After the storm ‒ Let’s face the music and dance

The recent national arts awards Il-Premju għall-Arti recognised cultural and creative operators for their contributions to the arts. In this second article of the series, the The Sunday Times of Malta interviews more of the winners, this time those involved in music and dance. We find out how COVID-19 has impacted their work and what they see in store for the arts as a whole. 

The arts sector has had to quickly adapt to the new post-COVID reality and many producers have been hit hard. Government support measures have been an important financial safety net but may not ensure their survival.

Many producers have been hit hard

Arts Council Malta’s award winners were asked what it meant to be recognised for the quality of their work, how COVID-19 is affecting this work, and how the situation might impact the quality and range of artistic production in the sector as a whole.

Here’s what the winners involved in music and dance said.

Dr  Noel Camilleri

President of the Malta Band Clubs Association, winner in the category of Honour for Artistic Legacy

For the Malta Band Club Association, this prestigious award is a clear recognition of what the association has been doing to promote and safeguard not only the traditional Maltese festa, but all the positive things that the association and, as a direct consequence, its 89 members, do throughout the year.

Most importantly of all, this means the teaching of music, the safeguarding of other cultural traditions which are synonymous with our identity, and the traditional festas for which L-Għaqda Każini tal-Banda and its members are the main stakeholders.

The impact of COVID-19 has been immense. All band clubs had to close their doors, which meant all activities, both those related to band clubs, foremost of which their music schools, but also their fundraising activities, had to stop.

The fact that band clubs are closed means that a very important part of community life has stopped. This is a blow to our communities, especially when one considers that there will be no festa celebrations, which are in themselves not only religious but also a popular manifestation.

There is no doubt that these exceptional circumstances have had a serious impact on the quality and quantity of the artistic content [of the sector]. However, I have no doubt that true artists haven’t stopped creating, and this new normality will instil greater creativity, which will help the sector to go forward with strength.

However, there needs to be greater funding opportunities and collaborative projects for all involved in this particular sector, especially if we really want to have a cultural democratisation.

Dorian Mallia and Diane Portelli

Founder and artistic director and director of Moveo Dance Company, winner in the category of Best Creative Enterprise

Unfortunately, all the productions we had booked since March have been cancelled or postponed till the end of the season. This means the company has lost practically all its income overnight, and with seven full-timers on the payroll, this takes a heavy toll financially.  Besides, it is a time where we are unable to keep up our daily classes and workouts which are vital for the dancers to remain in shape. Everything has moved online, we have zoom sessions everyday, however, these are somewhat limiting due to bad flooring and limited space. We are also unable to create new work since as a company, our work includes lots of physical contact. We are, however, still trying to be creative.

We have launched a ‘Help Fund Us’ page where we are streaming past performances online from our website and are accepting donations. COVID has made us discuss new strategies for the upcoming season, but there is still a great sense of uncertainty, not knowing when theatres and festivals will resume operations.

We really hope that people won’t rush and start creating work out of fear of losing income, as this could have a detrimental effect on the quality of the art produced. We are definitely going to miss out on watching international artists perform locally due to restrictions on travel, however, we are now also privy to accessing hundreds of great productions online.

On the flip side, there are going to be many artists hungry to get back out there and showcase what they do best, so honestly it depends a lot on those who manage to survive this. We know many fellow artists who are risking having to find alternative jobs and giving up their practice in the arts, which is a real shame.

We have about seven performances which have currently been put on hold and we are hoping to revive them next season; however, in order to do that, we hope that audiences will be willing and able to attend theatres, as our strength lies in creating live performances.

Like everyone else we are having to discuss possibilities of shifting to dance on camera, however, we are hoping that this will only be a short-term fix, since creating dance for camera is a completely new mindset, which many artists don’t have the expertise to carry out. The truth is that nobody really knows what the post-COVID artistic scene will look like, all we can do is hope that we emerge stronger with new outlooks.

Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, winner in the Production of the Year categoryfor Music in Malta: From Prehistory to Vinyl Exhibition

For an organisation like Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti (FPM), which does its utmost to promote cultural heritage through the setting up of exhibitions, museums and publications, COVID-19 has certainly pushed us to revise our approach and outreach up to this point. It has forced us to look at measures that, although previously available, had not been fully considered ‒ the greater reliance on social media, on TV programmes, on online platforms and distance working.

In certain ways, it has pushed the ‘fast-forward’ button, and in a short amount of time, our small dedicated team had to divert all its practices online ‒ at times, with surprisingly encouraging results. However, the severe limitations of such arrangements heavily contest the positives that have emerged.

Patrimonju is essentially founded on human activity, connections, culture and history; it relies on collectors, on researchers, on benefactors and on the interest of the Maltese public. Patrimonju cannot fulfil its mission as an online entity. Indeed, without all these sectors of society working together and collaborating with us, there would be very little to sustain the activities of Patrimonju.  Any undertaking, of whatever scale ‒ be it personal to corporate ‒ that is built of or oriented towards the human person, will not be able to thrive healthily or at length without any kind of expression or space devoted to creativity and the arts.

The situation of COVID-19 has, if nothing else, brought out this inherent value in culture and the arts; they are the ‘teeth’ of the gears that drive our society forward.

Almost symbiotically, there can be very little progress and original, high-quality productions without the direct investment of private or public benefactors. The ability to research, coordinate, design and set up award-winning exhibitions or to produce high-standard publications, or to maintain the running of hotspot heritage sites (so dependent on the tourism industry), will not be possible, not without severe compromises at least.

This is when a pandemic like COVID-19 delivers its crippling blow to a non-profit organisation like FPM: when individuals limit their travels and expenses, and when enterprises are forced to direct their investments elsewhere, culture slowly starts to slip through our fingers.

Nominations for Premju għall-Arti 2021 are now open at www.premju.mt

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