“It’s a bit of a hybrid year,” CEO Kate Moskwa says of this year’s SALA Festival, set to take place from August 1-31.
“At the moment we’ve got about 300 or so [registered exhibitions] in the system and we’re expecting that to continue to increase on a day-by-day trajectory…
“About one-third of that figure so far would be online. I think most new registrations from this point will be physical venues, just due to the easing of restrictions.”
Planning for a month-long festival during a pandemic clearly comes with challenges. When COVID-19 restrictions began to bite around four months ago, SALA organisers decided they needed to change their usual format to ensure it could go ahead in August, no matter what happened.
They announced the program would be digital only, ditched the usual May registration deadline (necessary for a printed program), and invited artists to present exhibitions and events that could either be accessed online or while complying with physical distancing requirements.
Now, of course, galleries, community spaces, cafes, wineries, libraries and other spaces that annually host SALA shows are open again, albeit with some restrictions. And the fact that an exhibition can be registered at any time – even during the festival – means more artists are able to take advantage of the relaxation of coronavirus rules to present shows in these venues.
Moskwa says the number of exhibitions so far – which represents around 4000 artists – is “pretty good for what has been a really strange year”.
“We always expected we would have less this year because a lot of people haven’t had that time to focus on their artmaking practice if other things have been higher priorities, like jobs and health … and as well, of course, a lot of venues have been closed and exhibition spaces haven’t been available.”
In recent years, the festival has attracted between 600 and 700 exhibitions, but it may still get closer to this figure as registrations keep coming in.
The launch of the program on July 20 online and on the SALA app, and the distribution from this week of the poster showcasing ceramic artworks by 2020 SALA feature artist and monograph recipient Kirsten Coelho, will likely prompt an influx of registrations, Moskwa says.
“The power of the poster can’t be underestimated – especially these days.
“I’ve been on the city streets a bit, to places near the markets or around my office where they would normally have a poster wall plastered, and they are just so empty at the moment because so many venues are closed.”
There are two versions of the SALA poster, each showing clusters of three of Coelho’s striking porcelain works.
A grey-toned poster features pieces from a series exhibited during the 2018 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art (some of which will be on display during SALA at the Art Gallery of South Australia), while a lighter-toned poster shows vessels from a newer body of work, Ithaca, which was to have been shown in an exhibition at the Samstag Museum of Art next month but has been postponed until October.
“They are similar in their exquisite simplicity,” Moskwa says of the poster images.
“We thought it would be really nice to have them as almost mirrors of each other… it’s nice to be able to show both [sets of] works so we can talk back to the past and into the future.”
As an open-access event, SALA has always welcomed participation by artists of all levels of experience working in any media, and Moskwa says this year it has proven even more accessible. Some of those presenting online events may not normally have taken part because they didn’t feel they had enough work, skills, time or funds to mount a physical exhibition.
When organisers announced the program changes for 2020, they also encouraged artists to be creative in how they navigated COVID-19 restrictions – and many have met the challenge.
“There are some interesting things coming through,” Moskwa says.
“Some of the examples are people exhibiting outside – having exhibitions in parks or public spaces – artists are putting work in windows and doing projections on windows so that it can be viewed in people’s own time from a safe distance, and we are seeing really sweet lo-fi participation like people putting chalk drawings on pavements or registering pavement art.”
Some artists have created virtual tours of their studios and used smartphones to film themselves talking about their art.
Organisers have also turned the annual SALA Forum into a new SALA Podcast, which will feature interviews released throughout August with artists discussing their artwork, inspiration and creative lives.
Moskwa says it is heartening to see artists continue to make work despite the recent challenging circumstances, and “using the SALA platform to express themselves and bring communities back together”.
It’s clear that COVID-19 has had an influence on some of the more recent work being created, she says.
“There are a lot more exhibitions talking about isolation, or talking about reconnecting with nature or having time to slow down and consider your surrounds; interiors come up, too – people have been painting interiors and domestic spaces for centuries but it’s particularly pertinent now … and there are also more aspirational or questioning topics, like what would a better world look like.”
SALA Festival will run throughout August, with the digital program to be released on July 20 – but don’t forget to keep checking back up to and during the festival, as artists can register new exhibitions right up until August 31 this year.