The Athenæum building formed part of a successful submission by the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) to the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF) in July 2009 for funding specifically aimed at upgrading a range of art facilities and promoting projects within the Port Elizabeth inner city. The proposal was called the ‘Arts, culture, environment and heritage 2010 special call – Application for arts, culture, environment and heritage projects in public spaces during the 2010 Soccer World Cup.’
The dominant aim was to create a public art journey, which would share the story of the birth of the city and Nelson Mandela – the man who gave his name to it – and the journey across the 20th century to the international celebration of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.
The expression of this story would come through:
The implementation of people-centred public artwork programmes;
Enabling appropriate and accessible exhibition space development for the duration of 2010;
Capacity-building and strengthening of retail opportunities for emerging artists;
Training of tour guides and the development of a publicity and communication programme for the journey; and
Education of the broader public, with a focus on children, in the city.
An inherent part of this programme was the provision of acceptable art exhibition space and facilities within the inner city in an accessible manner to all members of the community. The Athenæum building was the ideal facility to achieve this.
The MBDA and the NLDTF spent over R3-million on renovations to the Athenæum, including the Little Theatre, to transform the building into a purpose-orientated creative hub for all creative industry participants and into a space that draws residents and tourists back into the heart of the city.
The MBDA still has a vested interest in the building and continues to support its operations – together with the Athenæum Council, and other key stakeholders.