Mario Frendo, Artistic Director of the Malta Arts Festival, talks about about his vision for the festival.
This is the fifth edition of the Malta Arts Festival. If you had to celebrate that anniversary, what would you give as a gift… wood? That’s good for me. It reminds me of a stage, theatre, a musical instrument, something that matures with time, care and attention.
There’s a quiet evolution in the Festival. It was started up by artists, by musicians, performers, creatives. There was always a great ‘can-do’ attitude, from the early days of music events at University to the Bir Miftuh festival that was curated by Davinia Galea, now CEO at the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts. I don’t think we’ve lost that spirit, over the five years that we’ve been going.
Context and location are essential. My attention is not just on selecting an eclectic mix of world-class performers, but also to match the event with the right location and celebrate the Malta context – our baroque cities, our spaces, our streets, the waterfront. You cannot divorce the performance from the location. I’m not the first to say that Malta is an open-air theatre – it’s something we keep hearing from the performers who have graced the Festival, over the past five years . Rather than treating this as a cliche’, it’s something that we should celebrate. We really have a unique setting for an arts festival in Malta.
Being creative often means that you have to do something with little or no money. If you want to secure funding, you first need to have a great project and then seek out the right partners who recognise that culture adds value to their brand and their business model.
We have always gone for top artists. By that, I mean performers who are masters of their craft, but also, sometimes, at the cutting edge. The boundaries between nationality and various forms of art are blurring all the time. The Festival has to mirror that. The programme includes the traditional with the contemporary, seventeen activities and 250 artists, the majority of whom are Maltese, often performing with international counterparts. And historic venues opened up to new art forms, and new visitors.
In the arts, if you are not prepared to risk, you should really do something else. If you copy, imitate and repeat, you just fail. Every year, with the Festival, we move the bar one further notch higher. We present a mix of standards with lesser-known works. There is nothing which is popular in itself – it gets popular by being consumed and then then it becomes accessible. At the Malta Arts Festival, it is our job to open up new windows beyond the popular and the readily-accessible.
This festival is about identity. Malta is a young state. Government’s investment and support in the arts extends beyond the financial and the logistics. As an island, we need to remain connected with all that is vibrant and artistic beyond our boundaries. The festival is international because we want to set the standards for a great Euro-Med festival, and we present Maltese art within this Euro-Med dimension. We are already at a stage where works are being commissioned specifically for the festival. We are working to create something durable and sustainable.
Art remains in people’s memory banks. That’s how the Festival lives, from one year to the next. What remains is what someone gives and another receives. It is not transmitting messages, it is not journalism. It is about sharing experiences. We are really looking forward to some great performances at the Festival, this year.