courses deal with the business and legal fundamentals for artists.  In her “spare time” she also helms the Nobis Project, an educational nonprofit that uses service learning to promote global citizenship education.     _-3
Clinton Edminster
Art Rise Savannah As executive director of the nonprofit Art Rise Savannah, Clinton specializes in community building and economic vitalization through the arts in Chatham County.  His lofty imperative is to build up our creative economy by supporting the value of art with programs like the monthly First Friday Art March, Fresh Exhibitions Gallery, and the Savannah Art Informer, an online local arts review journal.    
_-2Jerome Meadows
Indigo Sky Community Gallery A native New Yorker, Jerome Meadows exchanged his subway pass for Savannah’s underground art community in 1997.  Indigo Sky Gallery, which he founded in an old ice house on Waters Avenue, works to forge key alliances between the “powers that be” and the “powers that create.”  A prolific sculptor, Jerome was commissioned by the Telfair Museum in 2009 to create an exhibition called Reframing a Perceptual Paradigm, in which he juxtaposed 130 works from the museum’s collection with his own.   
Is Savannah an arts destination now?  If not, where are we on that spectrum?
Jerome:  I feel confident in saying that the elements are here, the ingredients are here, but it’s certainly not as much of a destination as it can be. Christen:  I was thinking the same thing.  All the ingredients are here, but the chef’s not in the kitchen.  So now, it’s about bringing all the pieces together to orchestrate the “meal” and synthesize the visual, performing and literary arts.  There are lots of layers of art happening in Savannah. Clinton:  I agree.  My question is where do we focus on turning it into (a destination)?  Do we focus on the marketing effort?  Do we focus on the infrastructure?  What is that chef’s position who’s not in the kitchen? I think it’s really about marketing Savannah as an arts destination.  As more arts appreciators come to Savannah because they are enticed by that marketing, all those elements will start to come together. Jerome:  I think it’s important when we think of any location as an arts destination to think of who we are appealing to and what their expectations are. I was recently in Barcelona.  Talk about an arts destination!  And I notice that as I’m sitting in one of the main tourist spots there, the people who comprise the tourist crowd seem very different than those in Savannah.  They seem much more international, having come from sophisticated cities that are also art destinations in their own way.  To host a tourist crowd with that level of expectation, you really need to have your act together. I think that’s the level of challenge we should be taking on. Christen:  It’s true.  We have an enormously rich base of artistic talent that draws inspiration from the environment and history that make up Savannah.  But what’s lacking is a tourist who knows to look for that base. I often think of us as a great arts college town—which we are—but with all of the permanent artists in residence, we have so much potential to grow beyond that.  Once we do, it will allow those who are here to study to gain so much more from their experience.  One of the ways we will achieve that is through synthesis and discourse—doing exactly what we’re doing right now at the table. In the visual art world, we often work in isolation out of necessity, although many artists choose to work in collaboration for different bits of time.  But that isolation makes it hard see the whole picture of the art community. _-22
You mentioned that there are a lot of ingredients in the kitchen, but no chef.  Who is the chef?  Does it require someone at a political level?  Administrative?  Community?  Or do you need someone at each of those levels working in tandem?
Christen: It will have to be a collaborative effort, but one of the first steps will be education.  How do you educate the artists, the public and the city officials on what the tremendous benefit is—both economically and for quality of life? Clinton: Yes, education will open up resources to artists and the organizations that they’re working with.  We don’t even know what we could be capable of with those tools at our disposal, because they currently aren’t available. I really do believe that art can change the world—not in some frou frou way—but just in terms of better communication and health.  That’s really where I see art coming in and shaking stuff up in Savannah.  But it will require the whole vertebrae on the back of the “Savannah animal” to be linked and in communication.  It’s still a little disjointed.  We need some chiropractors to come in and give it a good massage.  (We all laugh.) Jerome: A biggie for me is sustainability.  What’s different about what we’re doing now as opposed to what others have tried before?  How sustainable is it?  Longevity takes commitment, and it takes avoiding certain things that have proven to be pitfalls in the past.  That was one of the main reasons I was excited about ARC Savannah.  Unlike others who have come and gone before, advocates and leaders who represent the structure and the vision are working together.
What are some good concrete examples of synthesis you've seen in other places that you think could help here?
Jerome:  In every city that I’ve ever lived in or I’ve visited that has a robust artistic community, there’s always a very strong department of cultural affairs doing the advocating—almost like  a local art czar—so that grassroots organizations and individuals have that city support. Clinton: One of the main goals of ARC and ArtRise is to connect the creative community and relay those messages on to the administration in the political realm.  We say, “Hey, we represent a sizeable population in Savannah that’s interested in seeing more public art and seeing more arts accessibility and funding for the arts.”  We’re creating a voice from the public that will encourage the political side.  It will be easier for the city to work with ARC or ArtRise Savannah than it will be for them to work with a lot of individual artists. Christen:  Grassroots will absolutely be the way that it will work.  Where we’ve found a pattern of success within Savannah is by going the grassroots route… Clinton: …coordinating all the advocacy into one voice, so that the political realm can hear us better.  Instead of just a noisy crowd, it’s a booming, organized voice. Christen: That also enhances our ability to disseminate information back to the artists and art advocates. Jerome:  In terms of destination and, we’re going to need city buy-in—well beyond what they are giving now.  We’re basically saying that we can’t just wait for that to happen, so we’re going to do our part and hoping that they step up to the plate. Christen: You know, there are plenty of amazing models in what other cities are doing, but we have a great model for what works here: the way different organizations work together to preserve and interact with the historic nature of the city.   Let’s elevate the arts in that same direction, where you have not-for-profit organizations like the Historic Savannah Foundation working with a certain type of agenda, and then the city adds its pieces.  There are all these different departments that play a variety of roles in manifesting the amazing preservation work that makes Savannah such a huge draw. That’s an amazing benefit of coming to Savannah.  You have all of this history and all of this art. One of our goals is to build off of that.  For instance, when you got to VisitSavannah.com, arts and culture are grouped together.  All that history is in with the arts.  We have so much of both here that we deserve to have two pages of each.  That amazingly vital combination is what sets us apart from other cities.  That would be our biggest selling angle. _-18

After two hours of energizing conversation about the keys to arts success in Savannah—such as nurturing a community of collectors, determining the monetary value of art, art education, the psychology of art appreciation, and creating working studio and gallery corridors along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Waters Avenue—something becomes crystal clear: we need to keep talking.

Each one of these topics deserves further reflection and action.  But coming to this realization is anything but disheartening.  It means we have a strong network of artists and appreciators who want to move forward—together.

American realist—and recent Telfair Museums exhibitor—Robert Henri said, “The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.”  The consensus around the table is that Savannah will get there.  For the vibrant community that lives and creates in Savannah, reaching that state will involve transformative collaborations and continuing conversation.

What do you think, Savannah?  Tell us in the comments.  We'll be posting more of our conversation in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

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How can someone grow up in Savannah and never see its beach? Wanda Smalls Lloyd explores a turning point in her life—and a sea change in local history.

[caption id="attachment_13522" align="aligncenter" width="576"]Associated Press Associated Press[/caption] Tybee Island is one of my favorite places in the world.  But it wasn’t always so. For my African-American peers and me, Tybee was taboo. When I grew up in Savannah in the 1950s and 1960s, Savannah Beach, as it was known to us then, was off-limits.  My parents and the parents of my friends used to warn us away from the island as if was a forbidden fruit.  “Just don’t go there,” they would say, and implicit in the order were Jim Crow laws that segregated the races.  To this day, decades later and after the “wade-ins” of the Sixties, I still don’t know if there was some law on the books that said “Negroes” could not ride onto the island, or if our elders just knew that going there might mean peril to our physical being. I left home for college and pursued my journalism career elsewhere, so the first time I saw Tybee Island in daylight was in March 1997, the day after we buried my mother in Laurel Grove South cemetery, the traditional black resting place.  Her demise had come soon after the doctor told us she would not survive the cancer.  Her funeral was even quicker—my mother’s wishes.  She planned the brief, elegant services herself. The day after the funeral, I told my husband that I wanted to go see the ocean.  I wasn’t sure why; I just had a feeling that walking along the sea would put me just a few miles closer to God and I had so many questions about why I was left motherless before my 50th birthday.  I was angry, depressed, sad, yet somewhat relieved that her physical misery was over.  I was also curious about the place my family had once tried so hard to keep me away from. And maybe I was feeling just a little guilty.  True, I’d never actually seen Tybee, but I didn’t exactly obey my parents, either. [caption id="attachment_13523" align="aligncenter" width="576"]Associated Press Associated Press[/caption]
A Ride into Darkness
On my prom night for Beach High School in 1967, the first and last thing my family said to me before walking out the door was, “Don’t go to the beach.”  Later that night, my date told me his parents said the exact same thing.  And the same came from the parents of the couple we were double dating with that night. All four sets of parents warned us.  So what did we do?  We drove to Tybee after the prom, just to see what the mystery was all about. We didn’t count on the fact that the island was pitch dark at night.  We could hear the ocean but we could not see a thing, and we were scared as heck when we got out there.  Our fears were buttressed by the race stories we were hearing from across the South—stories of lynchings, beatings and arbitrary jailings had us so afraid that all we did on Tybee that night was change drivers and head back home. Since my date had driven us out to the island while the other couple “made out” in the back seat, we traded places—and activities—for the return trip.  To put it delicately, my eyes were closed, so I missed the warning lights from the police when they pulled us over.  White officers made our driver get out of the car and walk the white line on Highway 80.  None of us had been drinking as far as I knew, but I was surprised to learn that our friend didn’t have a license to drive.  He was arrested, so my date drove us home. I never told my parents about our detour down U.S. 80. [caption id="attachment_13524" align="aligncenter" width="576"]Associated Press Associated Press[/caption]
A Place for Us
For African Americans in Savannah, beach paradise was elsewhere. My social centers as a child were the segregated Girl Scout troop hosted at St. Matthews Episcopal Church, the West Broad Street YMCA where we learned social graces in “charm school,” and Second Baptist Church, the historic congregation founded by slaves and free blacks in 1802.  Before I was born, my grandfather was a deacon and Sunday school superintendent at Second Baptist; my aunt played the piano and my grandmother was an active deaconess.  Even today, the Oper Walker Guild, founded in honor of my grandmother, is still a service organization in that church. When our church went to the beach, we made the four-hour commute to and from American Beach, on the southern end of Amelia Island in Florida.  Settled and built by Abraham Lincoln Lewis, CEO of the Afro-American Insurance Company, as a retreat for his company’s employees, American allowed us to enjoy the water free of racial intimidation.  It was a long bus ride—a sacrifice of time considering the Atlantic Ocean was also just 15 miles from our church’s front door on Savannah’s Houston Street. Hilton Head Island was another oasis for black families, especially the few elite families from Savannah who built houses along one or two streets at the entrance to the island many years before the big resort corporations “discovered” it.  On Hilton Head, we had Collier Beach and Singleton Beach, “black beaches” where we had our own pavilions and shorelines for running into the surf, listening to the Sixties sounds of Motown and holding Saturday night dances. My best friend Virginia’s family had a house on Hilton Head and her family invited me to join her there many weekends during our high school years.  We would pack up the car on a Friday afternoon, drive over with ample food supplies and return Sunday night.  It was a joyous weekend of freedom from Savannah’s oppressively hot, humid summer days.  I remember sleeping with the windows open at night and enjoying the breeze from the surf down the street.
In Daylight
So, on that day in 1997, when I went to Tybee Island to reflect on the loss of my mother and think about how I would move forward without her, my husband drove slowly.  Together, we took in the island’s quaintness and serenity.  We made our way down Butler Avenue, admiring the eclectic and colorful beach architecture, the tropical landscapes and the laid-back lifestyle.  We parked on the south end of the island and walked along Tybrisa Street past the shops and restaurants.  We strolled the length of the big pier to look at the water—which, even in early March, gave us a feeling of warmth and peace.  Here we were, just a few miles from where I grew up on Savannah’s west side, and yet we were a world away. My husband, Willie, quickly learned the locals-only fishing spots.  We soon gravitated to vacation rentals along Chatham Avenue and the Bull River, where most of the houses have their own docks, and the views and fishing are unbeatable.  I came to love solitary walks along the shoreline of the South Beach, or sitting at dawn in one of the beach-side swings, watching the sun come up with a cup of coffee in hand. Tybee became a place of celebration for us.  We chose the island as the site of our anniversary getaways each May.  During the next 12 years, we first rented small condos and, later, beach houses, inviting friends to joins us. Willie and I relocated to Savannah permanently in 2013.  And just the other day, our daughter asked us where we would spend our vacation. “Vacation?!” I exclaimed.  “We don’t need to go anywhere!” Times change.  Tides change.  And, thankfully, so do people.

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Subscribe today and help us save Ossabaw Island's treasures.

For our Life on the Water issue, we'll donate $1 to the Ossabaw Island Foundation during the months of July and August for every new, renewal or gift subscription .

[caption id="attachment_13429" align="aligncenter" width="576"]Photo by Izzy Hudgins Photo by Izzy Hudgins[/caption] An excerpt from "A Very Sandy Summer" in the July/August issue of Savannah magazine: If you own a boat, chances are you’ve beached at Ossabaw.  You’ve breezed past Wassaw and across the sound, through bright, salty air, to relax on miles of pristine sand dotted with bleached tree carcasses and the prehistoric shells of horseshoe crabs.  Maybe you’ve even stood atop the sand cliffs, which a hurricane whipped up overnight more than a century ago.  But only the initiated may move beyond the beach. “We’re sort of the gatekeepers to the island,” chuckles Elizabeth DuBose, the sunny executive director of the Ossabaw Island Foundation.  We’re aboard Capt. Mike Neal’s pontoon boat, headed from the beach to the North End Plantation—an hour’s drive across the island—and Elizabeth’s safari-esque attire makes it easy for me to imagine her with a machete in hand.  “Our mission is to make sure the land is protected and used according to Sandy’s agreement with the state: for research and education.” Teachers, historians, artists and students from all walks of life may—and do—apply to use the island, and Elizabeth considers each application carefully.  She forwards scientific research requests to the Department of Natural Resources.  The outcomes of such research have benefited many.  Take, for example, the wild Ossabaw hog, whose high insulin tolerance may yield breakthroughs in the fight against diabetes.  The Barrier Island Observatory funnels high-tech atmospheric and geological data to learning laboratories all over the world.  And this summer, Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources’ Archaeology Division and the University of Georgia are hosting a field school, unearthing relics of ancient Native American and antebellum plantation life on the island’s south end. “There are literally layers of civilization in that marsh,” Elizabeth marvels.  Right here on our path, I spot a pottery shard and a hexagonal silver button. To read more about the Ossabaw Island Foundation, get a copy of Savannah magazine today.

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Meet Zach Smith—Savannah's very own prince of tides.

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[caption id="attachment_12978" align="aligncenter" width="384"]Social6 Photograph by Katie McGee. Styled by Sarah Lanier Schumm[/caption]

What does Savannah taste like?

Eccentric?  Elegant?  Sweet or dry?

We're asking you, the people who know our city best, to submit your original cocktail recipes in our quest for Savannah's signature cocktail.  To enter your lucky libation, CLICK HERE »

Deadline is 5 p.m., May 16.

 

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sad boyIt's not just some post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction.  More than 35 percent of Chatham County's residents don't know where their next meal is coming from.  Nearly half of those are children.  We want to make a difference, and we need your help. For every new, renewal or gift subscription received between May 1 and June 30, Savannah magazine will donate $1 to Second Harvest’s Kids Café program.  Our goal: $1,000.

To help us end hunger now, CLICK HERE >>

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Beyond expansive windows, the wetlands brim with natural wonders—as do the extraordinary rooms of a Skidaway Island home.  Judy Bean explores.  »  Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

When gazing at the coastal panorama beyond the wall-sized windows of Cathy Jarman’s marsh-front home, the words of American poet Walt Whitman come to mind: “Every cubic inch of space is a miracle.” Cathy, a self-taught, Savannah-born artist, sculpts—and surrounds herself—with seashells.  Her home offers up ever-changing arrangements of conchs and cockles, scallops and Scotch bonnets, slipper snails and similar species.  They share space with spiny corals, sun-bleached starfish and lace-like mineral tubes made by sea worms.  Land-based life relics linger here, too: steer horns, monkey skulls, a framed, foot-long frog skeleton and rustic compositions of animal bones picked up from local jaunts.  Even the rocks—like the 400-pound cluster of pale pink crystals perched atop the coffee table—seem alive. It’s all far more magical than macabre—charming, wondrous and comforting, too.  The mementos of natural history seem to whisper of Genesis.  Abundant sunlight and soothing gray walls create harmony with Cathy’s other collections: soulful folk art, sensuous furniture and crafts from cultures far afield, all curated and arranged with an artist’s eye. Cathy—whose son, Alex, daughter-in-law, Erica, and 4-year-old grandson, Wyatt, live next door—had eyed this home for months as it sat empty.  But when she decided to move, its peach-colored carpet and Dynasty-era décor put her off. [caption id="attachment_12663" align="aligncenter" width="576"]feather shell detail MUSSEL UP. Although Cathy buys shells from legal importers, she also incorporates serendipitous finds from everyday life. " get mussel shells, which are beautiful, by order mussels at Carrabba's," she confides.[/caption] Only after a wholehearted house hunt did she realize, “There was just something about this house.  It had that quality of being a little different, like me. “Of course, being next door to my grandson did play into the equation,” she adds with a smile. Cathy kept the home’s 1980s, California-style layout intact—but she drastically changed its indoor aesthetic.  Demolition was limited to downsizing the main fireplace wall and widening the openings on either side to allow more light into the core of the home.  She painted most of the walls a deep, rich gray—a shade she wryly calls “the color of marsh mud.”  She replaced the peach carpet with ceramic tile and dark hardwood, then wrapped the open stairs in woven sea grass.  She swapped out ordinary doors for weathered wood shutters from Egypt, which she also used to make a new wall above the staircase landing. african detail (1) Instead of relocating the furniture from her former home, Cathy sold or donated much of it, then chose more appropriate pieces from importers, local boutiques and consignment shops. “You’ll probably never see me in a regular furniture store, unless I’m buying a good leather couch,” the artist asserts. Her home, like the tidal creeks outside, is ever-changing. “I’m not afraid to try new things,” Cathy says.  “I move furniture and change how I use it.  I’ll grab a can of paint and start painting.  If the results aren’t good, I try something else.  The important thing in finding your style is not to be afraid.” These days, when she’s not sculpting with seashells, Cathy spends time with Wyatt, who adoringly calls her “Grandcat.”  Together, they explore the outdoors, her indoor collections and his ever-expanding imagination.  For them, life on the marsh is just as Whitman wrote: “Every hour of light and dark is a miracle.”
Lessons from Cathy »
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Create Space.
From a vintage sideboard, "Queen Elizabeth," a lady sphinx with a Mexican crown, surveys the vast dining room table beneath the gaze of "La Belle Mombasa," a mixed-media piece by Monticell, Ga.-based artist Aaron Hequembourg.  Flanked by 15-foot church pews, the table not only hosts dinner parties, but is also where Cathy and Wyatt work on creative projects.  "I like to find different ways to use things," Cathy points out.   light detail (8)
Basket Case.
Cathy collects baskets for both their aesthetic and story appeal.  The curvy, "waisted" Yekuana baskets are made by Amazonian women, the flat baskets by Amazonian men.  Not pictured: Rwandan "peace baskets," handcrafted by women of formerly warring tribes who now weave together.   bedroom
Compare and Contrast.
In the master bedroom, golden threaded mirrors contrast with the serene white and oyster-shaded interiors.  In the corner, an industrial bin corrals Wyatt's traditional toys—although he finds equal joy in "Gradcat's" quirky collections.  Cathy teaches him to be gentle, but explains, "WHen it comes to kids, I just care about what might hurt them, not about things getting hurt."
The Jarman Stats »
Owner:  Cathy Jarman Year built:  1986 Year purchased:  2013 Time to remodel:  7 months and counting Square footage:  2,957 Accommodations:  3 bedrooms, 3.5 baths
The Jarman Referrals »
Interior design:  Cathy Jarman Tile/flooring:  Savannah Exotic Hardwoods Paint/wallpaper:  Louis Oliver Kitchen and bath design: Cathy Jarman, Lynn Rahn of Clutter Furnishings and Interiors Lighting design:  Kevin Johnson, Tim Adams, Restoration Hardware Electrician:  Thompson Electric Furniture:  Clutter, Paris Market, Universal Trading Company, regional flea markets, Haverty’s Appliances:  Best Buy and H.H. Gregg Accessories:  Clipper Trading Company, Clutter, flea markets, owner’s collections Art:  Aaron Hequembourg, Charlie Ellis, vintage posters

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Photography by: Beau Kester/Round 1 ProductionsWhen he designed Savannah’s urban grid 260-plus years ago, General Oglethorpe knew that our common spaces would define us.  Now a new generation of visionaries is taking that plan one step further.  Native Zach Powers explores the city’s newest—and oldest—trend.  »  Photography by Beau Kester

The building on the corner of Congress and Montgomery languished for more than a decade.  Warped plywood the color of wet ash covered every window.  I could only imagine the rot on the inside, the dust that clung thick to every surface.  Whenever I walked past, I cringed, but not at the decay.  My disgust was a little more pragmatic than that.  I resented the circumstances that allowed such a prime piece of real estate to waste away. When the chain link fence went up around the building last summer, I rejoiced.  No, I probably won’t be shopping at the new Anthropologie on a regular basis, but I celebrate every time I see progress in Savannah.  What I value more than a new shop for myself is the growth and diversification of our community.  I want my city to thrive.
A Ghost Town
When my family moved away from Savannah in 1991, I can only remember there being two establishments on Broughton Street: Levy Jewelers at one end and Welsh Pawn Shop at the other.  A couple more might have lived and died in between over the years, but I’ll never know.  Back then, nobody went to Broughton.  There was no reason.  Out of the entire Historic District, the only spot that ever warranted a visit was River Street.  As a kid, I probably didn’t know that “downtown” meant anything more than the strip between Factors Walk and the river. There are several well-worn theories concerning Savannah’s stagnation and its subsequent revitalization.  I’ll offer my own summary: it involved politicians and prominent residents who thought preserving the past meant preventing progress.  The collapse of this regime coincided with Forrest Gump, The Book, and the rise of the Savannah College of Art and Design.  That was 20 years ago, and the perfect storm of tourism and increased downtown residency allowed restaurants and boutiques to move in and, to my pleasant surprise, succeed.
Lovely But Lonely
Jump ahead to 2009.  My teenage self wouldn’t recognize downtown Savannah.  I’ve got an apartment in the heart of it all, around the corner from the current Gallery Espresso and just a short walk to dozens of restaurants and bars.  The city bustles, sidewalks full of tourists, Forsyth Park dotted with sunbathers.  Frisbees and footballs sail overhead.  Every square plays host to its own microcosmic community.  It seems ideal. But I’ve spent several years applying for jobs in other cities, looking for a way out.  As much as the city has grown, I find it a hard place to be a writer.  More specifically, in 2009, I’m the only writer I know.  I crave a community of the literarily like-minded, the kind I’ve seen in places like Atlanta and Boston and Chicago.  Not to mention New York.  With each day and every ignored job application, I feel myself more isolated.  More frustrated.  While the city flourishes physically, local culture—from writing to music to theater—is still an abandoned storefront.
The Gathering
In 2010, I take matters into my own hands.  Along with Christopher Berinato and Brian Dean, I launch the literary arts nonprofit Seersucker Live.  Our goal is to establish a literary scene in Savannah, to fill cultural storefronts that had long been abandoned. And Seersucker isn’t alone.  Around the same time that we’re getting started, JinHi Soucy Rand raises the curtain on Muse Arts Warehouse, a nonprofit blackbox theater on Lousiville Road, and Kayne Lanahan kicks off the Savannah Stopover Festival, bringing more indie bands to Savannah in a weekend than performed here over several years prior.  Savannah’s culture erupts from paucity to glut almost overnight. Welcome to 2014.  Seersucker, Muse and Stopover have connected artists with an eager audience.  They helped create a community where before there had been only individuals.  As these innovations become household names, I can’t help but wonder: What’s next for Savannah?  Where do we grow from here? My quest for answers takes me away from downtown, to meet the people who see possibilities in unusual places. Photography by: Beau Kester/Round 1 Productions
Old Men, New Concept
Cohen’s Retreat is hard to miss from Skidaway Road.  The main structure reminds me of a small-town train station, its two-story entranceway flanked on either side by long, low wings.  Set back from the roadway, it possesses an air of detachment from everything going on around it. When I was a kid, attending Hancock Day School’s former campus right across Skidaway, aging men would idle away afternoons on the row of benches up against the fence, facing the street.  The men were the residents of Cohen’s Old Men’s Retreat, a cast of quirky characters I only ever knew by their waved greetings.  That was the scene for five decades, but then Cohen’s closed its doors, and those benches sat empty for years.  Every time I drove by and saw the overgrown lawn and darkened windows, I wished I had the time and inspiration necessary to reclaim the space.  While the building may have been physically empty, I knew it teemed with potential. Enter Colleen Smith and Karen Langston, the founders of the new Cohen’s Retreat.  They purchased the facility—the main building plus sixteen cottages and a few additional structures—two years ago, and began the process of turning it from an abandoned asylum into a creative collective. “We had seen similar settings in other, bigger cities,” says Smith, “but Savannah has so much untapped talent.  We knew it was possible to bring this kind of setting.” Smith and Langston, both products of Savannah, used to visit the men who lived at Cohen’s.  They share with me fond memories of the place and the people.  I’m struck right away by the warmth of these women, and it truly shines as they reminisce.  Their personal history allows them to see their new development as a continuation of the Retreat’s legacy. Smith can’t help but grin as she talks about her work. “This building is phenomenal.  We didn’t dream we’d get the chance to be here.” I enter through the tall columns on the front porch into a cozy lobby.  I’d expected something more “in progress,” but the renovations to the main building are nearly complete, and the south wing, a gallery space, has already hosted two shows.  A banquet table dominates another room.  The back wall is finished in wood left over from the renovation, arranged in random mosaic.  Small candles rest atop the pieces of wood that jut out.  Subtle touches like this abound, revealing the meticulous care with which the project has been undertaken.
If You Build It
The space, however, is only half the work.  Without someone to use it, Cohen’s would just be a big, pretty building.  But creative types are already flocking to the retreat from all over the city.  A couple of working craftspeople live in the cottages out back.  Two designers, as well as Smith and Langston’s own business, Savannah Plush, have offices upstairs.  The next gallery exhibition, featuring several area artists, is already being installed.  Soon, the north wing—newly opened up into a single large room—will host lectures, classes, workshops, and more. Smith says, “We just wanted to provide a setting where the most accomplished artist can come in and go away with something, but so can someone who has never even picked up a paintbrush.” Both founders downplay their desire to engineer a community, saying instead that they want Cohen’s to grow into a living place.  By welcoming creative people into their shared space, they intend to encourage its natural evolution. By the end of January, a public café will open in the main building, operated by Form’s Brian Torres.  A restaurant and artists’ retreat will follow.  They’ve even fixed up the shuffleboard court out back. “We wanted to open it up to all the possibilities,” Smith says.  “It’s too cool to keep to yourself.  We have to share this.” While the facility looks nearly finished to me, I’m told work remains to be done.  Langston shows me a map that features a new patio space, vegetable and herb gardens, and a fountain to be installed out front.  Many of the fully-renovated cottages are still available for rent.  A few landscaping projects remain to spruce up the grounds. Even without the finishing touches, Cohen’s is already a success, and I’m excited to see how it grows over the next few years.  It demonstrates that, with a little vision and a big effort, the same kind of community that developed downtown can be cultivated on Skidaway, connecting the corridor from Five Points to Sandfly.  It also models a new type of space for Savannah: a shared hub where creative people can gather to innovate, socialize and live.  Cohen’s is no longer a forgotten building on the side of the road; it’s the center of a new Savannah community.
“We wanted to open it up to all the possibilities,” Smith says.  “It’s too cool to keep to yourself.  We have to share this.”
Common Ground
Tim Cone is a high school teacher, but that wouldn’t be your first guess if you saw him around town.  His beard better befits a lumberjack.  Like me, he’s probably most often mistaken for a SCAD student.  But a teacher he is, and now he has the plaque to prove it: Cone recently was named teacher of the year by the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System. When he’s not enlightening young minds on the science of engineering, Cone devotes his time to Maven Makers, a group that plans to open a makers’ space in Savannah.  Put briefly, a makers’ space is a shared workshop furnished with the tools of light industry, from woodshop to metalworking equipment to 3D printers.  Members pay a monthly fee, and have access to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. “It works sort of like a gym,” Cone tells me. If all goes well, the space could be up and running within the year.  But Cone almost didn’t stick around long enough to even begin the project. “My first year, I loved my teaching job one hundred percent, but I hated Savannah,” he confesses.  “I didn’t get plugged into anything.  I just went to work, came home to my apartment, ate dinner, and went to bed.  But I moved downtown my second year, got plugged into a lot of different areas, and started really connecting with the community.  I started learning that there are all these little pockets of things that are happening.” Savannah’s cultural and community offerings helped Cone find his place in Savannah—a shared space he’s building, people first.  His network of innovators and entrepreneurs is united by their desire for this space and working together to bring it into being. Photography by: Beau Kester/Round 1 Productions
Cornhole for Creatives
“Maven Makers is one of those things that I think everyone can come together and say ‘Yes, this is one thing that we absolutely need.’  It can absolutely be the center of innovation.  It can be the driving force that’s going to push Savannah to be a model for other cities to follow.” Innovation is key to Savannah’s future, but what good is that future if it doesn’t extend beyond the individual, if it doesn’t bring people together from time to time?  Progress in any venture, from cultural to industrial, can’t occur in a vacuum. As it prepares to share Ramsey Khalidi’s Southern Pine space in the old Star Laundry building, Maven Makers has already drawn interest from local leaders and businesses.  Cone says he’s been overwhelmed by the positive reception, and he hopes to secure funding within the year. For the time being, Maven Makers will focus on providing workshops and joining with other organizations throughout the community to host events.  One of their first events will be a cornhole tournament, but with a twist.  The beanbags have to be lobbed by homemade trebuchets. “A makers’ space is just one small piece of a larger movement in Savannah,” Cone says.  “There are a lot of people out there being forward thinkers, wanting to mix things up here in town.  They have grand ideas or some kind of passion, and they just need a space to express themselves.”
Photography by: Beau Kester/Round 1 Productions
A Place for Us
For innovators like Cone, building community is about providing greater opportunities for individual success.  That begins with the ability to see potential, especially when that potential is hidden under the surface.  Where I saw only abandoned storefronts on Broughton Street 20 years ago, I think Smith, Langston, and Cone would have seen the kinds of businesses that could thrive there.  Where I see a group of people with shared interests, they see a home base where those people can gather and forge community. “This has kind of renewed my interest in living in Savannah,” Cone says, “and made me realize that this isn’t just a temporary spot.  I could be here for a very long time and make this my home.” Savannah is fortunate to have residents for whom the idea of home extends beyond their own four walls.  This concept built—and rebuilt—downtown, and similar progress can extend to wherever people are willing to take it. Let’s hope it spreads far and wide.

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Talking ’bout a resolution?  Sarah Hinson weighs in on three Savannahians who’ve revolutionized their bodies—and their lives.  »  Photography by Teresa Earnest

View More: http://memoriesnmore.pass.us/sav-mag-crossfit “I used to say I was ‘fat and happy,’ but it was far from true!” says Andi Missroon, a self-proclaimed “couch potato.” The 46-year old wife and mother was content with an active social life—just not the trips, falls and inactivity affiliated with being overweight.  After suffering from several injuries in 2010 at a weight of 230 lbs., including a hip contusion and plantar fasciitis—a strain in the arch of her foot—Missroon began to consider her future quality of life.  She decided that being overweight was too much of a risk.  She wanted to stop falling down, and eventually run a half-marathon.  So she opted for “fit and happy” instead, and called up Drew Edmonds of Train Me 24/7 in November 2010. Drew and his wife, Shazi, own the fitness center and have worked with the likes of celebrity chef Paula Deen and Ruby Gettinger from the Style Network’s Ruby.  He and his trainers offer comprehensive one-on-one sessions catered to the needs and goals of each client.  They recently partnered with West Rehab & Sports Medicine to combine the efforts of both groups’ fitness and nutrition experts and physical therapists. Missroon stands out, even among celebrity clientele, due to her level of dedication and dramatic transformation. “Working with Andi has been one of the highlights of my 16-year personal training career,” Edmonds says.  “We struggled through tears, complaints, vent sessions and laughter to reach each and every goal.  Although we continue to assign new achievements for the future, it is impossible to look back at her progress and accomplishments and feel anything but proud.” After working out with Edmonds two to three days a week for three years, focusing on building her core strength and increasing her resting metabolic rate to burn more calories, Missroon has lost more than 60 lbs.  She competes in half marathons and triathlons.  Once a carryout-food junkie, she is now an advocate of the Paleo diet—a trending diet plan consisting of foods that our hunter-gatherer ancestors might have consumed, such as grass-fed beef, seafood, nuts, seeds and fresh fruits and vegetables. Missroon continues to serve as an example to others with similar aspirations. “I would say she’s inspired about 20 of her friends,” Edmonds says.  “When someone has such a positive change, it’s like a catalyst.  People will want to be a part of it.” Missroon credits Edmonds with being the cornerstone of her transformation, along with her own critical lifestyle changes.  Thanks to their combined efforts, the future is bright for this triathlete. “When I look ahead I see a whole different future for myself and my family,” Missroon says.  “I don’t ever plan to give that up!”
View More: http://memoriesnmore.pass.us/sav-mag-crossfit
The Heart of an Athlete
When Les Vann, general manager of the television station WJCL, came to Savannah in January 2013, finding a personal trainer was at the top of his to-do list.  Two years after discovering that he had an 85 percent blockage in one of his arteries, Vann was the heaviest he’s ever been at 245 lbs.  After stent placement surgery and cardiac rehab, he started working with a personal trainer in Cincinnati, where he lived at the time. “I really needed the discipline and encouragement,” Vann says.  “Having a trainer makes you keep the commitment to get work done.” By March 2013 he was strength training with Julie Ralston at Spine & Sport two to three times per week.  At this point, he was down to 202 lbs. With the addition of an exercise regimen came the removal of some of his favorite foods. “Like a lot of Midwesterners, I’m a filet-mignon-and-potato kind of guy,” Vann says.  “Now I’ve cut out starches and most red meat.  I eat lots of vegetables and drink lots of water.” Despite the sacrifices, it’s been well worth the effort.  Vann is just about to hit his next goal of 185 lbs.
"I really needed the discipline and encouragement,” Vann says.  “Having a trainer makes you keep the commitment to get work done.
The trainer says that with the weight loss Vann’s endurance has improved tremendously. “He has begun training for a 5K and is handling the running sessions exceptionally well,” Ralston says. Vann says he has many motivators—not just the health scare back in 2009 or Ralston’s constant encouragement, but also his baby granddaughter.  Like Missroon, he wants to be there for his family’s future. And one of the biggest perks? “People have noticed and made comments and compliments,” Vann says.
View More: http://memoriesnmore.pass.us/sav-mag-crossfit
Losing to Win
Marc Dorce and his wife, Hanna, began visiting Crossfit Hyperformance at the beginning of last year.  Dorce, a 32-year-old pharmacy technician, was running regularly but was still dependent on an inhaler.  He initially started Crossfit to support his wife’s efforts to lose weight, but he soon found his own incentive. “In Crossfit, you work to make your strengths stronger and neutralize your weaknesses by attacking them,” Dorce’s trainer, Jennifer McKenzie, explains.  “Marc stands out as a quiet storm by constantly addressing his weak areas and progressively mastering new skill after new skill.” McKenzie adds that Dorce is not afraid to push himself in a workout as he begins to feel comfortable with feeling uncomfortable—another goal in Crossfit, a high-intensity fitness regimen of “constantly varied functional movements.” Dorce has lost 20 lbs. in the past year, gaining back about half of the weight in muscle.  He started out strong, entering the Whole Life Challenge in February—an 8-week lifestyle boot camp that includes nutritional changes and exercise—along with Hanna and 80 other members of Crossfit Hyperformance.  He won the award for highest body transformation among the men, and Hanna came in second for the women. View More: http://memoriesnmore.pass.us/sav-mag-crossfit “Doing this with someone close to you is really helpful,” Dorce says.  “My wife can deadlift more than me,” he admits, “so that really gets me motivated.” Dorce’s new goals are more fitness-oriented than weight-loss driven.  He wants to be able to do 10 pull-ups and complete the rope climb at the gym.  But the most exciting results so far, he says, are everyday differences. “Like, when I accidentally leave the door open and it’s raining, and I have to run back and close the door,” he says.  “I don’t get winded anymore.” McKenzie celebrates Dorce’s victories—and his inspiring attitude. “Marc is a testament to the changes that can happen when you continually push the limits a little bit at a time,” she explains. But Dorce is quick to give the credit to his Crossfit team and trainer. “You walk in and someone is there to cheer you on,” Dorce says.  “It’s not really about competition there—it’s about community.”

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