What Malta’s artists and creatives told us about their hopes for 2019

Culled from a year’s worth of interviews with MaltaToday, local artists and creative practitioners speak about where their respective scenes are heading, as we look to 2019 and beyond

Clockwise, from left: Fattima Mahdi, Ruben Zahra, and the Fuzzhoneys
Clockwise, from left: Fattima Mahdi, Ruben Zahra, and the Fuzzhoneys
Caroline Spiteri (left)- drummer, Fuzzhoneys
Caroline Spiteri (left)- drummer, Fuzzhoneys

Caroline Spiteri, Fuzzhoneys - “Local bands are touring abroad more often”
“It’s becoming more common for local bands to go on tours abroad because social media makes it slightly more achievable... by sending a simple Facebook message to a venue, one can book a show. Asking for help from the right people is a plus, especially if we all pool our contacts together, the local music scene would become stronger and everyone can benefit from the experience of performing abroad.

Roderick Camilleri - artist and curator
Roderick Camilleri - artist and curator

Roderick Camilleri, artist - “We need to remain open to different approaches”
“In today’s contemporary context, we should be very careful not to conceive contemporary art practices as pertaining to a particular trend, model or approach. The creative and artistic art sector should be open-ended and broad enough to include different approaches.
Furthermore, there should be a constructive critical approach, without confining art reviews and analysis to simple descriptions and happy reports. It would be very fruitful to have an open critical discourse between artists, art critics and the general public.

Ruth Borg - actress
Ruth Borg - actress

Ruth Borg, actress - “Professionalism is still lacking”

A good number of creatives from my generation are now studying abroad, and I think all this will enrich the theatre industry in Malta with more expertise and less amateurism.  

Yet, I still think there is a huge lack of professionals in it. By professionals I do not only mean those who do their art as a full-time profession but also those who work with discipline within it. The professionals are those who have also studied their craft with discipline. The lack of this discipline in general is reflected in the work presented to our audiences, in my opinion. We can now go onto discussing whether this is feasible financially for the performer, or if there is a big enough market for theatre in Malta for this to happen. Yet, the idealist in me believes that if we give more quality theatre to our local audiences they will come back again and again, thirsting for more.

Chris Dingli - actor
Chris Dingli - actor

Chris Dingli, actor - “Artists should be adequately compensated for their work”

“It’s an interesting time for the local theatre scene. Audiences are exposed to more productions than ever before. This is a double-edged sword. It means that there is more theatre being produced, however, it doesn’t seem to me that audience numbers are increasing significantly. The size of the pie has remained the same, but there are more slices being cut out of it. New audiences need to be nurtured and new markets need to be found. I believe the former is being addressed somewhat, with productions being taken to schools and with the introduction of incentives such as the Culture Pass, among other things. The latter is still in its infancy. There exist a small number of performers, including myself, who are focused on taking their work to new markets overseas, by tapping into available funds and opportunities. It will be interesting to see how or if things change when Valletta 2018 is over.

I’d like to see a change in attitude towards actors. I’m talking less about theatre here and more about the broadcasting side of the industry. Malta now has a full-time, albeit small, professional performing arts industry. To progress further, we need somebody to watch over performers’ interests. I understand that budgets can be lower in Malta than most other countries, but wages and conditions are still abysmal and do not proportionately reflect these lower rates. I think this is happening because there is still too much of a blurred line between those that do this professionally and those that are weekend hobbyists. There’s nothing wrong with either, but like a musician, dancer or singer, the person who has dedicated their life to training and perfecting their craft deserves to be paid fairly for their work.”

Marie Kieser Nielsen and Francesca Zammit - dancers
Marie Kieser Nielsen and Francesca Zammit - dancers

Marie Kieser Nielsen and Francesca Zammit, dancers - “Contemporary dance in Malta is at an interesting stage”

The dance scene in Malta is quite small, and the contemporary one is young and still somewhat unacknowledged by the general public, and as a result, the difficulties that Maltese artists encounter are those related to identity and autonomous expression. This having been said, in the last years we’ve seen it grow and develop within the community, bringing together people from every background. It is a field which is riveting development and increasingly demanding attention and support.

Ruben Zahra - musician
Ruben Zahra - musician

Ruben Zahra, musician - “Malta has missed out on a century of music”

“There is certainly a lacuna when it comes to contemporary music on the local art scene. I often feel like Malta has missed out on a century of music. The innovations of 20th century music bypassed Malta completely. Our theatres were not keeping up to speed with the masterworks of the past century. It’s like going through the sixties and not being aware of The Beatles. What classical music was being performed in Malta in 1917 when there was the riot at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées during the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring? … and in 1941, when Messiaen premiered his “Quartet for the End of Time” while he was a prisoner of war in German captivity? … and in 1950 when Stockhausen presented his electronic music work “Kontakte” in Cologne? It’s not easy to speculate why. The island reality of Malta does not help … but on the other hand Iceland boasts one of the most active avant-garde art scenes.”

Fattima Mahdi - writer and hip-hop musician
Fattima Mahdi - writer and hip-hop musician

Fattima Mahdi, writer and hip-hop musician - “There’s a need to create spaces for the people”

“When it comes to the hip-hop scene, I think there is room for improvement. I recently curated a freestyle rap tournament with Underground Sound to help in this regard. The main aim here was to provide a platform for local and expat rappers on the island to showcase their talent. The event was a success and Maltese rappers such as Sam Walker, as well as Caro and Yannick from 215 Collective, all came. That was really cool to see and to be honest I was shocked with how many rappers turned up. It only made us realise the need to create the spaces for people, especially for the younger generation to show what they’re made of. I’ll be working alongside Underground Sound on future projects to solidify a platform where more artists can be heard. Though Malta is a small island, there is an abundance of talent here. So, I hope to help organise more events to celebrate that talent.”

Tom Van Malderen - visual artist and architect
Tom Van Malderen - visual artist and architect

Tom Van Malderen, visual artist and architect - “Overseas opportunities are essential”

The scene is definitely very busy, however, not always as outspoken or as critical as I would like it to be. Initiatives to link the local scene to overseas opportunities are essential. Be it the Arts Council, a private gallery or the Curatorial School, they are all crucial in linking us up with international curators, alternative exhibition platforms and larger audiences. The persons I know from the local scene enjoy working locally and with ‘the local’, but find it equally essential to look beyond. It is geographically impossible to rely on the infrastructure, opportunities and audiences that are available in bigger cities and could trigger a professional status. Hence, I would strengthen and build upon the previously mentioned initiatives and similar ones to help a greater section of the local scene in becoming full-time professional artists.”

Isaac Azzopardi - visual artist
Isaac Azzopardi - visual artist

Isaac Azzopardi, visual artist - “The art scene isn’t diverse enough”

Things are always changing and mutating, and I’m speaking beyond Valletta 2018, which I think is just a marketing campaign for tourism and business interests. And it’s quite a good campaign at that, but it’s sad too because the cultural agenda wasn’t really pushed properly.
Despite this, places like Blitz exist and are very active, and Malta Contemporary Art and Valletta Contemporary have popped up which is quite exciting, given the potential they show for more opportunities – both in terms of cultural exchange and local artists.
What I detest is the lack of education, and the feeling that the art scene doesn’t feel diverse – it sort of falters beyond a certain social sphere and doesn’t quite reach out to new audiences. So hopefully sometime soon that starts to change too.

Toni Attard - founder, Culture Venture
Toni Attard - founder, Culture Venture

Toni Attard, founder Culture Venture - “Never change the nature of your project just to lure the funding beast”

“There are a number of channels available to kick off creative projects and starting off with a conversation on funding may not always be a good starting point to get that idea off the ground. More time should be spent on researching that idea and finding the right collaborators and partners to shape a project idea into manageable stepping stones.

Sharing a pet project with other  artists or organisations may be problematic for some, however collaborations provide new opportunities for ideas to grow and individual weaknesses can easily transform into productive collective efforts.

Very few can single-handedly create, manage and sell their own work without losing focus on their artistic vision. In addition, as competition for public funding on both national and European levels increases at a faster rate than available funds, projects needs to be exceptionally designed to meet the priorities of the funds – this is the nature of the beast, but never change the vision of your project to lure the beast.”

Vince Briffa - visual artist and academic
Vince Briffa - visual artist and academic

Vince Briffa, visual artist and academic - “A holistic approach to arts education should be top priority”

“My priority goes to the rethinking of artistic education of the very young in the light of what contemporary art and design will require in the years to come. A more holistic artistic education that supports the artistic process rather than the end product through informed experimentation and reflective thinking needs to be implemented at a very early stage of artistic education in order for the student to enter effortlessly into an already established framework of practice-based research at a tertiary education level. It is with a common holistic vision that promotes this culture of informed practical research and experimentation and affords time for such growth throughout the entire artistic education, that we can give our students the right toolset that can guarantee excellence in today’s art world. We seriously need to commit to addressing this deficiency for the further flourishing of local contemporary art.”

Rebecca Camilleri - dancer
Rebecca Camilleri - dancer

Rebecca Camilleri, dancer - “The sustainability of the creative economy is a cause for concern”

I am concerned by the sustainability of the creative economy. I am not interested in Valletta being a one-year capital of culture, but in a community which is living and evolving through its own creative activity. Art is a rich resource to reconstruct ways of thinking, apply ideas for a widening educational vision, create social responsibility and testing approaches to development heritage industries. I do not feel that this is being fully addressed. It is easier to blind society by the illuminating lights of spectacle when the environmental monster is breaking down our social and natural bonds. I hope that I will still be able to smell the thyme and taste the salt.

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