From TV Show to Contemporary Art Gallery: Through the People’s Lens (Valletta, Malta)
Fondazzjoni Kreattività is an institution born with the task of managing the premises of the St James Cavalier fort, in Valletta (Malta), after this was allocated as a space for the Malta’s National Centre for Creativity. Therefore, the link between the activities carried out from the organisation and its own premises is really strong. When the global pandemic hit, these boundaries had to be broken and overcome, due to the forced closure. The exhibition Through the People’s Lens: A Quarantine Diary is an example of how Spazju Kreattiv (the name of the programme managed and curated by Fondazzjoni Kreattività) reacted to this new reality and how the institution reacted to this challenge trying to reach a community broader than its usual audience, using digital channels and mainstream broadcasting.
Spazju Kreattiv is a programme of creative arts and culture events that take place primarily across Malta and Gozo, managed by Fondazzjoni Kreattività. It hosts a range of exhibition spaces, the only art cinema in Malta, a small theater. Fondazzjoni Kreattività also offers an artist in residence programme, and operates a number of festivals, including ŻiguŻajg, a successful art festival dedicated to youths.
Their headquarter since the year 2000, is based in St James Cavalier, Valletta. A 16th century fort converted into the National Centre for Creativity. The building was planned by one of the foremost architects of the time, Francesco Laparelli da Cortona, but the task of building it was left to the Maltese military engineer and architect, Gerolamo Cassar. Its original function was to serve simply as a raised gun-platform, for a possible defense from a new attack of the Ottomans, which never happened. From the Maltese British colonial age to our days, through World War II the building covered different functions:
- Social space for the military forces
- Storage for supplies
- Government Printing Press
Within the remit of the Millenium Project (which changed the entrance to Valletta and the areas in the immediate vicinity), the spaces were re-converted by the architect Dr Richard England, to finally become Malta’s National Centre for Creativity, now known as the Spazju Kreattiv.
As in most parts of the World, due to the global health crisis, by mid-March 2020, most of the cultural institutions across Malta had been indefinitely closed. Planned programmes, performances, exhibitions, screenings, events and projects had to be cancelled or postponed indefinitely. This affected profoundly not only many artists but also the many arts lovers.
The Spazju Kreattiv premises of St James Cavalier were closed as well. Although, to keep the momentum going, they provided alternative services and focused completely on their digital platforms. This meant to maintain activities, although with minimal resources, while also focussing on creating awareness of different creative works inspired by the global health crises.
On the 8th of May 2020, Spazju Kreattiv launched a quarantine virtual gallery titled Mil-Lenti tal-Poplu: Djarju tal-Kwarantina – Through the People’s Lens: A Quarantine Diary. The call invited anyone from the community to share their experience with a maximum of two images, including a short description to explain and express themselves, showing the reasoning behind the submission.
For this occasion the foundation has partnered up with Illum ma’ Steph a generalistic TV Show on a national broadcast, which is definitely not targeted to the common contemporary art’s aficionados.
This highlights the goal of reaching a public which is more inclusive and broadens the scope to the entire community, rather than targeting the usual patrons. The hashtag #BringingCreativityHome was launched and then used for all their initiatives behind closed doors in Covid times. Entries were admitted until the 16th of June 2020, and some of them were shared on their media platforms while the call was still active.
Seventy Participants and 140 entries were recorded at the end of the initiative, which was transformed into an online gallery strongly promoted on the Spazju Kreattiv’s social media.
The works collected have been further re-used, and positively exploited as on the 14th of January 2021, a selections of the submissions became part of a fully curated selection in the Space B of Spazju Kreattiv, within the exhibition Mil-Lenti tal-Poplu: Djarju tal-Kwarantina – Through the People’s Lens: A Quarantine Diary (same name as the original initiative), while at the same time keeping online the virtual gallery.
Spazju Kreattiv itself declares that any activity carried out during their closure to the public, has been developed with minimal resources. This must necessarily be the case, in order to be sustainable and have a low financial impact while no patrons are allowed to the premises of an institution strictly bounded live performances and exhibitions. Most of the efforts were channeled towards involving a broad audience, hence on their social media platform and with a new and different PR campaign, involving a TV show which is targeted to the general public and not necessarily to art’s lovers.
The idea of transforming an online community initiative into a real-life curated exhibition, further exploiting and promoting the content created, after almost one year (when this was possible and coherent with restrictions in place). Taking into account that the content exhibited was created by non-professionals and submitted through an open and informal call to applications, makes the exhibition even more interesting, as it gives a new perspective and dignity to works from common people, set in a professional art’s environment for the benefit of the public.
Contemporary art spaces often suffer the so-called echo-chamber effect and struggle to reach the general public. The effort put forth by Fondazzjoni Kreattività during Covid times, when the sense of community assumed new meanings, is remarkable and worthy of consideration.