The Malta Independent 30 November 2022, Wednesday
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Unravelling the arts deficit

Noel Grima Sunday, 20 November 2022, 07:29 Last update: about 11 days ago

In future times when people will get to analyse our time they will most probably conclude that this has not been a good time for the spread of the arts in our country.

There is a lack of the necessary infrastructure to begin with but more than that there is a clear over-involvement by the State in such a way that it stifles private initiative, which is the basis of a real flourishing arts scene.

I can give numerous examples of this and readers may add more from their own perspective.

Take our very small cinema production, for instance. The government has announced that it is spending €1,200,000 to bring over Joaquin Phoenix to take part in the movie Napoleon that will be shot in Malta. This might be acceptable to attract high quality actors to raise the profile of cinema production in Malta, even though there are other factors that determine the success or otherwise of the film.

But what is certainly not right is that the same government has been starving the vernacular production of movies by local producers of badly needed funds.

Better and more understandable examples can be derived from the mass entertainment sector which is gobbling up higher State funds based on this government’s predilection for the Warda Kanta template and Eurovision spinoffs. There is also the accompanying scandal of so many calls for offers being based on direct orders rather than normal calls for expression of interest and a proper qualification process, a clear indication of rush and panic, if not worse.

And the repeated cases of people and companies being chosen for such jobs with what looks like back-to-back agreements to participate in the Labour Party mass events – two for the price of one, so to speak.

One day someone somewhere will sit down and tot up the funds that have flowed from the State to such “entrepreneurs”.  And we could possibly speculate what these funds could do if employed differently.

This close relationship between the government and operators in the sector is not healthy. Government should stay at arm’s length from the operators and should ensure a level playing field for all rather than turning the country into an enlarged version of Super One TV.

Such a close relationship breeds trouble, such as we have been seeing at the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Manoel Theatre. Appointments on partisan merits promote the wrong choice and incapable persons. Both the orchestra and the national theatre deserve better, far better.

And speaking of this sector of the Arts we cannot not point out this country is still without a proper concert hall while the project to roof over the old Royal Opera House seems to have been forgotten let alone any dreams of resurrecting Barry’s masterpiece. I thought this would be a project most Maltese would agree with.

And speaking of missing buildings one asks what has happened to the plans for a Museum of Contemporary Art to showcase the vibrant sector. The only initiative in this area seems to open up any open space and turn it into a cafeteria. Maybe that’s why Malta seems to have been frozen out of the international circuits of traveling exhibitions – there is simply no interest (translated as “no money to be made”). It’s the people who have lost out for not all can afford to tour the museums of Europe.

Despite all this, the individual artists in most of the Arts sector remain alive and thriving despite seeing all the funds going elsewhere. To them go all our encouragement and support.

It would have been easy to personalise all the above and blame it all on Owen but I refuse to do so. Owen Bonnici has his own faults but it’s the whole system that is terminally sick. It will not be solved by a change of the man at the top. It needs a top to bottom revolution.

 

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