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2016 in review | Malta’s most prominent creative practitioners give us their verdict

We asked some of Malta’s most prominent creative practitioners to give us their verdict on 2016 – how this otherwise tumultuous year fared for their respective careers and fields, and what their hopes for the near future are

29 December 2016, 1:30pm
Some of Malta’s most prominent creative practitioners give their verdict on 2016
Some of Malta’s most prominent creative practitioners give their verdict on 2016
Raphael Vella

Curator

“We need more small-scale, grassroots initiatives”

Raphael Vella
Raphael Vella
There have been some positive developments in the visual arts during the year. One of them is Arts Council Malta’s decision to obtain a national pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2017. Needless to say, I’m happy to be responsible for the curation of this pavilion, along with co-curator Bettina Hutschek. Speaking of Bettina, I think that her Fragmenta pop-up events in various unconventional sites around Malta are a breath of fresh air in the local art scene. While public funds and initiatives in the arts are expanding and always welcome, we need more small-scale, grassroots initiatives that are fuelled by a willingness to make change happen and an understanding of local gaps in the arts. At a national level, the National Museum of Fine Arts finally closed down to the public this year too and we now await the much-publicised MUZA that will replace it. Having said that, it is doubtful that the new museum will open in the first half of 2018, and this will mean that the European Capital of Culture will take off without a single public art museum in the whole country. But we definitely will not miss out on Carnival.

Clare Azzopardi

Author

“The government is not investing enough in publishing”

Clare Azzopardi
Clare Azzopardi
I can’t complain really. The book industry is growing and 2016 has given us quite a number of interesting titles, including debut novels by Antoinette Borg and Aleks Farrugia, another novel by Immanuel Mifsud and a collection of poetry by Norbert Bugeja, just to mention a few. My picture book Mingu, in collaboration with Lisa Falzon, has won the National book prize (ages 0-8) and is now in its second print run: this was unheard of until a few years ago, when “arty” or unconventional picture books were relatively unpopular among parents and in schools. 

Still, we are still far from having a publishing industry of the sort you see in other small countries, such as Iceland. Here, the government is not investing enough money to help publishers and writers. Print runs are always very small and profit margins are limited. So, this is wish number one. Also, our country still has no library worthy of the title and it doesn’t seem to feature anywhere on the government’s agenda. And that makes it wish number 2. One last wish for 2017, I hope that the National Book Council reopens the Book Fund, which did not open in 2016 and I also hope that Malta becomes a member of IBBY (International Board on Books for Young people). We are one of only a handful of non-members.

Mario Vella

Vocalist, Brikkuni 

“Most artistic output is forgotten within a week of its unveiling”

Mario Vella
Mario Vella
Musicians still have a serious problem as far as venues are concerned and it looks to me like things went from bad to worse in this regard. There are literally no proper venues for bands right now. By proper I mean properly designed spaces (small to medium sized black box theatres) at affordable prices. I am aware the Arts Council has been compiling a comprehensive list of theatres around the island but I am still not sure what it intends to do with it. The Maltese cultural scene has progressed. One would have to be insufferably cynical not to admit this. But on the other hand, it is no great shakes either. Few, if any projects seem to have legs. Most artistic output is forgotten within a week of its unveiling. We still lack passion, quality and imagination and no amount of funding will make up for this. We are also failing in bridging the gap between arts and politics. Romantic as it may sound I firmly believe that art should also serve to challenge the establishment (there’s a buzzword for you) and it seems to me that our dear artists are too careful not to step on toes or bite hands that feed them.

Madeleine Gera

Painter

“Over-development in Valletta is a concern”

Madeleine Gera
Madeleine Gera
Over the years, the visual arts scene has developed considerably with many emerging artists and galleries opening up all over Malta and Gozo. This year was particularly eventful for me with several private commissions coming in as well as participating in the Venice Architecture Biennale ‘Reporting From The Front’ with the Architecture firm AP. 

The inauguration of MUZA is going to be a significant event for the visual arts, along with other contemporary arts galleries opening up in Valletta.  

Valletta will soon be in the forefront as the Cultural Capital of Europe in 2018, and needless to say, ‘The City’ is undergoing rapid change, which is great. My only concern – and I know I’m not alone here – is that development in Valletta has to done in a sensitive and aesthetic way that is suited to it. 

Nanette Brimmer

Theatre director, actress

“Teatru Malta is a good step forward”

Nanette Brimmer
Nanette Brimmer
I am excited to see so much passion, commitment and raw talent in my genre, among the younger generation.  Teatru Manoel Youth Theatre’s innovative creations never cease to amaze  me – they do us proud both locally and overseas; the growing popularity enjoyed by young children in the extremely well-organised and varied ŻiguŻajg Theatre Festial fills me with hope for the future. 

The setting up of the new project, Teatru Malta, and appointing Sean Buhagiar as its first Artistic Director, is another step toward keeping the local theatre scene alive and well.  His vision is to work with young talent and he advocates the necessity to be “alert, audacious and ground-breaking.” I also look forward to seeing this project operate within diverse spaces and venues, and that it will observe its promise to produce for everyone.

Toni Sant 

Artistic Director at Spazju Kreattiv; Founder of Malta Media Memory Preservation

“Maltese work in English can never be authentic” 

Toni Sant
Toni Sant
Evolution is inevitable. Some years the changes are more evident than others. Most times it seems like things are changing for the better, other times not so much so. It’s all relative really... or at least that’s how it is from my perspective. I am greatly heartened by the high quality of Maltese-language work presented in both the theatre and the music scene. However, this is undoubtedly overshadowed by the ever-present amount of output that is merely second-rate English-language material that can never really be considered as authentic as high quality work in Maltese, even if it is still rather interesting in its own right particularly from a post-colonial perspective.

I am quite keen to see key stakeholders sign on to the further development of the National Archive’s Memorja: Oral, Sound and Visual Archive. I have a long-standing interest in this area, as is clearly evident from my recently published book Remembering Rediffusion in Malta. I hope to bring essential elements from that work to a number of projects in Malta, particularly the Spazju Kreattiv programme for 2017/18 leading into Valletta 2018 as European Capital of Culture.  

Kenneth Zammit Tabona

Artistic Director: Manoel Theatre, Malta International Baroque Festival

“The Manoel needs to put drama on a par with music”

Kenneth Zammit Tabona
Kenneth Zammit Tabona
2016 has been a curious year. I am known for my impatience, and yes, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. However, we have managed to reach an operatic turning point with Gluck’s Orphee this year. I feel that we have managed to rekindle the public’s curiosity in opera other than the usual fare and opened up a new vista where at the Manoel we will only produce opera that is commensurate with the size, style and ambience of our 1731 theatre. 

The Baroque Festival still is a stalwart in our calendar, however the most important development from the festival is the building of the Valletta International Baroque Ensemble, which is gaining plenty of experience and is on the way to becoming the Theatre’s established ensemble with ballet and operatic potential. My only disappointment is that I yet do not have the wherewithal to place drama at par with music. With the establishment of Teatru Malta I am convinced that there will be a more comprehensive and fruitful cooperation which will engender the production of classics along with new exciting works for theatre. 

Pia Zammit

Actress

“All in all, there was much to celebrate”

Pia Zammit
Pia Zammit
It’s Christmas so let’s keep it light, shall we? We had the usual highs and lows, but the biggest high was to see so many local lads and lassies making it big time. It is now no longer unusual to hear of actors and singers taking part in a West End musical, and the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra and Zfin Malta are waving Malta’s flag abroad more and more frequently. But there was also good news in the world of the plastic arts (Venice Biennale), literature (Immanuel Mifsud and more), and film (Simshar and Head keep bringing in the awards!). It was also good to see young talent continue to be nurtured. The work of companies such as Teatru Manoel Youth Theatre and Teatru Manoel Youth Opera companies cannot be underestimated. But they are not alone. There were a number of green shoots sprouting all over the island. The music scene is looking particularly healthy what with Brikkuni continuing to live up to their name, keeping good ol’ rock n roll thankfully on the wrong side of good manners while the gentler sound of The New Victorians provides a more folksy take on pop music. I also noticed that Malta’s very own Comic Con is getting stronger by the year. So all in all, there was much to celebrate.

And finally, another thing, because I almost forgot, there was that little matter of a resignation, but perhaps we should leave that for another time.

Monique Chambers

Editor of Indulge Magazine, broadcaster

“I hope to see more books and broadcasting in English”

Monique Chambers
Monique Chambers
Malta continues to grow culturally with more and more theatre performances, more art related events and more variety when it comes to radio and publishing. I hope to see more English books being produced locally and also radio programmes; for example, Malta’s population is so diverse now that having local radio news only in Maltese is pretty short sighted, also by listening to more radio or watching more TV in English would help the standard of English amongst the population enabling it to remain competitive in the global market. Publishers and producers are missing a huge portion of the community that makes Malta such a great place to live.

Longer or better coordinated theatre runs to make sure you don’t have to binge on theatre or one weekend and have a drought for two… and earlier performances would make going to the theatre an evening out and give punters a chance to have a meal in more then a handful of restaurants that currently offer post theatre dinner.

I also would like to see more workshops for budding artists in whichever field - or at least have these better promoted so as to entice novices to be part of the performance community. Who knows who’s hiding in the wings?

Marcelle Teuma

Theatre director

“Artists should receive a yearly allowance to travel”

Marcelle Teuma
Marcelle Teuma
It is more than about time to have a new building purposely built to host theatre performances, equipped with state of the art technology and which allows time for theatre practitioners to rehearse and perform in this space. Artists should also receive a yearly allowance to be used for travel. This is because it is imperative for artists to witness what is happening in the arts abroad: be it theatre, dance, music, art, literature and so on.

Simone Spiteri

Playwright, actress, theatre director

“Theatre should be sharp, multi-layered, discomfiting and honest”

Simone Spiteri
Simone Spiteri
Most of this year was a bit different for me because I took a self-imposed still-in-progress sabbatical from theatre and basically detached myself from the active scene for a while. I focused entirely on writing, which in itself is a very isolating process, and allowed my work to find its own feet with the people who produced it and myself to experience this world from the periphery, for once. I don’t think that theatre work stood out in any particular way this year as opposed to other art forms which seemed to have blossomed more prominently throughout 2016. What I would like to see more of? I think the local theatre scene is missing a strong independent streak of companies, which was very strongly felt when I started out almost 20 years ago, but it seems to have fizzled out a bit in recent years. It was an exciting time, teeming with many new and vibrant companies and there was a sense of buzz, practice-sharing and experimentation. Despite a few (or many) missteps I think it served as a great learning ground for most of us, still starting out, and was a springboard to a lot of things that most of us went on to do later on as established companies, producers, directors, playwrights, artists and so on. It’s important that the state looks for ways to nurture and expand the profession and the scene, but a fringe element is always extremely important. The raw underbelly of any art form is where I truly believe real growth happens and often one feeds off the other. There a few youngsters who are, very admirably, trying to make their own way and propose new voices within this frame, but these are just a few, which is a shame. I also would like to see more writing for the stage that is sharp, rich, multi-layered, discomforting if need be and above all honest.

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