The sun may have set on the Maltese ‘village’ which inhabited the Georgian-era quadrangle of Somerset House for a month during the London Design Biennale but Malta’s art scene is still basking in the golden glow of a successful expression of all that Arts Council Malta’s internationalisation strategy spells out: collaboration.
Despite this being Malta’s first time participating in the London Design Biennale, the Maltese installation garnered a plethora of positive international media coverage not least thanks to the prime location it occupied and its innovative design fusing art, architecture, and sustainable design to re-imagine the traditional Maltese ‘village’. Reflecting the Biennale’s theme of collaboration, Urban Fabric was produced by the collective Open Square consisting of four professional artists and enhanced by performances by ŻfinMalta and KorMalta as well as original Maltese poetry and texts.
And after it’s all packed away, the village’s eco-friendly components will have a second life as a new installation in one of the streets in Valletta next year in a collaborative project with the Valletta Design Cluster following a series of workshops with the artistic community.
This was the latest project commissioned by Arts Council Malta in its effort to give Maltese and Malta-based artists access to a global platform to exhibit their works, strengthen international cultural and creative connections by building trust and understanding through diverse artistic and cultural expressions. It is also a form of nation branding, of course, contributing to sustainable tourism and diplomatic relations, although it goes far deeper than that.
Building trust and understanding through culture is the key guiding principle for ACM’s internationalisation strategy as reflected by the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) of which it is a member. “We don’t work in isolation, we want to work internationally together as one world,” explains ACM’s Internationalisation Executive Romina Delia. “Each national country is trying to wave their flag but we’re really moving towards building relationships.”
“We try to be connected to the rest of the world as much as possible, not just within the EU, and when we participate in international events, we make sure we collaborate with local partners too,” she continues. “What better way to work with culture? You’re going to spend time together through culture. This is what the strategy is built on – the values of trust, understanding and getting to know each other better, to get to know who we are as Maltese, understand the rest of the world and make the world a better place.”
ACM has worked on several initiatives through the EUNIC networks and is currently working together with the local branch to organise a film festival at Spazju Kreattiv during Europride in September. This collaboration with EUNIC has already reaped “a lot of positive results” as Romina recalled how Malta, working together with eight other EU cultural institutes forming EUNIC New York’s project Eco Solidarity, had won the ICFF Editors’ Award for Best Design Booth in New York last year with a project called SORĠI by Malta-based architect and designer Anna Horváth.
Contemporary performing artists can benefit through ACM’s membership of IETM, one of the oldest and largest international networks of its kind, giving them opportunities to participate in initiatives, workshops, and meetings with other international artists. Moreover, every year two Maltese artists are invited to participate in the cultural programme of the Salzburg Global Seminar for young cultural innovators.
ACM is constantly working on updating and improving its funding programmes for international cultural exchange schemes covering expenses for the participation of Maltese artists in international festivals, conferences, courses, residencies, job shadowing and even assistance with setting up a good marketing website or audio-visuals to help artists promote their work abroad. “All our funding programmes are open for development,” points out Romina.
Of course, the biggest international event of all, the ‘Olympics of the art world’, is the Venice Biennale in which Malta has been participating for the past seven years occupying another prime location at the Arsenale. Applications for a curatorial team for Malta’s representation at the 2024 edition closed in May. Arts Council Malta opened up the applications process as an international competition as long as Maltese artists were included in the team. “The results were stupendous,” Romina says. “It is not an easy journey. Malta is very limited from a financial and human resources perspective when it comes to competing against other big countries, but we are very proud of all the teams that have participated in the past editions because they created magic.”
International collaboration was always a strong focal point in all the Venice Biennale curatorial teams with a mix of Maltese and foreign artists inspiring each other and sharing knowledge off each other in a happy if complex mix of cultures, a melange that can ultimately produce “some wonderful results”.
Why is all this so important? “If we want to be known out there, if want to be understood and if we want to create trust through culture, there is a lot we can do,” says Romina. “It’s always a rollercoaster ride until you figure out other people’s cultural background. It’s a journey. Trust doesn’t happen in a day. It takes time to build that trust.”
Even with its strategy to raise the status of the artist through its international networks and funding programmes, ACM acknowledges the multiple challenges artists face to forge a career with a stable income. Malta is a small island, and we give artists the opportunity to network abroad and that opens doors. In this respect, ACM looks forward to work much more with countries in the Mediterranean while continuing to build on its past achievements and lobby for more funding for the arts. The strategic plan is to grow bigger and stronger with regards to internationalisation on a global scale.