Brief history of the AVA Gallery
The AVA Gallery in Partnership with Spier, based in the heart of Cape Town in the 35 Church street premises since 1971, is celebrating its 40 year anniversary this year. The history of the Association for Visual Arts Gallery reflects much of the social, political and cultural changes that have taken place in South Africa.
The AVA Gallery is one of the oldest non-profit art galleries in Cape Town. Membership-based, the AVA is committed to promoting contemporary visual art through regular four-weekly exhibitions showcasing all media ̶ from painting through to ceramics, photography, installations and performance – by established and emerging South African artists.
Formerly the South African Association of Arts in the Western Cape, the AVA had its origins in the South African Fine Arts Society, the first organized art body in South Africa, founded at a meeting in Cape Town in 1850.
The aims of this Society were the formation of a permanent art gallery and art library for exhibiting and promoting art. In 1871 an Act of Parliament changed the SA Fine Arts Society into the SA Fine Arts Association, at the first meeting of which it was resolved to acquire a gallery and a permanent art collection in trust for the residents of the Cape Colony.
In 1895, by means of the South African Art Gallery Act, the government took over the existing national art collection (comprising mainly bequests) in trust and formed a board of trustees. In 1924, after years of campaigning, a team of architects from the Public Works Department was appointed and the new gallery, the South African National Gallery, finally opened in Government Avenue in 1930.
Having achieved its primary goal, the Association developed into a national body in 1945, the SAAA, which absorbed existing art societies all over the country. Branches were established throughout South Africa and the SA Association of Arts, Western Cape became the headquarters for the region.
In 1995, after fifty years of active art promotion, SA Association of Arts, Western Cape, under the guidance of the residing Chairperson Louis Jansen Van Vuuren, transformed itself into the Association for Visual Arts (AVA), an independent, autonomous organization, the primary focus of which was cultural interaction in the Western Cape.
In 1971 Metropolitan renovated the building on 35 Church Street and created the gallery space utilised firstly by the SA Association of Arts, Western Cape, and since late 1995, as the Association for Visual Arts (AVA) Gallery. Metropolitan continued to sponsor the gallery space for more than thirty years. During this period 35 Church Street was known as the Metropolitan Gallery.
But Metropolitan informed the AVA of its intent to sell the building in 2001. The AVA committee, under the guidance of the then residing Chairperson Jill Trappler, sought a new sponsor who would respect the AVA mandate and its place in the cultural landscape. Mr Dick Enthoven an avid arts Patron activated the purchase of the building by Hollard in 2002 and partnered the AVA Gallery with Spier.
In addition to hosting more than thirty-five exhibitions annually, AVA runs an active Artreach programme. Initiated in the late 1980s, this fund serves to assist deserving visual artists with their art requirements. Over the years AVA’s Artreach programme has funded a broad spectrum of art needs, including art materials, art workshops, art tuition, framing, studio rentals, new galleries in schools, invitations, exhibition costs for shows at AVA, catalogues and a host of other art related activities. AVA has sponsored emerging and established visual artists, students, street youth, retirement homes, a sculpture peace park, entries to biennales and performance events, inter alia. money raised from Artreach is administered by a sub-committee of AVA.
From 1995 for 10 years Absolut Vodka contributed to the Artreach fund by hosting the fun-filled Absolut Secret Event each year. The AVA has also received funding from the National Lottery Board for the Artreach fund and the National Arts Council which have supported many curatorial projects and solo exhibition at the gallery. Annual Artreach fundraising events continue and are great success, creating a steady income for the Artreach fund.
In 2007 Estelle Jacobs, Director of the AVA Gallery for 15 years, retired. Estelle’s humour, grace and consistent professionalism had seen the AVA through many changes, not just in terms of the AVA’s committee and gallery structure but through changes in the broader art market and social political context. The long history and success of the AVA has been due to the selfless contributions of many people who have volunteered on the AVA committee over the 40 years.
As the AVA prepares to celebrate its 40 years of successful operation in the Western Cape, considerations turn to the future of the AVA Gallery in the cultural landscape of the city, the province and the country.