The future of SALA is bright as it celebrates two decades this year with a record number of participants while keeping to its 1998 vision.
When SALA began 20 years ago – thanks to the direction of Paul Greenaway and Sam Hill-Smith (Deputy Chair), and the support of the Australian Commercial Galleries Association (ACGA) – there were only 21 metropolitan venues and 20 country venues participating. This year, there are 660 exhibitions and events and more than 6000 participants.
The original festival was only a week-long and now the month of August is dedicated to all things contemporary art. Greenaway cites three elements that were at the core of the SALA festival he created: “audience development, creating opportunities for artists, and education.” Even though this year’s festival looks quite different to that of 20 years ago on the surface, the fundamental objectives are the same.
“At the core it’s about celebrating South Australian living artists and expanding the audience,” SALA general manager Penny Griggs says. “Audience development has been and still is at the heart of the festival.”
From L to R: Fiona Borthwick, Penny Griggs and Kate Moskwa.
Griggs has made a concerted effort to connect with established artists and the professional sector to help cement SALA’s future.
“While many people identify with being artists, people who dedicate their professional lives to art have to be at the core of this festival,” she says. “Community is important and participation is important but at the very core are people who are professional artists.”
To make contemporary art more accessible, the festival has broadened the experience for audiences, so it’s not just about straight-up art exhibitions. It’s about allowing audiences the opportunity to get to know artists in a different way. This includes the Artist’s Voice Forum where South Australian artists lead discussions and debate on the state of visual arts in the state.
One stream that has developed over the last couple of years is the open studio – a chance to catch an artist at work in their studio. There are more than 100 artists registered for open studios this year. Then there is the artist-in-residence program. Announced earlier in the year, the work from the residencies is presented as part of the festival at participating venues. This year, painter and sculptor Sonali Patel is presenting work at SAHMRI, Jane Skeer at the Adelaide Festival Centre and Steph Fuller at Flinders Medical Centre.
For the first time SALA is working with Country Health SA and the University of South Australia to include four new artist-in-residence opportunities at country mental health inpatient units located at Whyalla, Berri and Glenside.
Griggs hopes that there might be an opportunity for SALA programming where we will see curated exhibitions as the centerpieces of the festival. She would also like to develop the artist residencies further.
SALA is celebrating 20 years with one of the most diverse programs including the SALA Gala Dada Dance, a Dada-inspired evening embracing the experimental, including whimsical wines, fanciful food and postmodern beats for art-defying dancing.
“There are some really great artists and galleries participating,” Griggs says. “It’s going to be a big year.”
Photography: Sia Duff