My morning reading today consisted of a thread on Facebook between Mario Vella, front man of the Maltese band Brikkuni and Martin Bonnici, local independent film producer at Shadeena Films. The thread was about the inaccessibility to independent local artists to use the newly inaugurated Pjazza Teatru Rjal in Valletta.
From what Mario said, it seems that place can be booked for €2000 a night but other costs, which also includes insuring the venue (which is valued at over 3 million euros) and security will inflate the bill to at least €4000. So how can a local artist, be it a band, a theater company or a literary performer ever dream of performing in an auditorium whose purpose, we were promised, was to promote and give a space to the local arts and culture scene?
Let’s do some simple arithmetic here. Malta’s population stands at around 410,000. Around 130,000 are under 15 and over 65 and would probably prefer other activities. That leaves a total of about 280,000 potential ‘customers’.
But here we are not talking about a Joseph Calleja or an Isle of MTV event which attracts thousands. These events which are considered to be huge only manage to attract around 20% of the population (Isle of MTV 2012), and these have a very good, well known brand, and they are free events with massive popular appeal and even bigger advertising.
There is a huge difference between these events and the smaller events, like Brikkuni’s, which attract niche audiences. But it is these small niche events that drive the underlying diversity in the arts and culture scene, and for which the Pjazza Teatru Rjal was intended to showcase.
Even with a well known, internationally respected niche performer such as the Kronos Quartet, who played at Pjazza Teatru Rjal as part of the 2013 Malta Arts Festival, the theater’s capacity (900 seats) wasn’t fully reached. So one starts to wonder; how can a local band attract enough people to make one of their performances financially viable?
For a band to break even with the quoted figure they would need to attract either;
800 people and sell tickets at €5 or
500 people and sell tickets at €8.
Those figures of course do not take into consideration any form of payment to the members of the band. There are no advertising or marketing costs included, no other fees such as a sound engineer etc.
The Kronos Quartet’s performance was charged at €25, and to me it was money well spent, but I doubt that I’d spend that kind of money to see a local band, no matter how good they are and no matter how much I would love to support the local scene. And I am sure I’m not the only one.
Clearly, something needs to be done to help local performers and artists. The government has already taken the first step by creating this space. But it is not enough. One way would be for the Pjazza Teatru Rjal Management to offer annual subscriptions of say €100 each which would entitle you to attend performances by local artists for free and those by international artists for a discounted price. This will in turn also encourage more people to attend events which they might normally pass up.
Pjazza Teatru Rjal is a beautiful space, and no matter how much ‘The Kitten from Malta’ jibes at it, it has a great potential for both local and international artistes, many of whom would also be attracted by the opportunity to perform in a space designed by Renzo Piano and enriched with all its history.