History of the Arts Festival

Des Khoury, who was actively involved with Creative Arts and the Arts Festival from its very beginning - also an acclaimed musician, sculptor and artist.

The southern African Arts festival is based on the St. Hill Festival in Britain. It was the brainchild of Debbie James in South Africa and composer/musician Duncan Lorien from the UK, who was previously involved with the St. Hill festival. Composer, musician, and expert on ethnic music, Robin Hogarth, current President of the St. Hill festival readily agreed to join the committee during the time he was in South Africa and a very strong committee of (mostly) OT's was put together. (For more information about Robin, click here: Robin Hogarth.)

The first festival was held at Summerhill, an Applied Scholastics school in Midrand, just outside Johannesburg in 1999. Unlike St. Hill, it was decided that the festival should be held over a weekend, with concerts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening and workshops through the day on Saturday and Sunday. This formula has proved to be very successful with all the people that have attended our festivals.

Niel Malherbe -a veteran and still keen Arts Festival supporter and part-time painter. Niel served on the committee for many years.

We are fortunate in having a real depth of musical talent in Johannesburg as well as poets and actors. The workshops have also been very successful. A number of artists with failed purposes have been rehabilitated and others who did not realise they had artistic talent have been spurred on to produce all kinds of interesting art.

Chris and Hero Dresser, founder members of the Arts Festival Committee. Chris is a writer, film director and published poet with numerous international awards to his name.

Our second festival was also held at Summerhill school. For the third festival, we were asked by the Executive Director of Johannesburg Day Org, Albert de Beer, to hold it on the site of the soon to be opened new Johannesburg Ideal Org, at that time, still incomplete. We managed to use the shell of the main building, which was previously the famous old Kensington Golf Course clubhouse, where many of the world's top golfers have played from time to time. We had to use all our ingenuity to set the place up, but the result was excellent.

Since then, the festival has been held at the beautiful premises of the now completed Church of Scientology Johannesburg, with great success and enjoyment for all.

Rhona Smit, whose involvement with the Arts Festival and Creative Arts dates back to the early years. Rhona served on the committee for many years and still runs workshops at the Festival and helps wherever she can.

Over the years we have had all kinds of workshops. These range from the regular ones such as music, dance, acting, writing, painting, poetry and photography, to all kinds of unusual activities. These have included Judo, Aromatherapy, how to become a disc jockey, drumming, screenwriting, computer skills and so on. All workshops include the ways in which the person delivering the workshop, uses LRH tech in the application of their skills. Where possible the products of the workshops are then performed or displayed in the Saturday or Sunday night concert. The workshops come up with new angles to their subjects every year, so repeat attendance at a regular workshop is never a wasted experience.

The evening variety concerts have become more and more professional and are a highlight of the festival. Top South African performers and international stars have participated and made them an event to look forward to each year. 

At every festival, top, qualified auditors give metered interviews intended to pick up losses and failed purposes in art. These have achieved remarkable results and do not always have artistic outcomes. A couple of attendees have subsequently joined staff. Others have gone back onto auditing or training lines at the Orgs and others have revived their careers as artists.

Each year, the Festival seems to get bigger and better than ever, and the expectation is that the trend will continue!

Shelley Ashurst

Shelley Ashurst - veteran Arts Festival committee member and Executive Director.

The history of the Arts Festival of Southern Africa could not be complete without mentioning Shelley Ashurst. Shelley served on the Arts Festival Committee for 10 years. During that time, she held various executive positions on the committee, moving up to Executive Director of the Festival for the last 5 of those years. This effectively made her the longest serving committee member and Executive Director to date.

Shelley's own artistic flair and love of the arts was amply demonstrated in the care and attention to detail that she gave to every aspect of the Arts Festival. Under her leadership, the festival flourished and grew bigger and better and more professional each year.

Her organisational skills and ability to run a team resulted in well-run festivals, with all staff knowing exactly what they needed to do well beforehand. Any crises were smoothly and quickly handled behind the scenes, in the true spirit of "the show must go on."

Shelley has now handed over her many hats to other arts lovers, but she will always be remembered for her stellar contributions to the Arts Festival.


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