Skip to content
SALA Festival

Why is the SALA Festival so important?

2 Oct 2019

The South Australian Living Artists (SALA) Festival has wrapped up for another year, and we enjoyed every minute as Education Partners.

But what is the SALA Festival all about, and how is it benefiting South Australian children and the education community?

We chat to John Koerber, our Executive Manager Digital and Member Insight, who was lucky enough to visit a range of schools involved in the Festival and see first hand the incredible impact it’s having on South Australian students.

Hi John! Can you give us a little bit of background about the SALA Festival and our involvement?

SALA Festival is the largest open access visual arts festival in Australia, with an audience of over 850,000 last year. It’s also the only festival that takes place in every local council in South Australia, with last year’s festival involving nearly 10,000 amateur, emerging and professional artists in over 700 exhibitions from Mount Gambier to the APY Lands.

There was no doubt we wanted to get involved with such a successful and iconic festival. SALA has been an integral part of the South Australian arts and festival program for 22 years now and we think there’s huge potential for it to continue growing.   

One of the areas that we’re most excited about is increasing school participation. In 2017 we became the SALA Education Partner, and since then we’ve focused heavily on engaging South Australian schools in visual arts by providing a range of SALA school prizes, a special school awards ceremony and free registration for any schools that want to take part.

St Gabriel's School

St Gabriel's School teacher and students pictured with Credit Union SA Executive Manager Distribution, Tim Prowse (right) at the SALA for School Awards Night held at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

We’ve also been proud sponsors of the SALA Parlour, which is an interactive, pop-up, drop-in artspace for children and young people that’s been located on the grounds of the South Australian Museum for the last couple of years.

We started with 16 School entries in our first year and it’s grown to 40 this year. We’re focused on growing school participation in the festival, and we’d love to see 75 to 100 schools participating next year!


Work by Brianna Speight and 2018 SALA Parlour participants, SALA Parlour, South Australian Museum Lawn

So what kind of benefits did you notice in the schools you visited?

Although I only had the chance to visit four of the participating schools, the exhibitions were incredible and a little bit overwhelming! 


One thing that really stuck out for me was that students were being given an opportunity to tell their story, to hear the stories of other students and to actively embrace and participate in the exploration and expression of social justice issues in new ways. 

It was amazing to see students of all ages engaging and wrestling with topics as varied as environmentalism, cultural diversity, gender stereotypes, inclusiveness, bullying and grief, with some really creative approaches to sharing their stories.   

We also saw students who were able to use art as a mechanism to channel some of the emotions they were experiencing into more creative outlets. In one of the schools, I viewed artwork of a young student who had been in trouble with the law for graffiti and was now putting all of that energy and talent into his work, with great results.


Self portrait (detail), Annie Lagozzino, 150 Years of Empowering Young Women, St Mary’s College


Some of the students I chatted with were incredibly talented in their chosen visual arts. It was really gratifying to see the passion and energy of the teachers who are giving the kids an opportunity to showcase their talents, at the same time as building self-confidence and allowing them to consider the full range of possible futures that lie ahead.

In one of the schools that we visited, a student had just been offered the chance to take part in a mentoring program that would fast-track her skill development and enable her to connect with other successful artists. At the same school, another student’s work had just been nominated for a national short film festival!

The teachers in these schools are doing incredible work and the SALA Festival is playing a really important part by supporting and encouraging them to experiment. For those schools who have been fortunate enough to win one of the school prizes, it’s also providing important funding to keep nurturing and developing the students.

Confidence and pride

In each of the schools that I visited, the students were lucky enough to have very active art programs driven by amazingly enthusiastic and supportive teachers.  Even so, it seemed like the school exhibitions I visited were helping to build a sense of purpose and community. The feeling of connection and mutual pride I witnessed between students, parents and teachers was incredible.

For many students, it was the first time they’d exhibited their work. It was also very clear that the students were learning important skills that go far beyond the art techniques, with many helping to organise the exhibitions and speaking publically for the first time. Some of the teachers spoke about seeing positive behavioural changes in students as they gained confidence from taking on new challenges and being recognised and rewarded.

Increased empathy

Research shows that visual arts programs provide students with demonstrable improvements in a wide range of skills such as creativity, accountability and collaboration, but most importantly aids with the development of empathy. 

I’ll never forget a particularly charming and confident student in year three, who guided me to an image of a small, rickety row boat with a map of Australia behind it. She spoke to me in detail about how her best friend had come to Australia as a refugee and how the image represented her story. 

It's that high level of empathy that we want to tap into and nurture within schools as the Education Partner.


Lotus, Talia Chuyao Liu, The Heights School Art Exhibition Competition, The Heights School Gallery

What’s next?

We’re already looking towards next year’s festival, and once again we’ll be covering the SALA registration fees for schools to make it easier for them to get involved. We’ll also be continuing to sponsor a series of school art prizes and building an even bigger award ceremony to help the kids celebrate their achievements in style.

But we're also putting time and effort into other ways that we can build awareness and increase school participation. One of the ways that we’d like to do this is by helping schools that may not have an arts department, art supplies or even an art teacher. Next year we’ll be looking at ways that we can provide them materials, put an artist in residence to engage with the students or to help curate a festival. We’re looking at any way we can help. 

It’s just so important that we look at increasing arts participation in schools to help preserve our position as a global leader in the arts, and enrich the lives of the students involved.

Thanks for sharing your experience with us John!

Want to find out more?

If you would like to find out more about how your school can take part in the 2020 SALA Festival, please contact the SALA team at [email protected].


Muted, Julia Sorokina, Sparkke at the Whitmore Presents Four Female Artists