2022 Year in Review
By Benjamin T. Simons, Executive Director & CEO
Telfair for All! Strategic Plan
2022 was an exciting year for Telfair Museums as we finished crafting our forward-looking Telfair for All! Strategic Plan and it received final approval from the Board. The plan includes six core pillars that are at the heart of the museum’s future: Excellence, Experience, Community, Telfair as a Third Place, Visitor Engagement, and Savannah as an Arts Destination. You’ll see many of those themes reflected below as we look back on an outstanding year!
Telfair Children’s Art Museum
One major initiative envisioned in the strategic plan is the creation and completion of the new Telfair Children’s Art Museum (CAM). Our staff, board, and community identified an opportunity to reimagine and greatly expand the former ArtZeum space for young learners on the south upper floors of the Jepson Center for the Arts. The $2.4 million project, led by design firm Fren Inc., philanthropists Jackie Rabinowitz and Cynthia Willett, and Director of Institutional Advancement Rana Edgar is taking shape and on target for a public grand opening in summer 2023.
Education and Outreach
The development and completion of CAM will add to the museum’s rich offerings for young learners, which include art workshops, camps, ArtStart toddler and stroller tours, the Drop-In Studio, and free tours for pre-K/Head Start students, fourth-graders, and eighth-graders, among others. In 2022, Telfair’s free outreach programs reached more than 10,000 area children, and we’re looking to grow that number in future years as we expand programming and explore the new, immersive CAM galleries with our community.
Another pillar of Telfair for All!, Visitor Engagement took a major leap forward in 2022 as we made plans to create the new department of Visitor Experience & Engagement. This public-facing department reorganized education and visitor services staff into one team working together to enrich how our guests experience each of our three sites, and paved the way for more exciting changes in 2023 and beyond. The new department, led by recently hired Director of Visitor Experience and Engagement Christopher Constas, will implement the new EXCEL frontline training program and launch a new Gallery Hosts program in 2023.
One of visitors’ first impressions of Telfair Museums is the view into the Jepson Center’s atrium from Telfair Square, and we’re continuing to explore new ways to activate and engage with that space as we imagine Telfair as a Third Place for members of our community. As part of that vision, we prepared to introduce an all-new dining experience in the atrium and beyond. The museum partnered with the team behind FARM Bluffton and Savannah’s Common Thread to pave the way for the new Wildflower Café on Telfair Square to open in early 2023.
Operations and Attendance
In 2022, the museum continued to bounce back from the economic and access challenges of the pandemic environment, as we further built out our staff, shored up our facilities, and welcomed crowds of visitors: more than 240,000 of them! The Jepson Center saw near-record attendance, the Telfair Academy christened an expanded, coral-walled gift shop, and the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters again welcomed tourists from across the nation and the world.
Our strong attendance was driven in part by a number of excellent exhibitions, among them The Art of William O. Golding: Hard Knocks, Hardships, and Lots of Experience, organized by longtime Telfair curator Harry DeLorme. During the Golding exhibition period, we also pioneered a new offering—free weekends for locals—which brought thousands of new community members into the Jepson Center and Telfair Academy on select Saturdays and Sundays throughout the summer, eliminating barriers to access. Another exceptional exhibition, Feels Like Freedom: Phillip J. Hampton, organized by curator Erin Dunn, showcased the career of the artist and longtime Savannah State University educator.
Our acquisitions program remained active in 2022 as we secured more important works for Telfair’s growing permanent collection. Two pieces in particular stand out: Woodboo, by Savannah painter Hattie Saussy (1890–1978) and Her Empty Vanity, by Savannah-based artist Suzanne Jackson. The Saussy painting, acquired in honor of Dale Critz Sr., adds to Telfair’s collection of works by this regional artist and has been previously featured in Telfair shows and publications. Meanwhile, Jackson’s complex composition of structured papers, canvas, and lace adds a striking work by a major American artist and was featured in the 2019 original Telfair exhibition Suzanne Jackson: Five Decades.
Our supporters remained as passionate and loyal as ever in 2022. The 2022 Telfair Ball, The Call of the Sea, led by co-chairs Kimberly Smith and Chuck Chewning, dazzled guests at the new Plant Riverside district. We celebrated year-round with all our Director’s Circle members, strengthened our member affiliate programs, and more. Thank you all for your friendship and support!