Fringe History

From Humble Beginnings

In 1960, the local arts community saw there would only be limited opportunity for local talent in the exclusive Adelaide International Festival of Arts, 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 anyone and 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.

By 1964, Adelaide Fringe had grown to host 52 art exhibitions, collections and performances.

The first souvenir program was produced in 1974, helping to legitimise Fringe in the public consciousness—just 14 years and eight festivals after those inspiring independent artists decided boldly to begin something new. 

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.

When 1988 rolled in, organisers (in discussion with Actors Equity) decided to allow international artists to join our burgeoning festival, believing that overseas talent would provide enormous benefits for local performers and audiences alike.

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, but now with a new goal: to broaden our footprint. This took Fringe to a whole new level. 

It was clear by 1996 that Adelaide Fringe was fast gaining the status of a significant Australian and international cultural event, with greater attendance and awareness than ever before.

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 this festival.

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

Adelaide's East End at Fringe time.

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 (almost 20% up on the year before). 

In 2013, the State Government provided additional funding to extend the festival from three weeks to four, allowing Fringe to begin a week earlier than previous years. 

Current Director and CEO, Heather Croall, joined us in 2015. That year, Fringe delivered a staggering $68.8 million of associated expenditure to the South Australian economy, 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 going toward Fringe and Fringe Artists. 2018 saw a massive 705,761 tickets sold and, in 2019, we increased tourist attendance by 72% on the previous year, attracting a total of 3.3 million attendances across the month of Fringe.    

Fringe Today

In 2020, we celebrated our 60th anniversary and our 15th year of partnership with Principal Partner, BankSA. We had 6724 artists, 367 venues (containing 471 venue spaces) and 1203 shows! We opened the festival with ‘Tindo Utpurndee - Sunset Ceremony’, a celebration of Kaurna culture in Mullawirraburka / Rymill Park to a crowd of 8000 in-person attendees and 11,000 viewers on our Facebook livestream.

Thanks to the Donor Circle, we awarded $92,873 in grants to independent Australian artists, producers and venues to support bold and innovative new works at Fringe 2020; we gave a further $100,000 in Warra Kattendi grants to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists to support First Nations storytelling, which were thanks to the support from the Government of South Australia. 

In total, Fringe 2020 sold 853,419 total tickets, with $96.7 million of gross expenditure generated in the state and $41.6 million of new money injected into the South Australian economy from tourists.

Event: Tropical Heat. Photographer: Fumika Takagi.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit South Australia just after Fringe 2020 ended. In an effort to support the arts industry during this difficult time, our team pulled together to roll out FringeVIEW. FringeVIEW ran for the month of May 2020. It was a digital festival and online platform, providing a virtual stage for artists to engage remotely with audiences. This would not have been possible without the support of our Presenting Partner for FringeVIEW, BankSA.

On top of this, we also gave out $50,000 in COVID-19 Quick Response Grants to support South Australian artists hit hard by the pandemic. This was thanks to the James and Diana Ramsay foundation.  

Fringe has become a part of the cultural, artistic, societal and economic fabric of South Australia. Ask anyone who’s been to Fringe: they’ll let you know that there’s nothing else like it in the world. Every year, our festival transforms the city. It takes over the theatres, cafes, hostels, galleries, food courts, laneways, shipping containers, street corners, bathrooms and gardens of this city, and turns them Fringe.

Every year, there are more and more venues popping up in greater metropolitan Adelaide and beyond. From Whyalla to Mt Gambier, our team is working hard to bring Fringe to every corner of the state.

Left - Courtesy of BankSA | Right - Photographer: Missy Husband

In 2021, we’re preparing for a month-long festival running from 19 February - 21 March.

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 wondrously WOW. 

Adelaide Fringe is made possible because of all the artists, venues, presenters, and the support we receive from the State Government, our sponsors and partners and, of course, our very generous Donor Circle. Please join if you wish to support Fringe and Fringe Artists. 

‘Adelaide Fringe lifts our spirits and morale, and boosts creativity in this state,’ says Director and CEO, Heather Croall. ‘Fringe is good for our health and wellbeing, and it cannot be taken for granted in the current environment. For decades, Adelaide Fringe has helped make South Australia the most creative state in the nation and we want to keep playing that role well into the future.'