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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

THE MONASTERY TEA GARDENS (article first published : 2003-08-20)

Marriannhill Monastery is situated on the outskirts of Pinetown on the M1 just past the testing grounds. It was built in 1882 by Trappist monks who initiated a number of projects to uplift the locals and to teach them the ways of Christianity.

Today the ancient buildings and cathedrals stand proudly alongside The St Françoise College, St Mary’s hospital, St Ann’s clinic and the Tre Fontane hotel, all of which are world famous in their own right. On a smaller scale, projects are carried out by volunteers such as the St Vincent’s children’s home, a museum, the Jabulani self-help center, a secretarial school and many smaller initiatives.

Commercially, the monastery survives on a number of small income generating ventures as well as donations. These ventures include a world famous repository, a metalworking shop, a woodwork shop, a printing press, a dairy farm, a shoe shop and numerous tenants who rent space from the monastery. Among these tenants are the Monastery tea Garden, the Umafrika weekly newspaper, a vegetable farm, a poultry farm and a few transient entities.

The monastery tea garden was a struggling enterprise for approximately five years until it officially changed hands in September 2002. A local entrepreneur, Tracey Dougans took over the lease, purchasing the existing equipment and goodwill.

Determined to create something more than a tea garden, she set about enhancing and upgrading the existing facilities, using the unique setting to create a powerful environment of peace and tranquility, complimented by a menu which would please even the most demanding palate.

In a natural symbiosis with the surroundings, she created an art gallery named after the brother that built the tea garden, Marcillen, promoting local and national talents. After an overwhelming number of requests by artists to display their work, it was decided to establish an art show, not only to address the demands of up and coming talents but also as an official launch date for the revamped Monastery Tea gardens.

The Tea Garden hosted its first festival in July and was well supported by the art community. Further involvement from poetry societies and musicians expanded the concept from a simple art show to a small festival. This festival consisted of a variety of talents and mediums, including, poetry readings, live music, art, sculptures, handcrafted cards, workshops and demonstrations, giving inexperienced artists the opportunity to gain exposure to the public.

The festival was so well received that it has now evolved into a monthly exhibition “Siyasebenza Exhibition of Arts”, running the last weekend every month. For the kids there is a kiddies play land as well as face painting.

The cover charge to enter the exhibition will be donated back to the Monastery. There will be one tour of the Monastery each day at 14h00 ensuring funding goes back into the Monastery, as well as much needed exposure to the greater community for the institution.

The next exhibitions are on August 30 and 31 and September 27 and 28 from 10h00 to 15h30. For enquires or exhibit bookings contact 083 635 7526 or 031 700 2706.




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