Savannah isn't just a stunning setting for classic novels (and bachelorette parties), it's also home to a thriving art and startup scene.
There’s something special happening in Savannah. And no, it’s not the ever-increasing likelihood that at least three of your college roommates will have their bachelorette party there.
Savannah has indeed carved out a reputation as a beautiful tourist destination (and a destination party scene), but along the way, something else happened: the city’s entrepreneurship scene quietly exploded. Over the past few years, Savannah’s long-held creative leanings have intertwined with tech culture, and the result is a special kind of hybrid innovation hub that doesn’t exist anywhere else.
Home to the renowned Savannah College of Art & Design, Savannah has always been on the pulse of modern art. “The influence of [SCAD] has turned our small, Southern town into a hub for modern art and diverse thinking,â€ says Lauren Cleland of Visit Savannah. As the startup boom continues to grow, however, those artistic values are expanding past Savannah’s main tourist centers and into the more residential corners of the city.
“Creativity is the lifeblood of our coastal community,â€ says Cleland, and that’s never been more clear than in 2018. Creative startups are popping up left and right, like the boutique wedding company Yes Love, or the fresh-brewed coffee delivery business Hot Coffee Club. Public art by creators like mural artist Jose Ray and textile designer Jamie Bourgeois provide a beautiful backdrop all over the city, while SCAD students discuss business ideas with longtime residents in cafes on every corner.
As The Creative Coast, an organization dedicated to nurturing innovation in Savannah, put it, “the new creative South is a place that honors the homegrown hustle.â€ At the center of that homegrown hustle in Savannah is the Starland District, a revitalized neighborhood off the city’s main drag that fosters a growing artistic community.
Here, local businesses bring new life to formerly rundown buildings. Art studios, galleries and quirky shops line the streets. Local startups like Gauge digital and Smoke Cartel, the largest online headshop in the US, make their home in Starland. Locals hang out at Starland co-working spaces like The Creative Coast and Refinery Writing Studio to hone their ideas.
Maybe the secret to all the creative energy in Savannah is the city’s approach to work-life balance. “One of the things that drew me personally to Savannah was certainly the quality of life,â€ Bonnett says. “I spend my days meeting with creative technology entrepreneurs, and after work, I can choose to eat at one of our amazing restaurants or I can hop in my kayak and paddle out into the creek for the sunset.”
Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that the city is extraordinarily gorgeous. It’s easy to see why Savannah was the inspiration for so many Southern gothic novels: it’s the perfect setting for creative types to get their ideas flowing. “Creatives like beauty,â€ says Bonnett. “Savannah is stunningly beautiful from the way the city was planned, to the architecture, to the beauty of the trees, to the marshes, creeks and coastline.”
The new storefronts and works of art are certainly thrilling, but many entrepreneurs will say they’re drawn to Savannah for a more intangible aspect of the creative process: a spirit of collaboration. What makes the scene here really stand out is that everyone is eager to connect and build on each other’s ideas.
There’s no room for cynicism, because people are far too busy focusing on making their neighborhoods better.
“I believe all people desire to be part of something bigger than themselves, and to have a community,â€ says Jennifer Bonnett, executive director of The Creative Coast. “Savannah is a community of creatives, techies and entrepreneurial-minded individuals that gather over coffee and cocktails – and meals, of course – to have vibrant discussions about art, life, our city and the future we are creating together.”
No business exemplifies that atmosphere quite like Starlandia, a Savannah art supply shop in the heart of the Starland District. The store sells new and reclaimed supplies to artists on a budget in hopes of making creativity more affordable and accessible for the local community. By reusing supplies, the store also aims to disrupt the environmentally damaging manufacturing process and make the world beyond Savannah a better place.
Local artists drop in to chat with the staff, and in between picking up new supplies, they drop off supplies of their own that they no longer need. They help out with their neighbors’ creative pursuits while keeping the local ecosystem going, and they do it all while bouncing ideas off each other in the shop.
“Make art, stay thrifty, save the world,â€ is Starlandia’s battle cry. Maybe if more cities lived by that motto, the world would be a more inspiring and creative place – a place more like Savannah.