More than just a series of events | Davinia Galea

As the Malta Arts Festival comes to a close on Wednesday, we speak to Davinia Galea, Executive Director of the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts, about the festival’s wide-ranging scope… and what’s in store for Malta’s cultural future.

Davinia Galea: “We need to find spaces for cultural industries to flourish in”. Photo by Elisa von Brockdorff
Davinia Galea: “We need to find spaces for cultural industries to flourish in”. Photo by Elisa von Brockdorff

What were some of the highlights of this year's festival?

I dare say that all the events in this year's Malta Arts Festival have each been highlights in themselves, judging from the reaction of the audiences so far. From Enrico Dindo to Theatre Week, from Bombyx Mori - the dance production by the The Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company from Israel,  to the two MAF commissions: Ftakar by Big Band Brothers and Old Salt by the rubberbodies collective.

What are some of the key 'principles' behind the festival?

All the festivals that the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts organises under my direction are developed in compliance with the aims of the National Cultural Policy launched last year. Even before the Cultural Policy was actually launched, we started targeting its goals through the way we always organise our various initiatives, by ensuring that we empower people through participation, and enable or facilitate relationships both locally and internationally through our networking. However, festivals are not our only remit. The MCCA wears many hats.

The work of a Culture and Arts Council is to give added value to Maltese artists and the arts, both nationally and internationally.

To do this, we run different support structures for the sector, including the Malta Arts Fund, offering advisory services, and supporting various entities through the work of our staff, and through loan of equipment.

We abide by the arms-length principle, as advocated by the cultural policy, that ensures choices of excellence when it comes to programming and transparency in funding decisions.

We are working on getting EU and international networks to promote artists and tap outside funding.

The success of MCCA can be seen through many factors. Albeit short of resources, I believe our team excels in best practices from a cultural management perspective, and it is a source of personal pride and satisfaction to me when other entities and private individuals would like to loan our staff to carry out work in various cultural sectors.

The Malta Arts Fund, which was launched only three years ago with the full support of the Minister of Culture, has proved to be a very effective enabling tool. We started out with a fund of €50,000 annually and in just three years, we have lobbied and augmented funding to €430,000.

Our international experts who also sit on some of our Arts Fund evaluation boards have praised our modus operandi.

On an international level, we have achieved some very good results such as Malta's participation in the Frankfurt Book Fair.

On the local level we have provided new dimensions to existing activities, such as taking further the Francis Ebejer Prize, by giving additional support for production of plays rather than just prizes for scriptwriting.

There is now more participation of Maltese artists in international initiatives, and all the Maltese arts world was proud to witness the fact that the EU prize for literature this year was won by Maltese author Immanuel Mifsud, an award that was duly commemorated in Brussels by the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts.

The Music Composition Competition is also contributing to the creation of a new body of works by Maltese composers, and it will be our task to promote these both nationally and internationally.

What could you say about audience turnout, and feedback? Was it in any way different from last year?

So far, we have had full houses with the exception of the dance performance, which was, however, over half full. This was a bit disappointing as we offered a performance of excellence, which actually earned the Festival a photograph and an article in international media distributed by Reuters immediately the morning after! Audience feedback has been fantastic and augurs well for the future.

Ghanafest, the annual Mediterranean folk music festival, also had an excellent programme this year and a great audience. The upcoming Jazz Festival also promises a world-class programme and ticket sales so far are looking excellent.

The Malta Arts Festival, being longer than all the rest, is obviously more difficult to sell, but from our experience, most tickets are sold at the last minute and at the door of the performances.

People want to be sure that they will be able to attend and that they are guaranteed their money's worth, which I assure you is certainly the case with all our festivals. This year we are experiencing a great demand for tickets as they sell out. 

Given the recent freedom from censorship would you say that the arts festival has soaked up some of this mood of increased cultural awareness and participation?

We don't programme to sensationalise or gain exposure by shocking audiences; we programme excellence in the arts and all that comes with it. MCCA has been very much behind the scenes working with the Ministry of Culture on changes to the law. There is a lot of work going on that is not necessarily seen in public, but it is slowly and surely being felt, contributing to, as you say, to increased cultural awareness and participation.

We are getting there. We will hopefully have more productions next year in the festival that we are currently negotiating, that will test the grounds, but as I say the aim is not to sensationalise but to programme works of excellence that can be provocative.

Of course, they will be classified but definitely not censored!

How would you say that the Arts Festival has evolved from 2006 until now?

It is not just a series of events, thanks to the networking, and professional growth of our staff.

We are succeeding in creating dialogue through the Festival but of course also through the many platforms that the MCCA has managed to create in the short span of four years.

What is the way forward for Maltese culture as a whole?

There is still a long way to go and lots of more work to do. The next goals to be tackled are finding spaces for cultural industries to flourish in.

Our first major project in this context has started, the building of the Carnival workshops - that is, creating professional spaces for the float builders to work in the right environment.

The MCCA would, of course, like to have its own adequate space, considering our role, position and responsibility to the sector. Our current offices are not conducive to the nature of our work.

Together with the Ministry for Culture and other entities, we  need to see three infrastructure projects carried out in the very near future, the modern and contemporary art museum, the multi purpose performance space and a centre of architecture and the Built Environment.

Another important project we are in the process of developing is 'artists' residencies.