The Savannah College of Art and Design held an historic groundbreaking ceremony yesterday, Jan. 21, 2010, for the SCAD Museum of Art complex, which will include the future home of the Walter O. Evans Center for African American Studies housing one of the finest collections of African-American art in the United States, as well as other significant museum collections in new galleries and academic spaces. Representatives from Savannah's city government, members of the art and preservation community and four generations of the Evans family attended the event.
SCAD's dynamic new center for African-American art, literature and culture
The Walter O. Evans Center for African American Studies, the heart of the museum complex, is named for Savannah native and nationally renowned art collector Dr. Walter O. Evans. Listed frequently among America's top 100 collectors by Art and Antiques magazine, Evans assembled a legacy collection that spans 150 years of African-American art—from 19th-century landscape paintings of the Hudson River School to works by masters of the Harlem Renaissance, as well as folk art, examples from the Federal Art Project of the 1930s, and later 20th-century works by Lawrence and Bearden among others. In December 2005, Evans donated a significant collection of African-American art to SCAD, and the gift has created an invaluable resource for the university, the region and the nation.
The Evans Center will provide a permanent home for the Evans Collection as well as an interdisciplinary facility devoted to the study of African-American art, literature and culture that will include classrooms, exhibition space, event space and a theater. The center also will also create the opportunity for SCAD to develop more educational programs and relationships with public and private schools in Savannah and the Southeast.
"My wife Linda and I wanted the collection to stay in our hometown," said Evans. "However, selecting SCAD as the recipient was more than a matter of location. The partnership with the university will ensure that people of all ages and diverse social and ethnic backgrounds will have an opportunity to view and learn from the collection for many years to come. Linda and I hope that through this new Center for African American Studies, visitors will recognize the importance of preserving our cultural heritage and of providing a legacy for those who come after us."
SCAD's renowned expertise in historic preservation and urban revitalization
The SCAD Museum of Art sits on a site that had once been dilapidated and abandoned. Now saved and restored, the expanded museum and Evans Center will be new neighborhood anchors and vibrant centers of student and university activities. Through this institutional practice of adaptive reuse, SCAD has redefined preservation education and demonstrated how building conservation can revive neighborhoods, restore local economies and reawaken civic pride. The SCAD Museum of Art complex and the Evans Center further exemplify SCAD's commitment to the revitalization of Savannah's commercial corridor along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and will bring new life to a downtown district that was once vital to the city.
With the museum expansion, SCAD's latest adaptive re-use project will focus on the Central of Georgia Railroad 1853 depot, located directly behind the current museum that is housed in the former 1856 railroad headquarters. Both buildings were original to the Central of Georgia Railroad complex, the only surviving antebellum railroad complex in the country and a National Historic Landmark. SCAD will adaptively reuse the depot's remaining brick masonry walls and will incorporate other materials salvaged from the site in the new construction. Likely constructed by African-American slaves and built from bricks made by slave labor, the Evans Center will be physically infused with the African-American culture and history that it seeks to celebrate and preserve. The exterior design culminates in an 86-foot-tall steel and glass lantern that will stand over a central atrium and a glass-walled gallery where there were once railroad tracks.
Planned in two phases, this first phase will add approximately 60,000 square feet to the museum complex. The expanded facility will accommodate much of the museum collection now housed in off-site storage and expand programming with the addition of new galleries, classrooms and a 250-seat theater. The courtyard beside the museum will be landscaped, and a streetscape with trees and a new sidewalk on the Turner Street side will transform the neighborhood.
The urban design firm Sottile and Sottile, headed by SCAD professor and alumnus Christian Sottile, is leading the development of the project's exterior design. The principal architects are the Atlanta firm Lord, Aeck & Sargent, who were architectural partners for the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Savannah architect Neil Dawson, and the Boulder, Colo.-based exhibition design firm Quenroe Associates, whose clients have included the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, and the Smithsonian Institution, among others.
As a teaching museum, the SCAD Museum of Art supports the academic and creative programs at SCAD by providing students with direct encounters with works by major artists while enriching the artistic, educational and cultural offerings available to the university and wider communities. The museum is a cultural gem that adds to Savannah's reputation as an ideal location for visitors and those interested in the arts and architecture.