This year is a special one for the Arts Society, Formerly Nadfas (National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies), both in Malaga and internationally; the latter is celebrating 50 years this year, while the Costa del Sol branch, which was the first ever in Spain, is 30 and Nerja is turning 25.
The societies are holding a series of events to celebrate their golden, pearl and silver anniversaries respectively. The Costa del Sol society, along with Benahavís, celebrated with a 'Golden Memories' event at the beginning of March for which members dressed up either as hippies or in floral dresses with hats and gloves, befitting of the image of Nadfas at the time. Current Chair of the Nerja Society Helen Sijsling, admits that under the name, Nadfas, the society did have a rather “fuddy-duddy” image and was related to “middle-class, middle-aged women in hats and gloves”.
Founder of the Costa del Sol branch, Sue Brodie; Roberta Kettel, who founded the Nerja branch; and the current Chairs, Betty Fooks in Benahavís, Yvonne Sjokvist, Costa del Sol and Helen in Nerja; all welcome the name to change to the Arts Society. “It's marvellous and all-encompassing,” says Roberta, although Betty admits that she feels the society could have “made it sound more international”, given the number of branches around the world.
Sue Brodie recalls starting up Nadfas in Fuengirola in 1988. “People were complaining that there was no culture and no cinema and the museums in those days were few and far between,” she says, adding, “many people wanted something other than sports and bars.”
Sue had previously been a member of Nadfas in Haslemere, Surrey, after returning from Germany where she and her husband had been living. When Sue said that she and her husband would be moving to the Costa del Sol she was asked to “look at the possibilities” of starting a society here. It took her two years to do so and she recalls that there was a lot of enthusiasm for the idea. While there were already branches of Nadfas in other European countries, Sue was the founding member of the first Spain-based society.
She recalls with humour the difficulties of getting a society started in the late 1980s, when there was no internet and she says that they had no phone in the finca she and her husband were building at the time.
“Our nearest neighbour had a phone and would hang out red trousers whenever there was a message for us,” she laughs.
There were a few incidents regarding lecturers in the early days, including Nadfas's decision to send a gentleman to give the inauguration talk on British silver. “We were told who would come to speak to us in those days and there was little consideration that we were an international group, which included my Spanish hairdresser whom I managed to persuade to come along,” Sue remembers, pointing out that perhaps a talk on British silver may not have been the most interesting of subjects for the Mexicans, Germans, Dutch and Spanish among the first members. Lectures and meetings started at the Casa de la Cultura in Fuengirola, until they moved to the Salón Varietés theatre where they have been since 2002.
Five years later, Roberta Kettel who lives in Nerja, was approached by some people who had been attending the meetings in Fuengirola. The suggestion was to start a Nerja branch as regular trips to the other side of the province were not ideal.
The first lecture took place in December 1993 and unlike the British Silver theme in 1988 in Fuengirola, the talk was on Gaudí. “We had 14 members and 16 guests to the first lecture which was held in the basement of the Balcón de Europa hotel,” explains Roberta. “Everything was done on slides, there was no Power Point in those days,” she adds. Nadfas Costa del Sol supported the Nerja branch until it achieved 100 members in 2000 and the two societies have always shared lecturers and therefore expenses. Nowadays each lecture is sponsored by a local company.
The Benahavís branch was set up six years ago. Betty admits that by the time they started they “had the advantage of email and the internet”. They now have 106 members from a range of different countries and recently as well as joining Costa del Sol for the Golden Memories event, they also ran an art exhibition in the Villa Padierna, which is where Michelle Obama stayed when she visited the area in 2010.
Nadfas was founded in 1968 in the UK by Patricia Fay, who died in 1979. In 1984 the first international society was started in Germany and four years later, Sue Brodie founded the first branch in Spain. The name was changed to the Arts Society in 2017 to incorporate all the arts and to make the society's name and objectives clearer.
Helen in Nerja is delighted that since the name change, the society “is seeing a younger influx of members” and that it is slowly shaking off the “fuddy-duddy” image of days past. The society continues to grow internationally and three more are set to open in Spain in the near future; Mallorca, Menorca and Mojácar. There is also a branch in Gibraltar.
The Costa del Sol anniversary exhibition runs until the end of April (by appointment only) at the Commercial Centre Los Olivos, Sitio de Calahonda, Mijas Costa. Nerja's exhibition has already happened but there will be further events towards the end of the year when a bench designed by Cómpeta-based artist and Arts Society member, Lieuwke Loth, will be inaugurated on the Balcón de Europa, to mark the Nerja society's 25th anniversary. Most branches have sent images of their winning works to the national headquarters in London and they will be shown on a screen during this May's AGM.