These, to me, are facts and a good context to start this blog. Are you an artist, are you a creative? The definition of that can be whatever you want. However, whatever that decision is, it needs someone to experience your expression, or your art. For your art to make a difference in one way or another, be it hated, be it loved - it needs a spectator, it needs someone else. So, today, arts should really be at the heart of our communities, no?
Are they? Whilst there has been a rise in artists working in communities, I think we do not have nearly enough of such instances. There is huge potential, but I believe artists are immediately looking for centralized public spaces and safer projects. We are using the same old models.
I believe artists could, not only test their art in their communities before they go out to central institutions, but also create quality work for their communities. The better artists, who want to work with larger resources, can then either move on to perform or participate in the central institutions; or even just decide to keep making a difference in their communities because they have an audience to sustain them. This is not an age issue, or a status issue. Henri Rousseau was a Sunday painter who became a full-time artist at 49. It does not even make a difference whether you are professional or amateur. We need to professionalise the sector, but not at the expense of losing touch with the communities. Today, not only in Malta, many amateur artists are doing work at a professional level. In policy and strategy, locally we have constantly tried to polarize the amateur from the professional. However, this is not true for the island, where some of our best musicians, visual artists, and actors, have an amateur status but are professional on a quality level.
The point is another one. Is there an issue in the community? Why isn’t an artist making art about it with the community? Do artists know their communities anymore? Do communities know their artists? Why are our creative graduates and upcoming artists immediately looking at centralised, national cultural venues but have no idea who the people in their local council are? How many artists are commissioned by their local council?
One can quote the problem with space; but do we fund-raise to fix our village theatres and arts spaces? Or do we only fund-raise for our planċieri? How do we fund-raise? A simple carwash? Or should we have our creatives come up with some out of this world participatory session? Arts Council has funding in place for spaces, but we cannot start by pressing the central funding button immediately, that should come once there is a plan, a lobby, once there is clear potential. Our community spaces need to become relevant again for them to be refurbished in the correct manner. The days of Giuseppe Cali or Emvin Cremona colouring or designing village theatres seem to be over.
But it’s not just about theatres, in the days of the internet and blockchain; why are our meeting places in our societies still modelled in the same ways? Are our każini used for creative meet-ups or just for the odd beer? When will our każini re-invent their use in society, making sure their youngsters have reasons to meet up there, rather than stay at home behind the social media mask?
Is it such a radical question to ask why are our local clubs still ”soċjetajiet mużikali”? Why are they not soċjetajiet artistiċi and present exhibitions, performance art, circus arts and more? I, for one, believe that each Band Club should have an Artistic Director along with the traditional Surmast. Besides the religious element; festas and social clubs have a far deeper role in our society. As do local councils on a governance level, yet last I checked there were no artistic directors collaborating there. There are funding opportunities for support for such collaborations, but I find that many a time, we miss the wood for the trees and end up with just another concert, or just another production instead of a long-term vision or collaboration.
Maybe we need to produce less, and think more. Community Art is not just about more accessible projects or arts therapy, it is also about great artists working towards improving the wellbeing of their community. Audience development in local central institutions is a challenging situation, whether we like it, or not. Improving arts in the community would challenge the autonomy of the cultural institutions in such a way that it would empower them to be better. The centre can only be stronger than its periphery. If the periphery is strong, the central institutions are bound to be stronger.
Community Art needs this comeback.