Adelaide Festival Centre’s 50th Anniversary 

Adelaide Festival Centre celebrates 5 decades of Art, Culture, and Community.

When Adelaide Festival Centre opened its doors 50 years ago, our city was changed forever. It opened our eyes to the world, opened our minds to new forms of art, and opened our hearts to the joy of live performance.

Over the past five decades, the centre has become one of the nation’s great performing arts centres, providing arts for all and forging the way as a cultural leader and collaborator, thanks to the support of artists, audiences, staff, donors and supporters.

The year was 1973. The prototype of the mobile phone has just been invented.

MASH was Australia’s favourite TV show, Bette Midler won her first Grammy for ‘Best New Talent.’ And In South Australia, Adelaide Festival Centre was born. 

Envisioned by Steele Hall in the late 60s, and championed by Premier Don Dunstan, Adelaide Festival Centre officially opened on June 2, 1973 by Dunstan, Australian Prime Minister at the time Gough Whitlam and Lord Mayor of Adelaide, Robert Porter. Adelaide Festival Centre was the first capital arts centre in Australia, preceding Sydney Opera House and Arts Centre Melbourne, and guaranteed South Australia’s place on the national and international stage.  

Adelaide Festival Centre CEO, Douglas Gautier AM: “This was a time of great energy, enthusiasm, and transformation and when arts and culture were acknowledged as being central to creating and maintaining a thriving city and society. Something we know to be true to this day. 

“It took bold vision and action to get the Adelaide Festival Centre initiative off the ground and in turn, to establish South Australia’s reputation as a centre for arts, culture, and creativity – from the design and architecture to the artists and performances on the many stages within the iconic shell shaped building. 

“South Australians flocked to the new theatre and embraced Adelaide Festival Centre and saw the Riverbank come to life, a place where people could come together and enjoy arts and entertainment.” 

Designed by architect John Morphett and taking almost three years to construct, Adelaide Festival Centre is renowned as a notable example of modernist architecture and unique for its ability to remain relevant through the decades. Countless stars have graced the stages, and while the backstage corridors of the centre are covered in pictures from the past decades, the arts centre remains future focused, presenting contemporary performances that are entertaining, educational, at times challenging and even immersive. 

Five festivals now call Adelaide Festival Centre home, catering for our diverse Australian audiences and reflecting their culture and demographics throughout the festival programs: DreamBIG Children’s Festival, OzAsia Festival, Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Adelaide Guitar Festival and OurMOB festival, each provide exceptional opportunities for artists whilst also ensuring audiences are offered the highest quality arts experiences.  

The programming within these festivals aims to harness the power of culture to bring us together both practically and metaphorically. Civic society that operates harmoniously has a rich understanding of global cultures and art. This takes us right back to the beginning, where a key driver for the radical cultural infrastructure plans and reform that Premier Don Dunstan implemented fifty years ago were all based on a desire to ensure South Australians lived in social harmony with strong cultural awareness.

Douglas Gautier and staff at the centre see the effect of the arts has on audiences daily: “We love hearing South Australians reminisce about how a show, performance, or exhibition they saw has impacted them or left a lasting impression. From children through to adults experiencing the magic of live performance for the very first time, to arts lovers who have become stalwarts of our community and know the place back to front. 

“Seeing the faces of audience members while watching a show, sometimes laughing and delighted, other times surprised or in tears, it’s easy to see that performances have the potential to transform and bring communities together.”

From blockbuster musicals to supporting local and emerging artists as part of Adelaide Festival Centre curated programs including InSpace for independent theatre companies, through to family entertainment and a year-round program of festivals, the centre is also home to several South Australian artscompanies including State Theatre Company South Australia, Sate Opera South Australia, Windmill Theatre Co, Slingsby Theatre, Restless Dance Theatre, Patch, No Strings Attached, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Australian Dance Theatre, Brink Productions, Australian String Quartet and Adelaide Festival. 

 “We are consistently proud supporters of local artists and arts-workers and we are honoured to employ some of the most passionate and creative people in the country,” says Gautier.    

“Adelaide Festival Centre has always been a place that artists and producers both locally and around the world have celebrated for its skilled and passionate workforce, enthusiastic audiences and rich history.”

In celebration of a wonderful 50 years, Adelaide Festival Centre is set to hold a party like no other this year. Adelaide Festival Centre 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert will take place at the iconic Festival Theatre. With performances by an all-star South Australian line-up followed by an after-party celebration featuring cake, cocktails and DJ’s. This is a party not to be missed.   

Hosted by Libby O’Donovan OAM, Adelaide Festival Centre 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert will celebrate Adelaide Festival Centre’s in-house festivals. The concert will feature the talents of Adelaide Guitar Festival Artistic Director Slava Grigoryan, Sharon Grigoryan, Nancy Bates, Michael Griffiths, Counterpoint Ensemble, Lazaro Numa and the Dream Big Children’s Choir.  

Audiences will share in toe tapping numbers, musical virtuosity, songs, stories, laughter, and memories; with a program written and directed by South Australian performer and creative Johanna Allen.  

Johanna Allen says her love of theatre was born from seeing her first ever live performance as a little girl at Adelaide Festival Centre’s Dunstan Playhouse.   

 “I was four years old, and I went to a production of the South Australian Children’s ballet. I didn’t really know what I was going to, or whether I would like it. But as soon as the lights went down, I realised this was my world, I had caught the magic,” says Johanna.

“Going to performances at Adelaide Festival Centre was undoubtedly the catalyst for my chosen career. The incredible centre is 50 years young and it’s the cultural heart-beat of our city. Come join the party – the cake is on us!”

For Douglas Gautier, the 50th Anniversary concert will be a full-circle moment: “I had the privilege of performing at the opening concert in 1973 on the Festival Theatre stage, it was an unforgettable moment. 

“This time, 50 years later, will be just as memorable and I’ll be watching from the audience and celebrating all that’s been and all that’s still to come for the heart of the arts in Adelaide. We warmly extend an invitation to all to join us in celebrating this special milestone.” 

In addition to the concert, an exclusive exhibition, Turn Up Your Radio which celebrates 50 years of Adelaide’s music scene will also open on June 2. The exhibition will feature music memorabilia including original handwritten song lyrics, costumes, photographs and gig posters from South Australia’s best-known bands and will include photographs submitted by music lovers, amateur photographers, gig attendees and professional photographers. Turn Up Your radio will be open to the public Thursdays and Saturdays from 10am to 3pm during show times in Festival Theatre Galleries until August 14.  

For 50 years, Adelaide Festival Centre has entertained South Australians sharing the very best in arts and entertainment for all. So come along – you’re invited to the party, to share in the joy, the success and continuing future story of a place we all belong to. Come and share the Birthday cake!  

Adelaide Festival Centre 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert 

Friday 2 June 2023 at 7.00pm  

Tickets on sale now

Adelaide Festival Centre


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