The Malta Independent 4 October 2022, Tuesday
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The APS Summer Festival – a safe space and opportunity for artists and aspiring artists

Semira Abbas Shalan Sunday, 20 February 2022, 09:00 Last update: about 9 months ago
Photo: Camille Fenech
Photo: Camille Fenech

The origins of the APS Summer Festival go back as recent as 2020, pandemic in full swing whilst lives and jobs were put on hold due to the partial lockdown. The artistic and creative industry was one of the worst hit industries, where in an already fragile sector, artists found it even harder to come across opportunities to put their work out there. Journalist Semira Abbas Shalan from The Malta Independent on Sunday sat down with Annalisa Schembri, current Artistic Director of the APS Summer Festival, to talk about the Festival's aims as a performance space for artists and a steppingstone for aspiring artists.

Annalisa Schembri


Why does the APS Summer Festival exist? In 2020, amidst the wake and panic of the pandemic, artistically producing anything that was close to a mass event could not happen. This created a gap. "APS Bank decided to invest in that gap to alleviate the crisis artists were going through at the time, and essentially, are still suffering," Schembri said, adding that she was selected as Artistic Director in 2021 for this independent Festival, which creates not only a space for entertainment, but also a free and safe space for artists and their creative expression.

An artistic festival had been on APS Bank's agenda for some time and the COVID-19 pandemic created the ideal scenario for this to come to life.  Schembri commended APS Bank for investing not only the funds for the Festival, but the time, will and human resources, proving that there is a genuine commitment towards the Festival in support of arts and culture.

Moreover, Schembri expressed dismay at the fact that the artistic sector is often neglected, and this was prevalent during the pandemic. "Other sectors such as tourism were given a huge helping-hand during the pandemic, whilst the artistic sector is always considered as an after-thought," she said. As a full time freelancer in the industry for 15 years, Schembri feels that much more investment and commitment towards the professional development of the creative sector is required, such as that being made by APS Bank.

"Even stage managers, producers, creative producers, stagehands, hair and makeup artists and sound and light technicians - all those who form part of this creative ecosystem, apart from the artists themselves, are many a time neglected to a level where they are not respected enough to be given a proper contract to read, discuss and sign before performance dates," Schembri said.

APS Bank is doing its utmost to treat this seriously and to execute proper production behind the Festival, so that it can become a textbook example of how things can be done in a simple, better, efficient, and transparent way, while making it known that it is available as a safe space for artists, she said.

When asked what types of creatives enter the Festival, Schembri said that the spectrum is relatively wide.  "The APS Summer Festival promotes diversity and inclusion, whether you are a known artist or an aspiring one with a fresh idea," Schembri said, adding that often, the unfiltered and raw ideas interested her the most. Diversity not only from the idea side of things, but also who enters the Festival - as the doors are open for everyone, whether you are a person with a disability, artists who are LGBTIQ+, students, foreign artists, and those with different skin colours or different cultural backgrounds, she said, adding that there are equal opportunities for everyone. Asked about the reason for holding an open call, Schembri said that it is important to create a transparent and democratic process, which does not restrict or censor ideas. The open call for artistic content strengthens the Festival and its final line up, she said.

Schembri remarked that besides the entertainment value, which is of vital importance, the Festival aims to push barriers through its values, and to serve as a structure for opportunities and artistic development, especially for those who believe that their passions are and will remain merely a hobby and cannot become their profession.

When asked, Schembri said that it is important that a festival like this exists in the current local creative economy as a safe space for self-expression, especially for youths but also established artists. "Last year, we even resorted to a mentorship position, where we helped new artists by putting them on the right track, and we are open to do this again as needed this year" she said. The possibility of workshops building up to the Festival, or perhaps done adjacent to the Festival would also be a great idea to keep generating opportunities for artists, she said. "They can have a profession in the creative industry, and not just empty dreams," she said.

Asked about the values of the APS Summer Festival, Schembri maintained that it is important for the Festival to be contemporary and attract contemporary ideas as these give true representation of societal development and social commentary. She added that there is no need to organise a mainstream festival, as there are those happening already. Affordability is also important for the audience, as well as inclusivity in every aspect, from inclusivity on the stage to inclusivity for the audience, and inclusivity in the production team, noting that the Festival should be accessible for persons with any kind of disability.

Internationalisation is also important, to create a festival which is not solely condensed to Malta but reaches foreign investments and opportunities. This, she said, would permit that the Festival is open and can eventually extend to more opportunities for artistic collaborations and growth all year round, for artists to have more work and professional opportunities in a sustainable way.

Sustainability is also a main value for the APS Summer Festival, remarking that she believes in the UN Sustainable Development Goals as an inspiration on how to live and as a licence to operate the economy. In fact, last year, the Festival programme as well as tickets were all done online, to avoid the printing of paper, whilst no plastic cups, bottles or straws were provided during the Festival, to minimise the impact of single use plastic, to be environmentally sustainable and minimise the Festival's impact on the environment, Schembri said. Ultimately, the entertainment aspect of the Festival is vital, as we want to provide a space for the audience to come, experience beauty and go back home with a sweet memory to cherish, she said.

The biggest lesson Schembri took from hosting a festival last year, in the middle of a pandemic was to keep going and keep believing in it, despite the uncertainties. "We had to solve several problems from the logistical side of things but also artistically, to operate safely in last year's Festival," she said.

Asked about expectations for this year's Festival, Schembri maintained that there should be a feel-good atmosphere around it, creating human networks and partnerships with companies and entities who also want to invest in the Festival because of their shared values, ultimately serving as a performance space and a platform for expression and social commentary for artists.

The call for interactive installations and artistic content for the APS Summer Festival Main stage is open until 7th March 2022. Interested parties should apply via apsbank.com.mt/artistic-content

The APS Summer Festival is an outdoor event, which will be happening during the third and fourth weeks of July 2022. 


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