Savannah is a city of families. Some of us came over on the Anne in 1733. Some arrived on Jet Blue in 2014. And if history is any indicator, many will still be shaping our culture in 2133. In honor of this magazine’s 25th anniversary, we wanted to honor the fiber of our city: the families who helped build it. We set out to profile a few of the multi-generational dynasties that have left a lasting mark on this city. We got a lot more than we bargained for—and we were still interviewing as this magazine went off to press. From roots to leaves, Savannah’s family trees are like our signature live oaks: the roots run deep, the branches spread far and wide—and the leaves are always green.Photography by Cedric Smith [caption id="attachment_14926" align="aligncenter" width="585"] The Ambos Family [/caption]
» To reader more about Savannah's running culture, pick up the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of Savannah magazine, on newsstands now.
Next StepsJoin your city magazine on February 6 and 7 for the Critz Tybee Run Fest: two days and five fun races that add up to 26.2 miles. Then, sign up for the Seacrest Partners Race for Preservation: a 5K/10K through the city’s historic neighborhoods to benefit the Historic Savannah Foundation. For a more running events, CLICK HERE »
In our Best of Savannah issue (September/October 2014), we set out sights the city's hunting culture, from flint-knapped knives to what we put on our plates. Pick up the latest issue of Savannah magazine, or, better yet, subscribe, and you'll —
→ Go on a pheasant hunt with Dan Reel and Chief, his champion Boykin spaniel;
→ Visit the drying room of "Trapper Jack" Douglas, who talks turkey about the gator trade;
→ Sling arrows with Vinson Miner, a marksman and maker whose craft is as old as time; and,
→ Get cooking with area chefs, who rely on wild game to draw out the season's most succulent flavors.[caption id="attachment_13810" align="aligncenter" width="576"] Photograph by Angela Hopper[/caption]
Join Savannah magazine on the hunt.
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
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
Christen CloughertyARC (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.
Clinton EdminsterArt 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.
Jerome MeadowsIndigo 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.
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.
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.
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[/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[/caption]
A Ride into DarknessOn 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[/caption]
A Place for UsFor 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 DaylightSo, 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.
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[/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.