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Savannah Artist Collective: Expanding access
Group focuses on keeping the playing field level for emerging artists
Local artists and community members met for a live drawing session at the Savannah Artist Collective during the group’s third meeting. - photo by Photos by Logann Finch

SAVANNAH ARTISTS looking for a space to commune, talk, critique and show work have a new home at the Savannah Artist Collective.

Located at 13 E. 39th St. across from Sulfur Studios, the Collective is the latest project to spring from a growing movement by the city’s artists in response to a lack of affordable exhibition spaces. The group was founded earlier this summer by SCAD Fibers MFA students Leah Blair and Sam Ahern.

“We both started at SCAD in the Fall and realized that [the university] wasn’t giving us the space and support that we needed to do the kind of experimental, site-specific, time-based artwork we wanted to do,” Blair explained.

Blair and Ahern turned to the city’s galleries and artist spaces, looking for a place where they could affordably show their artwork. You probably know how this ends.

Despite the constant praise heaped onto the Starland District as a beacon for arts accessibility in Savannah (a pile I’ve been guilty of adding to), affordable exhibition space is tough to come by.

To exhibit your work at Non-Fiction Gallery for one week costs between $500-$600. You can snag the gallery space at Sulfur Studios for between $500-$625. The Welmont (whose prices were not immediately available at the time of publication) is another option. Lee O’Neil Gallery is now defunct. Sure, you can show your work at the city’s Cultural Arts Gallery but it only hosts nine shows per year.

“The galleries are kind of unattainable for an emerging artist unless you have commercially viable work,” Blair said. “You aren’t necessarily looking to sell time-based, site-specific work—you’re just looking to show it. And if you’re having to pay $400 or more just to show it, it gets really difficult.”

Sam Ahern and Leah Blair.
Sam Ahern and Leah Blair.

Frustrated, Ahern and Blair made plans to leave Savannah for the summer in favor of internships or residencies in New York City.

“We had everything set up and planned and then at the last minute we just said ‘Nope. We’re doing this.’ If we don’t do it this summer, we’re never going to do it. So we canceled all our plans,” Ahern told me.

They moved the furniture out of their spacious front room, painted the walls, and put out a chalk sign on their porch that reads “Savannah Artist Collective.” A Facebook page went live and they held their first meeting on July 25—a two-hour long open discussion where the goals of the group were outlined by all those who decided to attend.

“We’re not just showing artwork. We want educational elements as well,” Blair elaborated. “General skill-shares, workshops, sharing of resources...We want it to always be about a conversation.”

So far, the Collective has staged a fibers exhibition during the August First Friday Art March, appeared as a vendor selling various artwork at the Art Market on the second floor of Sulfur Studios (also during the Art March), hosted an open critique for artists, and held a live drawing session. Not bad for a group that’s only three weeks old.

On Tuesday, August 16 at 6:30 p.m. they’ll host their most formal event yet: a panel discussion titled “How to Host a Studio Visit.”

Conceived by Stephanie Raines, Interpretation and Audience Engagement Coordinator for Telfair Museums, the discussion is framed as an opportunity for professional development.

Artists who attend will learn the do’s and don’ts of hosting a successful studio visit, as presented by Rachel Reese (Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Telfair Museums), Erin Dunn (Assistant Curator at Telfair Museums) and Anna Quinlivan (Gallery Director at Grand Bohemian Gallery: The Mansion at Forsyth Park). Raines will serve as moderator.

“Artists need to know how to act and the type of questions to ask,” Ahern explained. “When you have someone’s complete and undivided attention on you and your artwork, you should know how to handle yourself.”

We’re chatting on the Collective’s front porch after a live drawing session; a handful of artists are scattered around, sitting on a porch swing or leaning against the porch railing. Heads are nodding in agreement.

It’s another affirmation that the Collective is meeting a definite and immediate need, and they’re doing so with a speed and efficiency rarely exhibited by Savannah-based organizations.

Time will tell, but with so much concrete action in just three weeks the Collective seems poised to play a big role in offering artists the tools they desperately need to remain in Savannah.