The Athenaeum

Landmarks / National Monuments in or near Port Elizabeth, Sunshine Coast in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Eastern Cape Tourist AttractionsThe Athenaeum

Where? 7 Belmont Terrace, Central, Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape

Overnight? Accommodation in Port Elizabeth, in Eastern Cape

The Athenaeum is a wonderful grande dame of a building on Port Elizabeth’s Route 67 Art Route. Over R3 million was spent renovating the building in Belmont Terrace, as part of the inner city upgrade, which now serves as an arts and crafts hub of the city.

That it is a home for the arts is not a new function - the beautiful, graceful building has been part of the city’s arts’ scene for over a century - but with the revamp it is now home to a theatre, shows, concerts, exhibitions, cabaret and conference spaces.

The Victorian building with neo-Classical incidentals was declared a national monument in 1980. It was built in 1896 at the height of the Victorian era when a group of intellectuals and creatives in PE wanted to promote local cultural and scientific projects.

They originally operated out of a room in the City Hall, but soon the library and museum expanded and the town council agreed to erect a building, if the societies involved contributed. The interior of the building fell to the Athenaeum Council to maintain, whilst the gardens and the exterior became the responsibility of the municipality.

The Little Theatre, still there today, was added in 1946. But over time the building struggled to maintain itself, serving as a home for various societies, departments of the technicon and the Athenaeum Club. It eventually fell into disrepair and closed during the late 2000s.

With the upgrade it has become a multipurpose, creative space for showcasing the city’s arts, culture and artistic talents. Its other spaces are used for performances, meetings, launches and shows. There is also office and studio space for young creatives - photography, fashion design, film editing, graphic design, a space for music rehearsals - and a coffee shop.

The Athenaeum is on the Arts Journey and part of its contribution is the ever-present art exhibition on the perimeter of the building that includes the 67 Beaded Quotes - the personal interpretation of 67 of Nelson Mandela’s quotes, the response by a collective of bead workers from the Eastern Cape.

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