Travel and Culture

Curiosity for the Arts in Marlborough

The Marlborough Decorative and Fine Arts Society, MaDFAS, is one of a group of eight New Zealand Societies which bring people together through a shared curiosity for the arts.

Believing that the arts have the potential to enrich people’s lives, the Societies provide lectures that entertain, educate and provide an enjoyable learning environment. Eight times a year our members have the opportunity to hear visiting expert lecturers share their specialist knowledge about the arts.

Originating in the UK, the Arts Society is a leading arts education charity with a global network of over 380 local Societies.

The international society has recently changed its name from the National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS) to The Arts Society.  All the New Zealand Societies come under The Arts Society umbrella and operate in a similar way although each is an autonomous entity.

While the international body has changed its name, for several of our New Zealand Societies, there are already well-established art societies in their area. To avoid confusion, some societies (including MaDFAS) have retained their DFAS name, while others have moved to The Arts Society – a great example of unified diversity!

Annually, NZ society representatives meet to collaborate, review and set guidelines and objectives to ensure consistency within the framework of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies NZ (DFASNZ).


Bee Dawson, a NZ lecturer, presenting her lecture to the Marlborough Society, June 2019.

All the societies are registered charities, with donations generally directed toward community-based projects.  For example, MaDFAS donates an annual monetary award to a senior student from each of the three colleges and the one area school in Marlborough.  The recipients, selected by their teachers, will have achieved exceptional ability within the wide encompassing scope of decorative and fine arts which could include fabric design, woodwork and even technology.

The Arts Society has a comprehensive directory of mostly UK-based lecturers from which we recruit eight lecturers a year to tour the NZ circuit. Once the lecturers have agreed to the three-week tour and provided an outline of their talks, each society then selects a topic from a range provided.  The scope of the lectures is so vast and varied – Fine Arts being defined as items to look at and admire, Decorative Arts being items that are used.  However, we often extend our brief and consequently have had some fascinating lectures on subjects as varied as jewellery, architecture, furniture, opera, ballet, gardening, archaeology, sculpture, music and, of course on individuals including artists, writers and explorers.

In the future we would like to introduce some home-grown speakers into our programmes. However, currently our lecturers who are specialists in their fields are validated by The Arts Society in the UK:  many are academics, some work in their ‘field’, many have written books, are accomplished television and radio presenters, conduct educational tours relevant to their specialty.  Several of our speakers have been presenters on ‘The Antique Roadshow’ and, with their communication expertise, we are always guaranteed to have a stimulating session.

The talks are held in the evenings, except when a lecturer has been scheduled to present an additional daytime Special Interest session to complement their lecture.  In Blenheim our sessions start at 6.15pm which allows members to come directly from work.  Talks are limited to an hour followed, of course, with questions and thanks.  The evening is rounded off with a chance to meet and greet friends and to talk directly to the lecturer over wine and sandwiches.  A very enjoyable social finish to our evening’s programme!

More details and the local society in your area can be found by visiting the website here

Patricia O’Brien, Chairman, Marlborough Decorative and Fine Arts Society

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