Those Busy Bees! SCAD president and founder Paula Wallace unveils Savannah Songs to celebrate Georgia Day.
On the eve of Georgia Day, Paula Wallace, president and founder of the Savannah College of Art and Design, and her busy bees put together a new way to celebrate the state’s history through art, music and more. Dive below for a sneak peak of the latest SCAD endeavor: Savannah Songs, premiering Feb. 11 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Poetter Hall, Morris Hall, Art’s Cafe, and the Gryphon.
How did Savannah Songs begin?
Every year SCAD endeavors to celebrate Georgia and its history, from the colonial era to the present. For last year’s Georgia Day, SCAD created the Savannah Women of Vision at Arnold Hall, followed by the installation of a floor medallion at the SCAD Museum of Art, in memory of the daring escape of [slaves] William and Ellen Craft. Earlier this academic year, the university commemorated a pivotal moment for Civil Rights here in Savannah with the Visionary Voices event and the installation of a historic marker at Jen Library.
I suppose it was back in November when we started asking, “How could we celebrate Georgia Day this year?” We knew we wanted it to be contemporary and fresh. Film and TV have been on my mind. Did you know we make more films in Georgia than anywhere else in the world, besides California and the UK? Our SCAD performing arts program focuses heavily on acting for film and TV, and right now, 200 SCAD students are working on sets in Georgia. The vision for this event was a marriage of these two ideas—Georgia history and these supremely talented SCAD performing arts students.
It was back in November when we started asking, ‘How could we celebrate Georgia Day this year?’ We knew we wanted it to be contemporary and fresh.
What can attendees expect from the experience?
First and foremost, we want audiences to have a great time. This is a celebration! We also want audiences to walk away thinking more broadly about Georgia history, and history in general. The program highlights decades that aren’t normally thought of as “historic,” like the 1980s. It’s sort of wild to think of that decade as being historic, but as I said in a recent op-ed, that period was an absolutely historic one for SCAD.
SCAD opened that decade with eight undergraduate programs and a single graduate (Julie Lee, in interior design), and we closed the decade with more than 2,000 students and a host of accredited undergraduate and graduate degree programs. We started the 1980s as “the tiny little art school on the square” and ended the decade as a major player in U.S. arts education. All the SCAD veterans have such fond memories of that time in our history.
How much of this process involved the faculty and students?
All of it, start to finish. I shared the idea with our brilliant events staff and they dreamed up an ambitious plan, then asked faculty and students if they thought it sounded fun. The answer was a resounding “Yes!” Our performing arts students are always eager to add new roles on their résumés, new stories to share in their film and TV auditions, and our dramatic writing students jumped at the opportunity, too. When else are they going to get to write historical musical theater vignettes? All the credit goes to SCAD academic leaders and faculty members Andra Reeve-Rabb, Mark Tymchyshyn, and Averie Storck.
Why is it important to celebrate history and the arts?
The great writer Joan Didion said, “We tell stories in order to live.” Our stories aren’t merely a part of who we are; they are who we are. We celebrate history the same reason we tell bedtime stories to our children, and tell stories on the front porch. We want to know who we were, who we are now, how we got here. The arts are how we tell those stories. What is history? History is writing. History is research. History is musical theater. Just look at Hamilton.
SCAD is well known for invigorating the historical architecture of Savannah. Why is that an important part of the school’s philosophy?
In 1979, it was a necessity. We needed a building, and Savannah had many, many historic buildings in need of a new purpose. I fell in love with the Savannah Volunteer Guards Armory right away. Honestly, the Armory—now Poetter Hall—is just so dreamy. It’s the castle on the corner! As we grew, reimagining historic spaces with creative new use just made sense. It was pretty obvious from the very beginning that SCAD was going to be making its permanent home in formally derelict historic properties, redeemed and made wholly new. That’s one of the reasons why preservation was one of our very first degree programs. We saw from the beginning that this was going to be a part of our identity, so we embraced it. In the years since, SCAD has become an international leader in preservation design. Looking back, I suppose it was our destiny.
I’m partial to the story of Alexander Smets, builder of what is now Morris Hall, in 1853. Smets was a Frenchman and entrepreneur who moved to Savannah and created what became one of the largest private libraries on the East Coast. How did he get all those books in there? I would have loved to have seen this library.
Can you share any sneak peek details with us about the event?
Savannah Songs is what they call an “immersive theatrical experience.” This is no ordinary sit-and-watch performance. Guests will be moving among buildings, on a tour of architectural history, of Georgia history, of musical history—all at once. The event will feel something like a time machine, rocketing back and forth across history. The performances aren’t in chronological order; after all, memory has its own chronology. It will be a dizzying delight to get your heart and feet dancing, and very family friendly!
SCAD wants friends and neighbors to see the interiors of our buildings—like all good Savannahians, we love guests. We want to share the architectural heritage of the university with the community. Gryphon and shopSCAD are always open, of course, as is Art’s Café. I think guests will enjoy seeing the grandeur of Morris Hall, constructed in 1853 and one of the glorious, and only surviving, antebellum residences of Savannah.
Savannah is a place of rich culture and heritage. Do you have a favorite anecdote or urban legend about the city?
Each one of the four historic buildings in the show is chockful of stories. I suppose I’m partial to the story of Alexander Smets, builder of what is now Morris Hall, in 1853. Smets was a Frenchman and entrepreneur who moved to Savannah and created what became one of the largest private libraries on the East Coast. How did he get all those books in there? I would have loved to have seen this library. He also built a cupola on top of the home that allowed him to see the river. It was the highest point in Savannah at the time. They say he wanted to see ships coming upriver. I sometimes imagine him sitting up there with a good book on a beautiful day. Smets was also one of the founders of the Georgia Historical Society, so how fitting that we can celebrate Georgia Day in his home.