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Saturday, October 3, 2015


(Lihle Dlamini, director of marketing and communications at SANBI, artist Francoise Cheyne and Dumisani Mhlongo, director of Msunduzi Pietermaritzburg Tourism. Photo: Estelle Sinkins)

 (Report by Estelle Sinkins)

Research conducted at the 53rd Art in the Park exhibition in Pietermaritzburg this year found that for the event to thrive, it needed a new home and new attractions to increase foot traffic and drive art sales.

Although 80% of those polled enjoyed the exhibition, they were concerned about the degradation of the Alexandra Park site, poor toilet facilities, bad signage and poor organisation. Another concern was the strain placed on accommodation in the city due to three major events — Art in the Park, the Comrades Marathon and the Royal Show — all taking place at the same time.

To combat the latter, the Msunduzi Pietermaritzburg Tourism Association is moving Art in the Park a week forward to May 4 to 8, 2016.

The event also has a new home: the historic London Plane tree avenue in the KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Gardens in Mayors Walk, Pietermaritzburg.

The association has partnered with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) to host the 54th edition of the exhibition, a move which Dumisani Mhlongo, director of Msunduzi Pietermaritzburg Tourism, said would allow Art in the Park to grow and flourish.

The artists will be displaying their work under the plane trees, but to encourage more families to attend there are plans to introduce a special children’s zone, and to host a concert by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra on one of the four days.

Patrons and artists will also be able to access the braai areas in the garden, make use of its toilet facilities and, most importantly, the existing security.

“For me that is a relief. I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights I have had thinking about the expensive pieces of art sitting in Alexandra Park at night,” Mhlongo said. He also believes the partnership will improve marketing of the exhibition to make it appeal to younger people and a wider cross-section of the city’s population. At present most visitors are 50 and older and the majority are white.

Lihle Dlamini, director of marketing and communications at SANBI, confirmed they planned to increase Art in the Park’s profile in South Africa: “We have identified a number of platforms to market the event and partners that we want to rope in. We believe we can help make this event one of the flagships of Pietermaritzburg,” she said, promising the artists who have supported Art in the Park for the past 53 years that SANBI would ‘look after their baby’.

“We promise that this event is in good hands and will grow even further. I believe the gardens will be the home for Art in the Park for the next 100 years,” she added.

Howick-based artist, Vince Reid, said he was excited by the new venue and the change in dates, but he also made an appeal to the tourism association to include local artists in their planning meetings to ensure that the 2016 event ran without a hitch. – Estelle Sinkins