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SALA looks to a post-COVID future

Morgan Sette

The South Australian Living Artist (SALA) Festival has always been about celebrating local art but COVID-19 has forced the festival to adapt to stay true to its ethos.

While SALA isn’t until August, back in March when the full picture of COVID-19 was taking shape and we were faced with so much uncertainty, SALA CEO Kate Moskwa knew the organisation had to make decisions about the approaching festival without knowing what the future would hold. Flexibility was going to be the key.

A lot of the venues that usually participate in SALA are cafes, restaurants, bars, pubs and galleries, which had all closed their doors. The first thing the organisation needed to address was registrations. “We decided at that point in time we couldn’t accept registrations for exhibitions that didn’t comply with current state government restrictions,” explains Moskwa. “We were left with online only or something in the physical realm that still complied with those social distancing and physical distancing measures.”

In response to the difficult financial position many artists found themselves in, SALA removed the registration fees. “We have made it entirely free. We could do that because we are no longer printing the program so we didn’t have that cost. We didn’t know what the future would look like and we weren’t sure if there would be any need for a printed program, so it’s now only online and available on the app,” says Moskwa.

“I think this year everyone is in the mindset that we are all in this together and, because the future is uncertain, we need to make adjustments.”

With no printed program, SALA could also remove the cut-off date for registrations – artists and venues can register while the festival is on through to the end of August. “We are trying to be really flexible and make sure we are responsive, which will hopefully allow artists to experiment and take risks with what they are doing,” says Moskwa. “I think this year everyone is in the mindset that we are all in this together and, because the future is uncertain, we need to make adjustments.”

People aren’t expecting the usual SALA Festival this year, and artists aren’t expected to do the usual exhibitions in the same sorts of spaces, providing freedom for the organisation and also for artists. This has resulted in a lot of innovative practices with artists exploring new technologies and expanding their work across other mediums. The scope for how work is being presented has also broadened – venues and artists are being forced to think beyond the traditional means.

“We have had people registering exhibitions in parks with their local council, people wanting to put work in windows, exploring projection on the outside of their buildings and people doing really lo-fi things like chalk on the pavement,” says Moskwa.

As restrictions begin to lift in South Australia, we could see a return of some of the usual venues if we continue to keep the virus at bay. “I think we will end up with a mix of the more traditional spaces and people trying something new,” says Moskwa.

The situation has also forced people to focus on what is local. SALA has always been about supporting South Australian artists so in a way it has provided an opportunity for audiences to show their support for an industry that desperately needs it. Introducing South Australian artists to interstate and international audiences has also been another important feature of SALA, and the fact that much of the 2020 festival will be online means that people will be able to see South Australian art from anywhere in the world.

“People have the opportunity to reimagine what an exhibition might look like,” says Moskwa. “We are also seeing common themes emerging focusing on the current situation. Themes such as reconnecting to nature, slowing down, being in isolation, interiors and reimagining the future.”

SALA Festival 2020 will run from 1 – 31 August

Jane Llewellyn

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