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First Thursdays' buzz reboots Cape Town CBD night-time economy

31 Jul 2023
Investec Art Fair

Cape Town’s night-time economy is on the rebound post-Covid, and is being boosted by First Thursdays – when Capetonians come into town to explore and enjoy the inner city’s art galleries, cultural institutions, destination eateries, and other businesses on the first Thursday of every month.

With most of the CBD’s art galleries open until 20h00, the monthly event continues to sustain interest in the local art and cultural scene, while stimulating the city centre economy through the winter months when trading is often subdued due to inclement weather.

The popular night-time event, the brainchild of co-founder Gareth Pearson of Thursdays Projects, was suspended for five months in 2020 due to the pandemic but has taken place every month since then.

Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) CEO Tasso Evangelinos says the event gives office workers and other Capetonians the opportunity to visit the Central City and enjoy its dynamic offering.


CBD gallerists believe First Thursdays has made a significant contribution to the survival of small galleries trying to keep their doors open in an unfavourable economic climate, and has stimulated the return of the art economy in the city centre.

Linda Pyke, director of THK Gallery, says First Thursdays “allows the community to meet each other in person, have conversations, and connect with people, which is as important as the art itself. Our involvement in First Thursdays allowed us to meet new collectors and emerging artists and engage in even greater conversations – which has grown us from strength to strength”.

Further highlighting the event’s ability to bring artists and art lovers together from across the industry, Georgia Stonehouse, Gallery Manager at 99 Loop Gallery, says, “First Thursdays brings more eyes to local art, with engagement from local and sometimes even international visitors.” The gallery says this results in support for the industry that has helped it recover after the financial and morale hardships of the pandemic.

First Thursday
First Thursdays in the Cape Town Central City.


The Central City, which is home to the iconic Iziko South Africa Gallery, has a thriving art sector, with Africa’s largest contemporary art fair, the Investec Cape town Art Fair, taking place in its footprint at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) on the Foreshore. 

After two challenging years during Covid-19, when it was closed, last year the art fair welcomed 23 000 visitors back to the CTICC, showcasing a spectacular hybrid event with 99 exhibitors from 20 different countries – including 17 first-time participants. Art fair director Laura Vincenti said the return the three-day physical event offered “some reprieve and restoration for the global art community”.

In 2023, the art fair celebrated its 10th edition, and was also a resounding success. Says Vincenti: “We welcomed over 25 000 visitors, including 6 700 VIPs, 106 exhibitors from 18 countries, making it the largest edition yet.”

Evangelinos says the event has proven to be a huge drawcard, attracting local and international visitors to Cape Town and the CBD. “The 2023 Art Fair was a resounding success, generating significant investment for our city and turning the world’s gaze on our local art scene. It demonstrates the resilience of the sector and the strong demand for art, despite the difficulty of the last few years. The art economy is an important sector and must be nurtured.”

Investec Art Fair
Investec Cape Town Art Fair 2022 at the CTICC.


There’s no doubt First Thursdays energises the sector and attracts interest.

“First Thursday injects energy into the whole CBD, across the hospitality and arts industries. It plays a pivotal role in demonstrating that our city centre is open for business. As the CCID, we’re committed to keeping the CBD crime-and-grime free, so it’s a safe and attractive crucible for these gatherings. We want to give our local talent every opportunity to thrive,” adds Evangelinos.

In 2022, according to the State of Cape Town Central City Report 2022 – A year in review, which is published by the CCID, six new galleries opened in the CBD, bringing the total number of galleries in town to 29.

Since being named World Design Capital in 2014, followed by its inclusion, as Africa’s first City of Design, in UNESCO’s Global Cities Network, Cape Town has been widely recognised as a global art centre and a strong contender for the title of Africa’s leading art capital.

The SA Cultural Observatory calculated that in 2020, the visual arts and crafts of the broader creative sector contributed R23.4 billion to the South African economy.