Arts Town Riebeek Valley
With the global coronavirus pandemic having created havoc with the economy, in particular the cultural tourism and events industries, a rural community has found creative ways to regenerate, reinvent and position itself at the forefront of local travel destinations.
Arts Town Riebeek Valley, which encompasses the twin towns of Riebeek Kasteel and Riebeek West and surrounds, has in recent years become known as a cultural tourism hotspot. With a high density of resident creatives collaborating on events, exhibitions and attractions, visitors from across the country and the world have been drawn to the area to experience its arts and entertainment offerings.
The harsh lockdown measures, particularly the alcohol ban and travel restrictions, put a temporary halt to these activities and the resultant hardships to the community, also famous for its wine and olive industries, have been far reaching. Several businesses have closed their doors permanently and, unless there is a resurgence of visitors to the valley, the same fate could befall many more.
Some creative project leaders, however, have utilized the slower pace of life as an opportunity for the development of ideas which have been bubbling beneath the surface for some time. As such, these projects are being realized because of current circumstances, rather than in spite of them.
“Arts Town Riebeek Valley has effectively been in existence for some years”, explains Klaus Piprek, founder of Solo Studios – Intimate Art Encounters. “We have such a large community of resident artists, poets, writers, musicians and other performers that there has always been a local creative energy which has manifested in various spontaneous activities and events. The challenge has been to add physical elements to the virtual entity, and to offer them to visitors through a structured calendar which details the events to be showcased throughout the year. Arts Town now serves as an umbrella entity covering all creative initiatives of the resident artists, artisans and crafters.”
Solo Studios Returns
Solo Studios – Intimate Art Encounters has established itself as one of the premier art events in the region since its inception in 2016 and has reached near capacity in four years of development.
“Given that our towns are small and considering that the core activity of the event is visiting intimate private studio spaces of the renowned participating artists, we have always kept the numbers limited and access restricted. Having postponed the original dates over the August Women’s Day long weekend, we are well positioned to host the rescheduled event with restricted access and the prescribed health and safety protocols in place.
“We are pleased to announce that Solo Studios will now take place on the weekend of 11-13 December 2020, and are looking forward to hosting it for the first time during the Swartland summer” says Piprek.
Also for the first time, Solo Studios will add a virtual element to the event.
“We have always maintained that we are not just another art fair, festival or expo; it is more about the experience of visiting artists in their studios and enjoying the best of local artisans and crafters’ work in a rural setting. Although we had pledged not to go online in the past, we recognize that our ‘new normal’ lifestyle compels us to provide an alternative to those who may not be comfortable with going out in public or may not be able to physically visit us. We are currently setting up systems via which both virtual tickets and real artworks can be purchased online.”
The Royal Arts Town Amphitheatre
An exciting addition to the Arts Town portfolio is the Royal Arts Town Amphitheatre (RATA). Purpose built for events in the sprawling gardens of the iconic Royal Hotel which lies in the shadow of the Kasteelberg, the amphitheatre was for many years host to the legendary Swartland Revolution, a bespoke wine event. However, since the discontinuation of the Revolution, the venue has been largely under-utilized, providing an opportunity for the founders of Arts Town to obtain the use of the facility for theatrical performances.
Mark Graham-Wilson, Director of the Royal Arts Town Amphitheatre has put together a summer season of productions which opens on Friday 13 November 2020 with the premiere of a new play, Covid Moons, written and directed by leading director, Clare Stopford. Nine other productions starring several famed South African performers, including Roger Lucey, Hannes van Wyk, Godfrey Johnson and Dorothy Ann Gould, make up the rest of the season which runs until the end of April 2021.
Graham-Wilson says: “Being in the open air with plenty of space for social distancing, RATA will be one of the first performance spaces in the country to bring back the live theatre experience for audiences and to provide much needed opportunities for perfoming artists to get back on stage and start earning again.”
Arts Town Riebeek Valley has commissioned Emma Willemse, Riebeek Kasteel resident and renowned conceptual artist, to create a series of art installations, called The Stone Circle Project, in and around the amphitheatre. This project consists of two components, namely a community project, the Amphi Circles, and a public sculpture installation entitled The Boat Circle. In creating the Amphi Circles, Willemse is collaborating with and guiding a collective of young creatives in the Riebeek Valley, known as The Arteri, whose task it is to design, install and maintain sixteen stone circles in the amphitheatre. In addition to their aesthetic function, these stone circles will serve as social distancing devices during the performances.
The central point of The Boat Circle is a six meter found boat, filled with stones collected from the iconic Kasteelberg, complemented by a labyrinth path leading to the boat. Viewers will be able to engage with the artwork by walking the path and placing stones in the boat.
Willemse says: “The ritual of placing a stone in the boat could be a symbolic memorial act for each viewer, a unique remembrance performed individually, yet visually part of a collective mass of stones.”
REVIVE! Public Sculpture Exhibition
The Boat Circle installation also forms part of REVIVE!, a public sculpture exhibition to be launched on 4 December 2020 and which will initially be on display for six months. REVIVE! pairs a sculpture, statue, installation or other conceptual art work with one of approximately twenty businesses throughout the valley, from Meerhof Wines at the Bothmaskloof Pass, gateway to the valley, to Pulpit Rock Winery at the exit towards the West Coast. This will possibly include other well-known businesses along the route such as Kloovenburg, Het Vlock Casteel, The Olive Boutique, Allesverloren, The Wine Kollective and Riebeek Valley Wine Co. Visitors to the valley will be able to download an electronic guide of the sculpture trail and follow it either physically or virtually online.
With these projects about to burst onto the scene, and others in the pipe line, Arts Town Riebeek Valley is poised to establish itself as the Western Cape’s most exciting performance, conceptual and fine art destination.