Fringe History

From Humble Beginnings

In 1960, the local arts community felt there was limited opportunity for local talent within the Adelaide International Festival of Arts program, so a small group of independent artists presented shows on the ‘fringe’.

These brave artists forged an innovative, open-access festival⁠ with no curators. They sought to defy the exclusionary practises of cultural gatekeepers, and threw it open, allowing everyone to be part of the arts in South Australia. To this day, the spirit of inclusivity and a non-curated structure are at the crux of our Festival.

On the fringe of the Adelaide Festival, this small group of creatives produced a thriving, bi-annual platform for artists to try out new work, experiment, and engage with new ideas.

In 1975, ‘The Fringe’ changed its name to ‘Focus’. The idea was to bring focus to the development of our own culture in South Australia.

By 1982, the event was expanding, with 86 groups performing in more than 50 venues with a further 56 visual arts exhibitions. In addition, 16 performing groups were active in schools and public spaces across the metropolitan area.

In 1988, organisers (in discussion with Actors Equity) allowed international artists to join our burgeoning festival. With a greater international flavour, 1992 to 1993 were years of tremendous change. Going back to our roots, we once again became the Adelaide Fringe, and with the goal to broaden our footprint

A New Century

The 2000 Fringe was dedicated to Fringe Patron, Don Dunstan. The former SA Premier had passed away the previous year. His vision of social justice and cultural diversity still lives on in Adelaide Fringe.

In 2007, Fringe became an annual event, ending four decades of running side-by-side with the Adelaide Festival's biannual format.

A crowded street full of people in between older buildings with a underneath a large banner that says Adelaide Fringe 2010

Adelaide's East End at Fringe time, Adelaide Fringe 2010.

2011 saw a staggering 1.45 million people attend Adelaide Fringe, with ticket sales increasing to 334,000. 2012 delivered an economic boost of $48.2 million to South Australia and in 2013, the State Government provided additional funding to extend the festival from three weeks to four.

Current Director and CEO, Heather Croall, joined us in 2015 and by 2017 we had grown into the biggest arts festival in the Southern Hemisphere, and the second largest Fringe in the world. In 2017, the Adelaide Fringe Donor Circle was established, with donations supporting a variety of Fringe community projects and arts initiatives. 

Fringe Today

In 2020, we celebrated our 60th anniversary and our 15th year of partnership with Principal Partner, BankSA. We had 6724 artists and 1203 shows, and opened the festival with ‘Tindo Utpurndee - Sunset Ceremony’, a celebration of Kaurna culture in Mullawirraburka / Rymill Park.

Thanks to the Donor Circle, we distributed $92,873 in grants to independent Australian artists, producers and venues, and gave a further $100,000 in Warra Kattendi grants to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

Women dressed in red tops and black shorts strike dance poses on stage underneath a woman in a suspended hoop as a seated audience watches

Event: Tropical Heat. Photo: Fumika Takagi, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit South Australia just after Fringe 2020 ended and to support the arts industry, our team pulled together to roll out FringeVIEW. FringeVIEW ran for the month of May 2020 and was a digital festival and online platform.

Fringe has become a part of the cultural, artistic, societal and economic fabric of South Australia. 

Left image shows a busy street with fairy lights and a banner that says East End Unleashed hanging above, right image shows a group of people watching performers in the Fringe Caravan

Left - Courtesy of BankSA | Right - Photo: Missy Husband, 2020

Our original ethos remains true to this day: we're here for the artists, venues, producers and independent, creative entrepreneurs who make our festival possible. We're here for diversity, inclusion and innovation, and we're here for the audiences who crave something different, exciting, weird, wonderful and WOW.

We’re now setting our sights on the next festival - see you all at the 2022 Adelaide Fringe!

Top banner Image: Performers at the Adelaide Fringe, 2004. Photo from historic archives.