The Escape ARTfest began its history in 1995 with the Tabula Rasa Contemporary Arts Festival, organised under the umbrella of the local business chamber. Originally the event was staged during the winter months with the aim of showcasing local artists of all genres.
After the 2004 festival a series of circumstances made it necessary to form a new organisation and rename the festival; hence in 2005 the Escape ARTfest was born - a new name, a fresh new logo and a change of season meant that the festival followed in the footsteps of its predecessor, with renewed focus and energy.
An enlivened program followed over the next few years with the introduction of several key festival components - a comprehensive youth program which included exhibitions, workshops, prizes and other opportunities - a partnership with the Milton Ulladulla Music Council - and the introduction of Kingstudio as the new home of Sculpture in the Forest.
In 2009 Cupitt's Vineyard Restaurant began the popular Chefs @ ARTfest, a much anticipated event featuring top chefs and a long table lunch.
In 2010, after the sale of the Kingstudio property, a new home was needed for the Sculpture event. Cupitt's Winery offered their gorgeous location and RIPE: Sculpture at Cupitt's Winery was born.
In 2010, Rick Stein and partner Sarah Burns (now Mrs Stein) of Rick Stein at Bannisters Restaurant Mollymook, came on board as the official patrons of Escape ARTfest. Their support speaks volumes about the vibrancy that the festival offers the local community.
In 2011 the highly successful Fast Forward Scheme was made possible by a very generous contributor. $5000 in funds was committed to the scheme for a total of 5 years with the explicit aim of distributing these funds to local artists. The basic concept was to allow artists to extend themselves in some way. ARTfest became the facilitator of the scheme.
Also in 2011, ARTfest gained the attention of the Australian National University in Canberra who came on board as a major partner, contributing $10K in funds towards various arts prizes. This funding lasted for three years.
2013 saw one of ARTfest's biggest undertakings - a major music event 'UnderGround SOUNDS'.
In 2014 the festival introduced a form of crowd-funding with the inaugural 100 Club, which proved highly popular and therefore very successful. 100 Club funds help to raise the profile of the event by funding community art activities and other core costs. 100 Club members enjoy an exclusive range of benefits, although altruism is evidently the biggest motivation.
The University of Wollongong came on board as a major sponsor in 2014, as did Lake Tabourie Tourist Park.
In 2016 Petana Gardens came on board as a beautiful new sculpture venue, offering another wonderful option for local sculptors to showcase their work in a stunningly manicured garden.
2018 & Beyond
Each year Escape ARTfest goes from strength to strength, and is now a major event on the state’s tourist calendar attracting audiences from far and wide.
In 2018 a new vision for Escape ARTfest was launched - 'Showcasing artists to inspire the community', with a commitment to engage with a wider demographic.
Whilst it remains a delightfully popular event amongst the local community due to its ‘grass roots’ focus - it also provides a wonderful platform for emerging artists to gain public exposure and opportunities for the community to witness and experience the plethora of arts right here on our doorstep.