2021 Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival highlights

Opera in a Cabaret setting, a high energy Basketball performer and a night of grass roots music headed up the jam-packed program of the 2021 Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival, held over the weekend of 14-16 May.

Planning for a community Arts Festival during the cycles of Covid restrictions and border closures seen through 2020 – 2021 posed challenges for the Committee. After the cancellation of the 2020 Festival, it was with slightly nervous trepidation that the Committee forged on with the idea of holding the Festival for 2021 – albeit in a slightly reduced format. It was determined early on in the planning process that the Festival would go ahead through a lense of ‘local events for local

Thus it was decided to push out the opening night to the Friday evening, instead of the traditional Thursday night, making a full two day Festival instead of the traditional three day.

Against that background, and with determination that the ‘show must go on’, more than forty venues across Penola and Coonawarra were abuzz with over fifty events including exhibitions, workshops, competitions, comedy, live music and performances.

The Festival kicked off with a strong attendance at the Opening Night, held at the Penola High School for the announcement of the 2021 John Shaw Neilson Acquisitive Art Prize. We are indebted to the incredible generosity of The Balnaves Foundation, sponsoring in 2021 a prize of $12,000. a further Local Art Prize of $1000 was also given thanks to the generous sponsorship of local Festival supporter, Lois Hodge.

Winner of the 2021 John Shaw Neilson Acquisitive Art Prize was Julie Kent for her work ‘Undressed’ inspired by the poem ‘As Far as My Heart Can Go’. The John Shaw Neilson Local Art Prize was awarded to Rose Milton for ‘Once Upon a Time’ inspired by the poem ‘From a Coffin’.

A Highly Commended prize was awarded to David W Braun for ‘When Are the Angels Nearest’, poem by the same name.

The 2021 Design Prize winner – with the image to be used for the 2022 Festival – was awarded to Olivia Balk.

Following the opening, Bellwether Wines hosted an eclectic evening with CK Stoneking and Kelly Menhennett to a restricted but sold out audience. There was also the favourite movie night in the Coonawarra Hall, and live music at both the Royal Oak Hotel and the Prince of Wales.

For 2021 the highly anticipated Co-Opera performance was moved to the Saturday evening in the Rymill Hall. Titled ‘Hey Old Friends’ showcasing Opera favourites, a small but enthusiastic crowd ventured into the group setting (something they had been unable to do for many months) to enjoy a relaxed evening in a Cabaret style.

The popular Coonawarra Comedy Club returned – presented by Wynns Coonawarra Estate and this year was held at Rymill Hall in Penola on Friday night.

Peter Goers was welcomed back for his show ‘Joyful Strains’ at the Penola Bowling Club on Saturday afternoon. Peter also hosted a local launch for his book ‘Maddening Self-Indulgent Crap’ along with the ‘Book of Ideas’ by Trevor and Archer at Guy Detot’s Le Max Gallery.

Saturday night saw the return of the popular ‘Coonawarra Vignerons Shenanigans’ grass-roots music night at the Coonawarra Hall, featuring perenial favourites Kelly Menhennett and Archer who joined newcomers to Coonawarra The Cart Wheels, The Stokes and Zoe Fox. On Sunday, aspiring and established musicians and buskers were invited to the Open Mic competition at the Royal Oak Hotel with plenty of cash prizes for heats, finals and cameos.

The Literary Lunch was this year held at the Penola Bowls Club with exceptional catering by Ottelia. Guest author Dee Nolan – ‘A Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to France’, shared stories of her life as a journalist and travels in conversation with Festival friend and fellow journalist Katie Spain. It was a sell out event.

The Kids Program was held on the Mary MacKillop Memorial School’s Oval, right next to Petticoat Lane – the historical heart of Penola. Families joined arty activities, face painting and fundraising stalls for local schools, followed by a free afternoon show featuring ‘Basketball Man’ direct from the Adelaide Fringe.

Next to this event was ‘Down the Lane’ where visitors enjoyed fine food and fine beverages, music by the Cart Wheels and market stalls.

The Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival this year set up its headquarters in the main street, as the ‘Gateway’ to the Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival, allowing visitors to ask questions about the events, grab a program and head off on their Festival adventure.

Throughout the weekend there were many workshops including painting, sewing and carving. Many venues hosted exhibitions of every conceivable art form – watercolours, abstracts, sculptures, macrame, acrylic, pottery, aboriginal basket weaving, knitting, and photography. Highlights included a highly popular Penola Primary School Art Show at the Cobb & Co cottages, and the photography exhibition ‘Penola Women – They came here for Love, Work, Mothers, Daughters’ presented at the John Riddoch Centre.

The Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival is the largest arts event in the region and continued its reputation for organising a festival that truly has ‘something for everyone’. The Festival promotes amazing diversity, art mediums, venue variety, and local and national content. It has a unique ‘audience moving from event to event format’ creating a sense of anticipation and excitement.

The Festival Committee was buoyed by the opportunity to once again present the Arts in our own region, in a safe environment and particularly for our own communities, after being ‘covid-fatigued’ from the previous year. We believe we delivered a successful Festival that was embraced and celebrated by visitors from across the Limestone Coast.

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