“We just wanted to know why we couldn’t do something,.” says Matt Hebermehl of See Savannah Art Walls (SeeSAW) on the city’s original disinterest in encouraging long-term art on property downtown. After a year of proposing plans, working Ellen Harris of the Metro Planning Commission, and tweaking the semantics to find a happy fit, SeeSAW now has permission to create lasting works of art with the consent of the city.
“We had to do research and case studies in cities nearby like Charleston. It was a long process. We worked for two years before being officially approved in January,” says Hebermehl, who helped create a Kickstarter to fund a mural on 34th and Habersham with artist David Ellis during the approval process. “Before we created the policy, we had problems with our work getting painted over.”
With newly fostered approval from city officials, SeeSAW (run by Hebermehl and his partner in crime James Zdaniewski) now seeks to educate artists about the ins and outs of creating a legally accepted (and protected) mural while promoting the integration of the art community in the actual community.
Hebermehl is an illustration alumn who graduated in 2003 and has been working professionally as an artist ever since. “I’ve just kept working and over time the opportunities have gotten better.”
And Hebermehl’s most recent opportunity to bring mural art to Savannah has come from Converse Shoes. The mural, which is in front of Utrecht Art Supplies on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, will be up for 30 days.
In the past, the same location has featured an interactive mural entitled “Before I Die…” by artist Candy Chang. Passersby were provided with chalk left at the site to inscribe the things they would like to do most before death. The response was overwhelming.
“Some people in the city have grown more understanding of what we’re doing,”says Hebermehl, who hopes that people understand the cultural roots of mural art. “It gets people envolved and engaged and provides resources to communicate by telling stories about the community that people can actually see.”
But Hebermehl explains there’s a difference between murals and graffiti art. “Graffiti implies that something is temporary and usually carries a negative connotation. We are trying to secure things that can stand and last awhile.”
And although the Converse project will be taken down soon enough, the steps SeeSAW has taken to protect mural art in Savannah illustrates that suburban inspiration is on the rise — even if it takes a little hard work.