When the Telfair Museums’ three sites were forced to close in mid-March, the team was left in a tough spot.
The Jepson Center had just opened its latest exhibition, “Collecting Impressionism: Telfair’s Modern Vision,” just days before the closure. The museums’ exciting offerings were on display for a nonexistent audience, with no one to come explore for an undetermined amount of time.
More importantly, the community that Telfair has built was left on the outside looking in.
“We have a community, and we’re trying to figure out how to manage our way out of this crisis,” says Vicki Scharfberg, Director of Marketing and PR for the Telfair system. “During the closure, we wanted to remain connected with our friends and our fans, so that meant we had to open our doors wide digitally.”
Enter Telfair Today, the digital hub that invites Telfair into your home in a number of ways.
Telfair Today features blog posts about local artists, a video archive of lectures and exhibitions, educational resources for kids, a virtual tour of the Owens-Thomas House, and the Telfair’s art collection, which was put online about a year and a half ago.
The Telfair’s team is working hard to make sure the content they bring is fun and relevant.
“We are now working cross departmentally, curatorially and educationally. Courtney [McNeil]’s team and Harry [Delorme]’s team are working are really hard to continue to help create new and fresh content, and content that’s specific to Telfair,” explains Scharfberg. “Our education [team] is working on family programs and STEAM. Obviously we have our collection, but we also have Erin Dunn, our Contemporary and Modern Art Curator; she’s talking and doing virtual visits with Savannah artists as part of our #art912 initiative. We’re continuing to try to expand what that means.”
- "New York" by Helen Levitt, c. 1940, is one of several artworks on virtual display via Telfair Today.
With no end date for the pandemic in sight, Telfair is committed to seeing it through and presenting fresh content through the end—and maybe even beyond.
“We’re mapping it out a month at a time, and also to be able to give education and curatorial the chance to create things, for Erin to go on the market and talk to people, and for Harry to do his thing,” says Scharfberg. “That takes a couple weeks. We’re trying to post new content three to five times a week if we can, and then plus our regular social media posts to keep people engaged with us as well.”
All that work is important for the community that Telfair serves. In the month or so of social distancing, it’s clear that people are turning—perhaps more than ever—to the arts for comfort and distraction, as well as just something to do.
“There is a need during this time for education, stimulation, and inspiration. All of those things are important during this challenging and super confusing time,” says Scharfberg. “We know that—there’s enough research to tell us that art can reduce stress and anxiety, increase motivation, it’s a mood booster, all of those things. Since people can’t experience it in person, we want to give them the next best thing.”
Telfair Today also includes resources for children, who are now effectively out of school until it starts back in the fall. There are plenty of fun and educational opportunities on the site to help kids have something to do during this irregular time.
“Again, there’s no shortage of research that indicates the benefits of museum visits and art on children. We want them to go outside of their four walls and into ours,” says Scharfberg. “It’s a distraction during these times, too, for most kids and adults. People like to look at pretty things, and kids will do anything that’s online.”
One exciting feature of Telfair Today is the virtual tour of the Owens-Thomas House, which was created last year from a partnership with GPB. It’s like a virtual field trip, complete with learning objectives and interactive elements.
Essentially, Telfair Today is all about keeping the community informed and entertained.
“It’s just about wanting to stay connected to our community,” says Scharfberg. “I look at it that Telfair has been around for 200 years, and we’ve been a part of that community for that long, and we plan on being a part of it for a long time going forward. We need to remain relevant to people’s lives as well. Just stay in touch—we’re trying to stay in touch with you.”