Reimagining The Gibbes Museum

This spring, Charleston will celebrate a major cultural moment with the opening of the completely renovated Gibbes Museum of Art. It’s a milestone that many, many people have been working tirelessly to achieve, and in a number of ways it’s about stepping back to leap forward. The new Gibbes museum and programming will pay homage to the original mission and purpose of the museum (the museum opened on April 11, 1905), while providing a dynamic new setting where all residents and visitors can celebrate artistic expression and its central role in our region and community.

We were really excited about the chance to work with with The Gibbes on this brand evolution. Together we successfully launched a few smaller projects (The People’s Choice exhibit and The 1858 Prize). We’re crazy about the arts, and we’re drawn to assignments that help shape the place we call home. The chance to “reimagine the Gibbes” offered a perfect blend of purpose, people and puzzle…the kind of project that gets you up and going each morning.

A community project should be a collaborative project, and that’s exactly how we organized from the start. The Gibbes staff and board were fully engaged to help provide direction and insight, Blue Ion and Gil Shuler Graphic Design were working together on the branding and execution concepts, and Lou Hammond and Associates were leading the public and media relations efforts. There’s no question that this collaborative set up helped us get to the right answer, faster.


Our goal was clear…to develop a world-class branding platform that reflected our world-class museum. To get there, we all agreed to push beyond the more descriptive and functional concepts (curatorial focus, etc.) and explore the true impact the Gibbes and art has on our lives. Push beyond the what and how and capture the larger purpose behind the venue, collection and programming. In fact, on a parallel path the Gibbes board was retooling the museum’s mission statement….and the two efforts informed each other.

After wrapping up the interviews, surveys, research, audits and benchmarks, we synthesized all the input into one key insight that would guide the conceptual writing and design efforts. The belief and premise that the Gibbes experience, and participation with the arts, is ultimately about feeling alive. Art and creative expression has the power to bring community together, help us understand each other, appreciate one another, and ultimately inspire us to live and be better. That was our launching point.

We landed on a theme and story that expresses the central role that art plays in Charleston and our lives and an identity that captures the energy and diversity of the programming at the Gibbes.

In her usual fashion, Jenny got right to the heart of it all and nailed that purpose and voice in the following brand theme and manifesto…


Art is the reason.

A bustling seaport in the 1700s, Charleston was a melting pot of cultures, religions, and traditions. Powered by the rice and indigo trade, and slavery, it was the 4th largest city in America in 1790 – and the wealthiest. Like Philadelphia, Boston and New York, what distinguished Charleston then – was art.

While we were home to some of America’s earliest art, collectors, artists, who made the City both muse and subject – and taken our turn as one of the nation’s richest cities – in money and culture – so were we also home to America’s original sin, slavery – and a war that divided our nation.

In 1888, when Charleston was financially and culturally on its knees, benefactor James Gibbes left a bequest to the City to build an art museum.

When the Gibbes Museum opened in 1905, the nation celebrated what Charleston has always understood: the power of art – to inspire our imagination, heal our hurt, revel in our experience, rebuild what’s broken, nourish our souls, and release all that holds us back.

Through our complicated history, through light and shadow, we have persevered – humanity intact. In Charleston, we believe art is the difference between merely existing and being truly alive. That’s why we immerse ourselves in every part of it – from fine art to craft – from nurturing its creation and celebrating its multicultural presentation – to inviting its interpretation and ensuring its preservation.

Because when we open ourselves to art, we open ourselves to the world – to people and ideas, to beauty, craft, process and detail, to different cultures, to pain and pleasure, to questions, expression and emotion, to truth and transcendence.

In the presence of art, we have the opportunity to see inside someone’s heart, mind, and soul and feel what they felt. That understanding and compassion make us more understanding, compassionate people, who, in turn, create a more compassionate, understanding world.

That is art’s gift.

“Art is the reason” will serve as a rallying cry as we execute on the materials and marketing programs to come, and the Gibbes team builds and manages its programs and outreach.

At the same time, Gil and his design team were developing visual concepts for the new brand identity and materials. And as he/they often do, nailed it with a concept that looks inward and outward at the same time. Using the cap “G” from Gibbes he flipped it to symbolize the Rotunda Dome that sits above the second floor gallery. The dome is the heart of the museum structure, and something you only truly see and appreciate when you’re inside, immersed in the art. From there, GSGD laid out a full palette to guide anyone working on a Gibbes execution in the future.



While we’re all very excited about how the task of “reimagining the Gibbes” turned out, we all have a lot of work to come. First and foremost, the Gibbes team has a museum to deliver and open this spring (!), and among other things will be working to deliver the new branding throughout the museum space through signage, design, collateral, communication and programming. And we’re busy working on a new website and application that will serve as the “virtual” relaunch of the Gibbes experience.

Our deepest thanks go out to all the Gibbes staff and board, for all their insight, support and participation. Great people are the key to great projects…and they made the difference. We hope you’re as excited as us about the new branding and even more about the opening. Because, art is the reason. See you there.