2023 Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival highlights
Against a background theme of ‘Green’ the 2023 Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival saw the community recycle, reuse and repurpose as its common thread for exhibitions and workshops over the highly successful weekend. It is estimated that the Festival attracted more than 2000 attendees to its offerings, with overwhelmingly positive feedback.
The Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival kicked off with its Opening night at the Penola High School on Thursday 18 May, announcing the winners of the 2023 John Shaw Neilson Acquisitive Art Prize, Local Art Prize and Design Prize and setting the scene for a weekend filled with music, art, workshops and events.
We are indebted to the incredible generosity of The Balnaves Foundation, sponsoring in 2023 a prize of $12,000 with the Local Art Prize of $1000 thanks to the generous sponsorship of local Festival supporter, Lois Hodge.
The 2023 winner of the John Shaw Acquisitive Art Prize was John Neylon, with his work titled ‘Stony Town Stare Down’. The John Shaw Neilson Local Art Prize Winner proudly sponsored by Lois Hodge was Dagny Strand with her work ‘The Premonition’ inspired by the poem ‘The Moon Was Seven Days Down’.
Inspired by John Shaw Neilson’s poem ‘Old Granny Sullivan’ this year’s two Highly commended 2023 JSN recipients were Lorna Beagan with her work ‘Youthful Days of Pride’ and Sandra Chambers ‘Old Granny Sullivan’. The 2023 Design Prize winner proudly sponsored by Hansen Print – with the image to be used for the marketing collateral for the 2024 Festival – was Natania Hollingsworth.
Immediately following the Opening – and in an exciting coup for the Festival – was the cabaret style performance by the State Opera South Australia held in Rymill Hall. Under the umbrella of G&S FEST, celebrating the very best of British comedy opera in Adelaide, performers Rosie Hosking and Rod Schultz, accompanied by Penny Cashman, treated the audience of 116 to more than a ‘sprinkle of G&S’, cleverly woven against a background of Penola’s history.
The audience was mesmerized by the singers, their acting and the skill of the pianist. All three deserved the standing ovation at the conclusion of the performance, following a rousing sing-a-long. In short, it was an outstanding performance, brilliantly scripted to include correct historical facts about our community.
On Friday morning ABC SE radio aired an Outside Broadcast from a vacant shop next to the Bakery, interviewing local people on issues of interest including Anne Johnson (Generosity of Spirit), High School Principal, Peter Muller and Lois Hodge (Life Members, Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival), Simon Weston, Hugh Koch (Coonawarra Vignerons) amongst others, all adding to the vibrancy of the weekend.
Over forty creative exhibitions were held throughout venues in Penola and Coonawarra, including photography, wood and welding, painting and knitted beanies. Workshops ranged from ‘ways with watercolours’ led by renowned artist Lois Hodge, cross-stitch, mixed media ‘Emu and gum leaves creativity’ through to painting outdoors and chocolate tempering. The ‘Tales of a Polar Explorer’ presented by Peter Rymill and his son John immersed the audience in their descendent John Rymill’s expedition to the Antartic Peninsula and received overwhelmingly positive feedback.
The introduction of ‘Greenscape’ for the Penola Streetscape – and in line with the Festival’s Green theme – was an excellent new initiative, embraced by business owners along the main street, adding to the vibrancy of the town.
In a Festival first, a ‘House Party’ at Café 43 was reimagined as a temporary live music venue welcoming teens with a DJ and entertainment. Penola High School students showcased art works and literary pieces – for the Catherine Martin Literary Award – in the theme ‘ Hope exists as long as…’, held at the Penola Community Library.
The live music continued its strong presence in the Festival, with Simon Weston securing established and emerging acts for the perenially popular Coonawarra Vignerons Shenanigans at the Coonawarra Hall on Saturday night. More than 180 people enjoyed a line-up featuring Mum’s Favorite, Sophia Whitney, Billy Barker, The Royal High Jinx, and The Cartwheels, with magnificent food by Pipers of Penola.
Other live cabaret events included the unique ‘Comfort Food Cabaret’ at Brands Laira which was very well received, as well as Bellwether’s side-splitting acts of ‘Hand Me Down Hoe-Down’ and Drag King Loveit Murray.
The Literary Lunch was this year held at Ottelia Coonwarra. Acclaimed Melbourne-based cook, author and food writer Julia Busuttil-Nishimura shared delectable food and conversation around her journey celebrating simple ingredients, seasonal produce and the joys of coming together around the table, with consummate host and interviewer extraordinaire Katie Spain. It was a sell out event and continues to build on its strong reputation.
This year, ‘Down the Lane’ at Petticoat Lane saw a more consolidated offering with childrens activities held in the small park on the Lane, allowing the ‘big kids’ to relax in the marquees adjacent with plenty of food, wine, gin, cider, coffee and music on offer. A curated Makers Market, Hamish McDonald’s painting demonstrations and even a shoe-shiner added to the creative atmosphere of the day. It was considered a highly successful improvement to the layout of the event and a template to be built upon for future years. The unveiling of the ‘Generosity of Spirit’ sculpture in the newly -repurposed Penola Town Square saw over 200 people attend, adding an authentic, community driven project to the Festival atmostphere. The Country Womens Association also celebrated the unveiling of their feature wall in Portland Street, a natural progression onto the Petticoat Lane activities.
On Sunday afternoon, 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. A large, enthusiastic crowd treated the occasion as a Festival finale, and created a wonderful atmostphere.
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. Many of the childrens activities were free, which was appreciated by families.
We believe we delivered one of the most successful Festivals to date, one that was embraced and celebrated by repeat and first time visitors from across the Limestone Coast and beyond including Portland, Melbourne and Sydney. The feedback for the Festival – collected via purpose-designed drinks coasters from events, through the website and via hardcopy surveys – was overwhelmingly positive and encouraging and we look forward to 2024.