The Athenæum in Port Elizabeth, which has been a home for the arts and the creative industry in the city for over a century, has maintained its function but re-forged its identity. Its modern revamp means it now accommodates a theatre, shows, art exhibitions, concerts and cabaret, along with conferences, weddings, workshops, media launches and even yoga classes.

Did you know?

The Athenæum Council, a collective of creative organisations in Nelson Mandela Bay, has been a lobby group for the city's creative industries since around 1850.

The Athenæum in Port Elizabeth has always been a hub for Nelson Mandela Bay’s creative industry, but following a revamp, it’s also assumed the role of umbrella organisation for the city’s vibrant art scene.

The innate romance of the classical Victorian building's architecture and history combine well with its modern function. This makes the Athenæum a great place for anyone interested in the city’s past or present, as it merges colonial history with contemporary reinterpretations, explains Amy Shelver, part of the youth creative collective Numb City Productions, which manages the Athenæum.

'It’s a great place to experience both the nostalgia of history and the action of the current moment, defined by the local creative industries. It provides a place to relax, engage, reflect, meet cool people, experiment with interesting shenanigans, and encounter real South Africans striving to make creativity a part of their everyday lives,' she says.

Home to the colourful Little Theatre, the Athenæum thrives on diversity and action. 'We encourage people to pop in and visit – you never know what you might stumble upon!'

The Athenæum has adopted a dual approach, showcasing local Eastern Cape talent, as well as exposing the Eastern Cape to national- and international-calibre talent to 'raise the bar locally', Shelver says.

A number of young creative industry entrepreneurs have office and studio space in the building, which has an open door policy. 'Visitors can come and see creativity in motion, from fashion design to photography; all kinds of creative engineering, from painting to film editing and soundscaping; as well as graphic design, performance and music rehearsals,' she says.

At any given moment, visitors can expect a hive of activity, including theatre productions, art exhibitions, workshops, music performances, a buzzing coffee shop and 'people in deep philosophical discussions'. You may also encounter artists at work painting, moving furniture, rehearsing, and, on occasion, 'loads of children in their first-ever play, bouncing about the place'.

The venue also hosts parties and events, and on the perimeter of the building there is an ever-present exhibition of accessible public art to enjoy.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Amy Shelver (Administration coordinator, Numb City Productions)
Tel: +27(0)71 880 4831
Email: amy@numbcity.co.za

Around the area

The Athenæum forms part of the Arts Journey – a formal tourism route that focuses on public art spaces and galleries in the historic Central suburb of Port Elizabeth.

Tours to do

Route 67 is a public art trail through central Port Elizabeth. As well as highlighting the city's cultural richness, it pays tribute to Nelson Mandela's 67 years of service in the pursuit of democracy in South Africa.

Where to stay

There is a wide range of accommodation options in Port Elizabeth.

What's happening

The bi-weekly Friday Fizzle at 4pm is a great opportunity meet and network with the Nelson Mandela Bay creative industry. You can also check for regular updates on the Athenaeum's Facebook page (PortElizabethAthenaeum).