‘Malta has worked with proven formulas for far too long’ | Michelle Castelletti

Newly-appointed Artistic Director for the Malta Arts Festival Michelle Castelletti tells us that while the bulk of her organisational experience happened in the UK, she’s more than ready to revitalise the festival as a uniquely Maltese phenomenon

Michelle Castelletti: “I want the Malta Arts Festival to become recognised internationally as a cultural hub”
Michelle Castelletti: “I want the Malta Arts Festival to become recognised internationally as a cultural hub”

How did it feel to be given this opportunity?

I am thrilled to be doing something for my country. It is the aspiration of every artistic director to bring art to the people. For the last eight years, I have worked with and alongside some of the world’s greatest artists and musicians, and I am looking forward to bringing that to Malta.

Given that you’ve won awards for organising festivals in the past, could you tell us a little bit about what kinds of skills are essential when it comes to this particular undertaking? What do you need to keep constantly in mind, and what should your priorities be at all times?

I strongly believe that it is about representing the art of our time. It is about being at the forefront of innovation and it is about creation. Of course, we need to engage people and the community; but in so doing, we should never fall into the trap of patronising our audience.

Even though you may not have been able to experience every single edition of the Malta Arts Festival so far owing to the fact that you’re based abroad, what is your perception of the Festival as it stands right now? Do you identify any ‘problem spots’?

I think there are things we need to work on, for instance ‘opening doors’ and gaining trust nationally. We need to become recognised internationally as a festival that is at the centre of artistic innovation, while never forgetting that we play a huge role and have a massive responsibility towards our country. I think that for too long, Malta has sometimes worked with proven formulas and I believe that that can then cause stagnation. Creating a good festival is all about curating in the micro and macro and that is where I think we need to focus our energies on.

Since your previous organisational experience is based in the UK, how much of that do you think is ‘compatible’ to the Maltese scenario?

Yes, my experience for the last eight years or so has been in the UK. Before that I was very much an active musician and director in Malta; and I have never let go of any ties and I am often asked to perform in Malta, so I can still gauge the pulse of the people. As regards “compatibility”, art in itself is universal. Of course there are traits and there are preferences and paths, however, I believe that my responsibility would be to put Malta on the world’s cultural map.

Your experience in organising musical events is certainly well accounted for. How do you hope to juggle the other art forms on the festival programme too?

Yes, I am a musician, but I consider myself, first and foremost an artist. As Artistic Director, what I love doing most, apart from creating the vision and strategy for the organisation, is curation and site-specific performance, and I have a passion for cross-art and interdisciplinary art form and sonic art. My latest such project was a three-day residency at the Imperial War Museum North [After the Silence… Music in the Shadow of War], where the museum was transformed in quasi-installation fashion, into an audio-visual spectacle, which included dance, drama, visual creations, sound, installations and spoken word presentations, featuring over 300 musicians, 85 works, and 25 world premières; to complement Libeskind’s architectural statement, forming part of Reactions 14, commemorating the anniversary of the First World War.
Also, importantly, the Malta Arts Festival has an artistic team – and, together, I think we cover all art forms very well. I am in constant dialogue with Francesca Tranter, Riccardo Carbutti and Ruben Zahra; as well as Annabelle Attard and Albert Marshall and I think that the synergy that is being created will give the festival a holistic approach, without losing impact.

Are you thinking of a long-term approach to the festival? How do you hope to wend the experience of the festival to, say, preparations for V18?

Yes, definitely. Any good artistic strategy is a long-term one, with short-term and medium term goals. Arts Council Malta is currently working on several evaluations and I am working on a strategy in parallel with this, but that feeds off it. The current aim is to have a three-year strategy which will lead us to Valletta 2018; therefore synergies have to be forged and visions have to be created together with the other existing festivals in Malta, so that on base-line vision we are all working in tandem with each other, with varying focuses and paths. 

The aspiration is to put the Malta Arts Festival on the cultural map.  I want the Malta Arts Festival to become recognised internationally as a cultural hub, known for its creative and innovative programming; but also to engage with the community locally and enrich people's lives. I also want to help create the audience of the future.