Interesting subtexts in Moshe Safdie’s return to Savannah

Moshe Safdie will be speaking at SCAD’s commencements in Savannah and in Atlanta on Saturday.

It’s an interesting development.

Safdie is a renowned architect with a stunning list of major projects that includes Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. (Wal-Mart money); Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City; Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv; Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv; Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem; and Habitat ’67, the innovative Olympic residences in Montreal decades ago.

The list also includes the Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center for the Arts.

In recent years, SCAD’s commencement speakers have included “James Cromwell, Whoopi Goldberg, Glenn Close, Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley, Metropolitan Museum of Art Director Philippe de Montebello, playwright Edward Albee and movie critic Joel Siegel.”

Now, those are all perfectly fine commencement speakers, in my opinion, especially for an art school that also offers performing arts and film. Those are serious people, but the list still has a celebrity ring to it — which is entirely fine and appropriate.

But Safdie seems like something of an outlier. He’s not a celebrity by any stretch. He probably gets recognized in public more than I imagine, but he’s hardly a household name or face. Many SCAD grads may not have known James Cromwell’s name, but I’ll bet they and their parents recognized him as soon as they saw his face and heard his voice.

Longtime Savannahians might also know that there has historically been some tension between the Telfair Museums and SCAD. In part, this seems to have to do with personnel decisions made years ago, and I should note that the tensions seem to have faded markedly over the years.

But institutional tensions and personalities resonate throughout bureaucracies. Once a certain institutional attitude is created, it can be hard to change. All of Savannah’s major institutions have their own defining characteristics.

I know I’m being too cryptic here for some of you, but that’s what you get. It’s a blog.

The upshot of all this is that I suspect many of tomorrow’s graduates have never even set foot inside the Jepson, despite the fact that it’s the most important building constructed in many decades in Savannah, despite the fact that it would be a logical destination for SCAD students to visit routinely, and despite the fact that the building’s architect is a towering figure of the profession — one important enough to deserve the honor of delivering a commencement address.

Here’s a shot I posted to my Instagram account recently of the side of the Jepson, while dozens of people were hoping to see a Kanye West video projection outside and a Nigerian wedding was taking place inside.

Instagram Photo

UPDATE: Here’s Safdie at the Jepson with Telfair director Lisa Grove and (I think) Bob Jepson. No word on whether any SCAD staff joined him there:

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