2021 Year in Review
By Benjamin T. Simons, Executive Director & CEO
Operations, Staffing and Attendance
In 2021, Telfair Museums bounced back from the challenges of the COVID environment, and laid the groundwork for its exciting future. We successfully recruited top-tier staff in a wide range of areas, including the hiring or promotion of three of our four department heads, new staff in curatorial, education, marketing, development, and facilities, and promotions or title upgrades for other long-serving staff members. We planned and have since implemented a return to being open 7-days a week at all three sites, and set the stage for meeting or exceeding record attendance numbers from 2019.
Our exhibitions program likewise overcame many challenges to deliver an exciting range of shows including highlights like Picasso to Hockney: Modern Art on Stage from the McNay Art Museum, Telfair’s own Curator’s Choice, our annual presentations of #art912 and the Pulse Festival, and powerful solo shows by Sonya Clark and Noel Anderson.
Our acquisitions program remained active as we secured additions of works by leading female African American artists from the Brandywine Workshop and Archives, a portrait of Gari Melchers by Félix Vallotton and Kara Walker’s illustrations accompanying the Arion Press edition of Porgy & Bess, both with funds provided by the Melchers Collectors Society, and new additions of works by a wide range of artists including William Christenberry, William O. Golding, Helen Levitt, Joel Meyerowitz, Jill Nathanson, John Okulick, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Tony Delap, and more. With our new Curator of Historical Collections aboard, we also made important additions in the decorative arts such as the silver cream pot by Samuel Wilmot Jr., and a Boston & Sandwich Glass Company overlay lamp.
Education and Community Outreach
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Telfair was able to serve many thousands of local residents of all ages through its 2021 programming. Our Education and Community Outreach teams presented updated or enhanced editions of signature annual programs like Making Marks, Free Family Weekends, Juneteenth, and our collaborative partnerships with Chatham County Public Schools and dozens of non-profit partners from Savannah Philharmonic to the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office. Although school field trips could not take place in person last year, the museum’s largest virtual field trip program to date reached 2000 students and was enhanced by a return to studio art making as a key component of Telfair’s 4th Grade program. Free Family Days were attended by 3,700 people and nearly 1000 at home family art making kits were distributed. An additional 2000 art making kits were distributed to youth, seniors and other community members in 2021. In-person camps were successfully and safely expanded in 2021 as well as in-person afterschool visits by youths from local partner organizations.
Our supporters remained as loyal as ever through their participation in the reimagined 2021 Telfair Ball, and their generosity to the Director’s Circle, our member affiliate programs, and more. We surpassed our budgetary goals by delivering an operating surplus of over $500K, even while reducing our endowment draw from 6% to 5% during the year.
We are nearing completion of a major roof replacement project at the Jepson Center for the Arts.
We celebrated a new tradition with the first annual lighting of the Telfair Tree in December!
We also said farewell to two longtime Telfair staff members and colleagues upon their retirement.
Strategic Planning: Telfair for All!
On top of this, we embarked on a revitalized Strategic Planning process to imagine Telfair’s future. Telfair’s new Strategic Plan is called “Telfair for All!”
Our Vision: “Telfair for All!”
We will realize the vision of our foundress Mary Telfair in making Telfair a “public edifice . . . open for the use of the public.” Telfair Museums will be a place where everyone feels, “This is for me, this is my place.” By activating the Museum’s vision of “Telfair for All!” across the Telfair Campus, we will develop a brand-defining signature Telfair Experience for all audiences, which will turn our visitors and stakeholders into ambassadors, our Telfair Campus into a “third place” in the lives of our audiences, and broaden and deepen our local, regional and national profile, reputation and identity. Telfair’s enhanced profile will enable it to galvanize the community of arts institutions in Savannah to work together to elevate the city’s reputation as a significant arts destination in the region, the country, and beyond. Telfair for All!
The Pillars of Our Vision
Telfair Excellence: We are driven by a commitment to pursue excellence in all aspects of the operations of Telfair Museums.
Visitor Experience: We are dedicated to the relentless pursuit of creating a visitor experience second to none and in turn converting our visitors into Telfair Ambassadors.
Community: Telfair exists to serve our community, creating a culture of belonging in all museum offerings and celebrating our diversity and collective heritage.
Telfair as “Third Place:” Telfair campus should become that “third place” in lives of the people we serve, offering a gathering place for people to come together and connect with one another and Telfair.
The Telfair Experience: Telfair seeks to engage its visitors with extraordinary experiences that resonate and inspire, exceeding the expectations of contemporary audiences.
Telfair Museums and Savannah as an Arts Destination: We will position Telfair Museums and Savannah as a major arts destination by taking the lead in galvanizing our diverse arts institutions in order to become an arts destination of national importance.
We look forward to sharing the details and projects planned in Telfair for All! as we move forward.
We thank all of you for a remarkable year!
Benjamin T. Simons
Executive Director & CEO