Leta Keens explores the myriad Adelaide studios and cafes hosting curiosities of the SALA Festival.

I make half a dozen attempts to read the SALA Festival catalogue (including on the two-hour flight from Sydney to Adelaide), but never get past page seven, and the first five of those are sponsors’ messages. The problem is SALA (South Australian Living Artists) is one massive festival, the fringe of the art world – 4,132 visual artists from top names to emerging to amateur, and 543 locations from the Art Gallery of South Australia and commercial galleries to real estate offices, pubs, upholsterers and auction houses, all over South Australia. It might be easier to list who’s not participating. 

I meet SALA Festival Chair Conny Wilson at one of the local Cibo cafés on a Saturday morning, and she’s been more tenacious than me with the program. The café, like all in the chain, has art on its walls during the festival – but customers seem to be more interested in their flat whites than the decorative stuff around them. It’s all perfectly pleasant but I wasn’t tempted to reach for my credit card.

A quick drive into the city (and twice as long to park) and we’re at the Jam Factory, where the main gallery, usually reserved for contemporary craft shows, is showing Good Job Team, an exhibition by Format Collective. According to their website, the arts collective focuses on “community, participatory culture”. They have something to do with zines as well. Amongst others, there’s a work by Stan Mahoney about “the dark and illogical art of partying”. A friend of mine, who’s still in her twenties, told me the exhibition made her feel old. Peta Kruger’s jewellery in the small space at the Jam Factory makes more sense to me – I have to stop myself spending a few hundred on a metal brooch, decorated with paint and texta. Already I regret being so sensible.

Khai Liew’s cabinetry in the Jam Factory shop isn’t part of SALA, but worth a look – for SALA, another piece of his, a chest of drawers, is in Imprints, a bookshop on Rundle Street, with a book on top and a sign saying “Do Not Touch”.

Behind the Jam Factory, dropsheets down, we see the first marks sprayed on the wall by Carclew Youth Arts – official graffiti, but still with an air of the unauthorised about it.

BMG Art, just around the corner, has the darkly beautiful works of Morgan Allender, and from there we go past windows of shops and offices with SALA displays – installations and paintings, and in Barlow Shoes, next to the Ugg boots, two whole windows full of handmade shoes by TAFE students. One pair the colour of a bee’s body, another of old-fashioned curtain fabric. In an arcade off Rundle Mall, disused shops are taken over by SALA, the corridor by recreations of costumes from the RMS Titanic. Alarmingly, visitors handle the dresses and suits in a way they never would if they were in a gallery.

“Look at the finish on this one,” says one woman, as she opens a jacket.

“They didn’t have zip flies in those days,” a man tells his wife.

The Elder Wing in the Art Gallery of South Australia has just reopened after a major refurbishment – and hidden ingeniously in amongst the early paintings are works by South Australian Living Artists like Fiona Hall and Sally Smart.

There’s something slightly creepy about Julia Robinson’s sculptures at Greenaway Art Gallery, on the edge of the city. An animal, belted on stilts; a goat’s head, its mouth speared by stakes; a creature turned into a side table. “I’m not sure I’d want one of those at home,” I hear someone say.

Works by King Island artists, all taking up the theme of the black cockatoo, line the corridors at the back of the National Wine Centre, a barrel of a building near the Botanic Gardens. The rest of the space is taken up by the 20th State History Conference. I hear two men talking about someone who’d got married… In 1865. It’s a strange place for King Island artists – not one of the main winegrowing areas in the state, but maybe that’s the point.

Elizabeth Street, Croydon is my favourite street in Adelaide, with its one block of friendly, funky shops. It’s lunchtime and the Hay Valley lamb and Moroccan eggplant sausage roll with homemade onion jam and the apple crumble and almond muffin at Red Door Bakery are artworks in themselves. So too are the bold portraits by Emma Grierson on the walls. The whole strip has decent art – Gerry Wedd ceramics at Curious Orange, the hairdresser; everything at One Small Room. And then there are the retro photomontages by Joanna Kitto at Queen Street Grocer. I finally pull out my wallet and get change from $100. And that includes a jar of King Island Ligurian honey.

The 2011 South Australian Living Artists Festival runs until August 28.