Published on Tuesday 23 May 2023

Francesco Grech and Rachelle Deguara were the two participants funded by ACM to participate in this year’s Salzburg Global Seminar

Earlier this year, two Maltese artists had the opportunity to take part in the Salzburg Global Seminar, an opportunity spearheaded by the internationalisation pillar that forms part of Arts Council Malta’s  (ACM) Strategy2025.

Every year ACM, together with Salzburg Global Forum, issues an open call for Maltese young cultural innovators to participate in the Salzburg Global Forum in Austria and funds the participation of two local artists/creative practitioners. This year, Francesco Grech and Rachelle Deguara were awarded the call to take part in the event, themed On the Front Line: Artists at Risk, Artists who Risk.

Salzburg Global Seminar is an international non-profit that challenges current and future leaders to shape a better world. Each year Salzburg Global convenes around 25 strategic residential sessions, involving 40 to 60 participants, addressing issues in fields ranging from health leadership to corporate governance, from educational reform to the role of the arts. Over 36,000 Fellows from more than 170 countries have come together through its work, with many rising to senior leadership positions.

This year’s event provided a supportive, cross-sectoral space for artists and their allies to exchange experiences and adaptable practices, share hard lessons learned, be mutually inspired to strengthen, and extend their artistic voices in an era of fundamental threats, and be empowered to take individual and collective action.

Themes under discussion included issues of where, why, and how the rights of cultural and artistic expression are abused; how we can decolonize the concepts of art, an artist, and artistic freedom, and allow them to grow and evolve with the era that we are in; and what can be done, and by whom, to protect and defend artists and their supporters from real and virtual attacks.

Participants discussed how artists, activists and allies can work together to address existential threats and support each other, as well as the role of new technologies and intra-sectoral initiatives in helping create equity and action instead of guilt and reaction.

Conversation, understanding and action

Asked about his experience at the summit, Francesco explained that it was based on three words - conversation, understanding and action, adding that while this may sound like an obvious course of action in reality it was one that needed more collaborative work for the betterment of the community.

“What was really interesting about the seminar was the process. Most of us did not know each other beforehand so everyone started telling their stories but soon after you start trusting people because you know their story. You know what they stand for. And, although some of the artists endured life-long trauma, the beautiful thing was that they were still in it for the good of the community,” Francesco said.

During the seminar, Francesco and Rachelle debated how this approach can be applied to Malta, agreeing that it was vital for local artists to share their stories in order to gain better understanding of each other.

“The wonderful thing about this is that all of us have stories. We are a story. So, let’s tell our story and let’s understand each other’s story.  Stories represent the good and the bad. The ugly and the beautiful. It is what makes us real and powerful. Stories help us remove ourselves from our own bubble and remind us of the impact we have as individuals and organisations on the totality of society. They represent the oldest form of art and the most contemporary form of art. We all have a story inside us longing to be told,” the artists elaborated.

The aim behind Malta’s participation in the seminar is to instigate positive action that helps improve both the lives of the artists themselves and the Maltese public in general. The funding of Maltese artists to make such participation possible forms part of ACM’s guiding principles in respect of internationalisation, driven by the strategic goal that an international outlook is a prerequisite for professionalisation and further growth in today’s globalised world. Strategy2025 strives to see Malta’s cultural and creative practitioners becoming increasingly engaged in international exchanges and co-productions in the coming years.

Paving the way for international collaborations

Given our geographical context, ACM recognises that forming and maintaining international connections is fundamental for Malta’s cultural and creative sectors to flourish. Initiatives like participation in the Salzburg Global Seminar pave the way for young artists to pursue long-term sectoral development via new opportunities for international collaboration and exchange, as ACM continues the drive to empower Malta’s cultural and creative practitioners in becoming increasingly engaged in international exchanges in the coming years.