Where to Explore Savannah’s Art and Design Scene

By November 28, 2016 No Comments
Mercer House Savannah Hotel Indigo

The Mercer Williams House is a playground for lovers of historic design and decor. Photo credit: Shelley Seale


Savannah is a little like a rumpled debutante: beautiful and polished on the surface, but with a definite lived-in appeal, where things aren’t quite as prim and proper as they appear. Leafy streets are lined with restored, historic homes (though as your ghost-tour guide will tell you, some infamous tales unfolded inside their walls), and every couple of blocks, a small square or park beckons. Perfectly weathered, Savannah is immensely accessible and welcoming.

A big part of the heart of this city lies in its thriving arts and design scene, led by Savannah College of Art and Design, known simply as SCAD, which occupies the center of cultural life. SCAD is not only a university for creatives, but also the engine for cultural centers scattered around the city, including the internationally acclaimed SCAD Museum of Art, Museum of Science and Film, Gallery 1600 and the Alexander Hall Gallery.

Beyond the SCAD universe, here’s how to experience the full spectrum of Savannah’s vibrant cultural offerings:

Architecture Stroll

Significant buildings abound in Savannah, with easy strolls becoming delightful journeys of discovery. As the largest National Historic Landmark District in the country, Savannah contains more than 20 city squares filled with museums, churches, mansions and monuments.

Start at Jones Street, which has been called the most beautiful street in America, and admire the Civil War-era homes. You can have a traditional Southern lunch at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, which serves old-fashioned dishes, such as fried chicken, black-eyed peas and candied yams, at communal tables.

After a bite, don’t miss historic design finds at the city’s best estates. Fascinating backstories abound at the birthplace of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low; the Mercer Williams House, whose dark past was made famous in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil; the Olde Pink House, a 1771 Georgian mansion that is now a restaurant with a popular underground tavern; and the Davenport House, an early 19th-century home that was one of the first in Savannah to open for tours to the public.

Open Gallery Art Strolls

On the second Saturday of each month, join the city’s art community for the Savannah Art Walk throughout the historic downtown district around Hotel Indigo Savannah. The event starts with a welcome reception in the afternoon, and ends with an after-party in the early evening; browse galleries and chat with artists about their work while enjoying wine and snacks. Download the Art Walk’s app before you go for a map and handy information about the galleries and artists involved.

On the first Friday of each month, Art March is your answer to a self-guided art tour. Covering the Starland District and organized by Art Rise Savannah, this crawl of galleries, boutiques, restaurants and art spaces includes hip spots like the House of Strut boutique and Green Truck Pub. It also offers the Indie Arts Market, an open-air assortment of stalls showcasing locally made crafts. You can hop on and off a trolley that makes rounds of the district every 20 to 30 minutes until 9 p.m.

Telfair: Three Museums in One

Telfair is the oldest public art museum in the Southeast, and has been part of Savannah’s social landscape for more than a century. It operates three distinct museums in architecturally significant buildings, housing a permanent collection of 4,000 works from the 18th century through today, as well as rotating exhibitions.

Telfair’s Jepson Center is all about contemporary art, located in a striking building housing some 7,500 square feet of gallery space for permanent installations and major traveling shows.

The Owens-Thomas House, completed in 1819, is famously one of the best examples of English Regency architecture in America. The National Historic Landmark exhibits the original Owens family’s furnishings, as well as a decorative arts collection dating to the 18th century and a beautiful English garden.

The Telfair Academy, also completed in 1819, is an exquisitely renovated mansion that showcases a pair of 19th-century period rooms featuring American and European art. Together, Telfair’s three museums offer a comprehensive look at Savannah art and design from the city’s early days through today.