Graffiti in Valletta – is this Art or Vandalism?

picture taken by Michelle Buhagiar

picture taken by Michelle Buhagiar

This morning graffiti have been painted on the still-to-be-finished grand Valletta entrance. Seeing the picture on Facebook I thought it looked good and not having read what it was about I had this impression that this wasn’t Malta.

From that first glance I thought it was a minimalist art installation in some foreign capital. I mentally bookmarked and continued scrolling on my merry way until I saw the news item crop up on The Times that is.

I curiously clicked the link and the news item was all about this ‘vandal’ who defaced the Valletta entrance way. And then the dilemma struck me. Is this Art or Vandalism?

The picture taken of the graffiti is beautiful (kudos to the photographer, whom I understand is very much against the graffiti) which makes it very hard to condone as wrong. But aside from the aesthetic qualities, this raises some questions;

Was this simple self expression or was the artist trying to make a statement?

After all this happened only a few days after the issue of Pjazza Teatru Rjal and its inaccessibility to artists, even when this space was promised to be the people’s theater. Was the artist trying to address the lack of space for arts and culture in Malta? Needless to say the location of the graffiti is very apt, considering Valletta is meant to be the European Capital of Culture in 2018 and yet we still do not have a museum of modern art or any decent space for smaller artists and performers to meet, organise exhibitions, collaborate, etc.

Looking at the photo it is immediately noticeable that these aren’t the usual thug, half arsed graffiti. There is heart and thought behind it. What is depicted is a positive image, an image of love. It’s minimalist in nature and from the view of this photo it almost compliments Renzo Piano’s vision.

The more I look at the photo the more thorn I feel inside. I understand that it IS wrong for graffiti to be painted on newly finished works. The Valletta entrance already has a vision and unfortunately outside art installations such as this one aren’t part of it. But this painting does raise a lot of questions, and ones which need to be addressed quickly. In a capital city which is dead in the middle of the night and is meant to play such an important role in 2018 there is a lot to be done, and extra carnivals and festi will simply not do.

So here I am, more confused than when I started writing this; is this art or vandalism? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments section below.

Pjazza Teatru Rjal; an unkept promise?

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?

Pjazza Teatru Rjal

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.