How to improve culture in Malta – from 2016 and beyond

Culled from a year’s worth of interviews with TEODOR RELJIC, local artists and creative practitioners let us in on their hopes for the Maltese cultural scene in the coming year... and perhaps further ahead

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
4 January 2016, 9:00am
As Valletta 2018 draws closer, Maltese creative practitioners give us the lowdown of the stage we're in, and outline their hopes for 2016
As Valletta 2018 draws closer, Maltese creative practitioners give us the lowdown of the stage we're in, and outline their hopes for 2016
Raphael Vella – art lecturer, Artistic Director of the Valletta International Visual Arts Festival

“Hopefully, [having more Maltese curators] will help to professionalise the field and to change attitudes about exhibitions and relationships between art and publics. An exhibition is not about ‘filling’ a space, but about an informed, researched and perhaps even poetic relationship with whatever is being exhibited and with whoever has been involved (physically but also ‘culturally’) in the making of the works and the ideas they convey.

“I am not only referring to research in an academic sense.  I am thinking about the time and dedication that people put into the things they are passionate about, as against the haste that we experience so often in finding cost-effective ‘solutions’.

“Art needs time to develop, and it usually doesn’t adapt easily to the straitjacket of preconceived ‘outcomes’. So I really hope that the professionalisation of the field we hope to achieve does not become yet another box to tick in the realm of funding schemes. Art should never be reduced to a managerial exercise because its most exciting moments always happen when perceptions are shifted or challenged.”

Raphael Vella
Raphael Vella
Simone Spiteri – teacher, actress, director and scriptwriter for theatre

Simone Spiteri
Simone Spiteri
“As I’ve said plenty of times over the last few years – there is definitely something happening. When I compare the scene now to when I founded the company 11 years ago it’s like looking at two different worlds. There seems to be a growing interest in theatre, more people seem to want to be involved in it and more want to watch it.

“As an educator I am particularly pleased with how things are shaping themselves in the world of theatre for the young while as a writer I would like to see more people put pen to paper and just go for it. I also want to see our audiences develop a stronger, more vocal sense of discussion and debate about art in general.”

Alexandra Pace – curator, BLITZ

Alexandra Pace
Alexandra Pace
“I think it is neither possible, nor is it sensible or viable [for artists] to survive entirely on public funding. On whether there is enough support in terms of quantity, I suspect local artists and creatives will never feel satisfied. I believe that comes more from a general feeling of entitlement; the belief we should be supported irrespective of what it is that we are creating. I personally disagree with this.

“Making do with what we have does not mean that our limited resources should be distributed for everyone to get a chance, but rather it should be invested in those who are innovative and producing projects and ideas that are radical and experimental, engaging audiences with a strong public programme. In the longer term I believe that this will improve education through exposure to high calibre projects, in turn raising the standard of projects both large and small.”

Jimmy Grima – theatre director

Ruth Borg and director Jimmy Grima during rehearsals for Ma Rridx Immur
Ruth Borg and director Jimmy Grima during rehearsals for Ma Rridx Immur
“What has been happening over the past few years is very promising. It needs what every theatre needs. It needs to be staged. The primary thing is to be recognised as being relevant and shown, directed and produced. I am sure there  are loads of scripts which have never been produced on stage, a lot of award winning scripts remained in the authors drawer. Initiatives such as the Premju Francis Ebejer and the support that Malta Arts Council offers towards supporting the staging of the winning script grows and the development of Maltese theatre work is supported in its development through co-productions and synergies between the traditional and the contemporary.”

Thomas Camilleri – actor

Thomas Camilleri
Thomas Camilleri
“[The theatre scene in Malta] is wonderful. Everyone does it because they love it. It has its limitations due to our size and budgets but it has soul and passion. Plus, with Malta being so tiny, I can finish work and zip off to Msida for a rehearsal – best of both worlds!”

Trevor Zahra – author

Trevor Zahra
Trevor Zahra
“We do have a surge of some very good quality literature. But occasionally one meets writers who don’t really possess a good command of the Maltese language and thus produce work that is lacking in idiom and syntax. I think that certain aspiring writers will benefit immensely if they wait for the fruit to mature and sweetens its sap, before they move into the harvesting season.”

Adrian Buckle – theatre producer

Adrian Buckle
Adrian Buckle
“I think the local theatre scene is developing quite nicely. Gone are the days when we had to go through the censors to put on a play. Soon, we won’t be threatened by obscenity and blasphemy laws either. I think the scene is becoming more professional. I would be happier if more companies took risks with their work but I guess everyone has his niche and as long as the quality is good, all theatre is welcome.”

Nadia Mifsud – poet

Nadia Mifsud
Nadia Mifsud
“I am in awe of all that’s been going on in the local literary scene in the past ten years or so. A lot of energy has been put in by writers, publishers, and non-government entities to give new impetus to Maltese literature.

“Much has already been accomplished but this doesn’t mean that we can rest on our laurels. We need more people (both male and female) experimenting with novel-writing. We need more books for adolescents. We need more children’s books in Maltese, especially pop-up books and touch and feel books for babies. We need more illustrators. We need to be more inventive and adventurous in book design. We definitely need a writer’s and translator’s house that offers residencies for both local and foreign writers.

“We need better equipped libraries. We need bookshops that offer more shelf space to Maltese literature, poetry included. We need libraries and bookshops that organize reading sessions, allowing readers to meet local writers.

“But we also need more readers, curious and demanding ones for that matter, and there lies the rub. There is an urgent need for a massive national campaign to promote reading among young children and, even more importantly, to teach (not just encourage) parents how to read to their infants (babies and toddlers) and help them establish a daily reading routine. The younger the kids, the more fertile the ground!”

Immanuel Mifsud – author and playwright

Immanuel Mifsud
Immanuel Mifsud
“I keep thinking that the literary scene is heading towards interesting times. As for theatre, well, I worked for years in what was considered to be the alternative, experimental scene, which had contrasting ethos and aesthetics to this mainstream theatre. While a couple of mainstream theatre companies are working at putting the foreign as close as possible (sadly not the contrary), the alternative scene, the theatre of the periphery is extremely silent, dormant if not altogether absent.

“Even though certain circumstances have forced me to distance myself from the periphery I still long for it and still hold on to my theory that the mainstream will suffer if the periphery is poor or nonexistent. As for local television drama productions... well, I really dislike being very open about what I think of it: basically many of the stuff has horrible scripting, appalling production and editing and horrendous acting. There: I told you what I didn’t really want to say.”

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...