Valletta 2018 resignation puts culture sector appointments into question – Cremona

Theatre studies lecturer Vicki-Ann Cremona says the recent resignation of the deputy director of V18 points to a deeper institutional problem

Vicki-Ann Cremona. Photo by Alexandra Pace
Vicki-Ann Cremona. Photo by Alexandra Pace

In a reaction to the media furore caused by Valletta 2018 assistant artistic director Sean Buhagiar resigning from the Foundation after a row with Artistic Director Mario Philip Azzopardi, former Maltese ambassador to France and theatre studies lecturer Vicki-Ann Cremona cautioned against scapegoating Azzopardi, as this would detract from what she deems to be a deeper, institutional problem in Malta’s cultural sphere. 

Last Thursday – a day prior to its Manoel Theatre premiere – Sean Buhagiar announced his departure from the production of ‘Habbilni Ha Nirbah’, for which he served as director and producer and which was in turn produced by Stagun Teatru Malti (STM), run by Mario Philip Azzopardi. Buhagiar was a partner at STM – a post he also resigned from after leaving the play.

Last Monday, Buhagiar also resigned from his post as assistant artistic director of Valletta 2018, citing the “breakdown in relationship” with Azzopardi, who continues to serve as the Foundation’s artistic director. 

On Thursday, sources told MaltaToday that Azzopardi – who only attended the first full rehearsal of the show on Sunday, five days before opening night – threw several tantrums while kicking the set and shouting vulgarly.

Sources also said that Azzopardi threatened to sue Buhagiar if he does not follow his orders, aggressively declaring that Buhagiar should “obey”.

“I don’t for a second condone Mario Philip Azzopardi’s behaviour – everyone knows what his character is like by now, and that he’s got a terrible temper. But in a way that’s neither here nor there,” Cremona told MaltaToday, adding that the problem lies with who appointed Mario Philip Azzopardi in the first place. 

“My question is: why are people like Azzopardi – who lack communication skills – appointed to such positions of trust?

“Azzopardi should answer for his behaviour, but it would be very convenient to simply shoot him down without scrutinizing those above him – why aren’t they breathing down his neck?” Cremona asked. 

She added that she was “very sorry” that Buhagiar felt he had to resign from the Valletta 2018 Foundation, given that he was a “young person… and often the only real contact point between the V.18 Foundation and the outside world,” owing to Azzopardi’s character. 

This was another sticking point for Cremona, who complained about how most positions of trust and influence in the cultural sphere are occupied by “old people” – which according to Cremona puts the way appointments are handled into question. 

“Shouldn’t we create positions for younger people, instead of being at the mercy of these older people? After all, let’s remember that Sean Buhagiar was appointed because of Mario Philip Azzopardi."  

And although a public call was issued, Cremona said that "Azzopardi himself didn’t go through a monitoring process – he was simply nominated. And are people in similar positions going through a monitoring process? Do they need to be appointed in these high positions? Couldn’t they just have been brought on as consultants?”

Contacted for comment, Azzopardi only said that he believed Sean Buhagiar is a “very talented” person who has a “bright future” ahead of him in the arts. Azzopardi also praised Buhagiar’s work with ‘Habbilni Ha Nirbah’ despite his premature departure from the production. 

“I can honestly say that the success of our first weekend – sold-out full houses and enthusiastic applause – were down to Sean’s great work. If it’s not 100 per cent down to him – let’s say 99.9 per cent of it is,” Azzopardi said.