Art in the Park fiasco

2013-06-12 00:00

ARTISTS involved in this year’s Nashua Art in the Park are demanding answers from local tourism authorities on serious shortfalls in the organisation of the event this year.

They also want to know why they failed to consider the impact that the Comrades Marathon would have on the selling exhibition.

Exhibitors found themselves unable to leave Alexandra Park for nearly five hours after the exhibition closed at 4 pm on June 2, due to the thousands of runners and their supporters who jammed the area.

Stranded by the traffic jam, the artists found themselves packing up their stands in the dark when the electricity supply to the exhibition was switched off.

In an e-mail to Msunduzi Pietermaritzburg Tourism, Sharleen Boaden, one of the artists affected, said: “This year’s traffic fiasco at the end of Sunday was alarming, disheartening and traumatic in many instances to both the artists, stranded due to being locked in until 8.30 pm at night, and the exhausted athletes who could not get home until very late.

“At 4.30 pm, I went looking for an organiser to report that the electricity in the park was not on, only to find they had all left. I tried phoning, but was immediately met with a voice mail message. My call was never returned. As a result, the artists left stranded had to wait and pack up in the dark when their transport eventually got through all the traffic.”

The artists were also concerned about security on the site, claiming that security guards did not provide the presence necessary to prevent thefts, and about the lack of publicity for the event, which has been going for 51 years and is considered to be the premier selling exhibition in South Africa.

Last year, the 55 participating artists together sold artworks to the value of R1,69 million.

No figures have yet been made available for Art in the Park 2013, but several artists believe the lack of advertising and the entrance fee charged at the gate could have affected sales and support for this year’s event.

Artist Diane Erasmus said: “In all honesty, there was absolutely no publicity on any level. I know a lot of Pietermaritzburg people who told me they did not even know when Art in the Park was happening as the flag posters that were put up had no dates on them — probably to save money — but were totally ineffective in advertising the event.

“In the past, there has been a build-up to the show with newspaper and radio coverage from two months before the event. This year there was absolutely nothing. In actual fact, it was a non-event.

“Many of the artists who took part in Nashua Art in the Park this year are concerned that the event might die a slow death unless the organisers, Msunduzi Pietermaritzburg Tourism, address issues around security, publicity and the appearance of the site.”

Responding to the concerns, Buhle Ndwandwe, the events manager at Msunduzi Pietermaritzburg Tourism, said the organisation did consider the impact of having Art in the Park and Comrades on the same day, but they believed it would be positive rather than negative and that footfall would increase on both the Saturday and Sunday.

She said: “We could not change the dates for the event as, for the past 50 years, the event has always been run on the last five days of the Royal Show.

“Art in the Park, being an outdoor event, is weather dependant and we know for a fact that it never rains during those days at the park. We had also started advertising and marketing for the event, and the website had been updated. By the time I started sending out application letters in August 2012, the date had been set already.”

Commenting on the electricity being switched off, Ndwandwe said the only problems she was aware of was the power tripping once or twice.

“We always have an electrician on call 24 hours to attend to the problems and we try to accommodate artists that ask for extra electricity, even though it always puts us under pressure and causes problems,” she said.

She said security officers were on site from May 15, when construction started, until June 4.

Ndwandwe refuted allegations that no advertising was done, saying that adverts had been booked in papers in Durban and Pietermaritzburg, and in trade magazines like the SA Art Times.

“We also put posters in Durban and Pietermaritzburg, [and] we had vehicle stickers posted to all artists taking part to advertise in their areas,” she added.

“Finance wise, our accounts woman is still busy calculating the sales, but so far the sales look good. Times are hard and things have gone up, so you find that people do come to the event, but sometimes [they] are just there to view the artworks and socialise. The foot traffic at this year’s event was 6 000, excluding school groups and complimentary tickets issued.”

She added that while the event depends mostly on sponsorship, the entry fees charged and the money from artists’ stands helped them to pay for infrastructure costs, including scaffolding, electricity, dressing of the scaffolding, toilets, cleaning of the site, security, medical services, car guards, entertainment, the artists’ dinner, marketing and advertising.

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