The first session taking place on 25 February at 6pm CETJoint Up Thinking: Collective Learning through the Arts, will feature US/Ethiopian Booker Prize 2020 Shortlist Author Maaza Mengiste interact with Malaysian Festival Director Joe Sidek while reacting to clips featuring insights from Maltese cultural practitioners Glen Calleja and Raffaella Zammit produced by architect and project manager Elyse Tonna.

They will address the past, present and possible future challenges of our current distanced relationships and the way difficulties have been faced, lessons learnt and innovative projects and collaborations developed. The growing relevance of cultural expression to social and political changes particularly in Europe, the US, Africa and Asia will be counterpointed by an awareness of the struggles that professionals and practitioners still face in defining themselves and their work in shifting times. 

The general audience will be able to contribute to this 60-minute webinar session by joining through this link and send comments and questions during the live chat section.



Maaza Mengiste
Maaza Mengiste is a novelist and essayist. She is the author of the novel, The Shadow King, which is shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, and was a 2020 LA Times Book Prize Fiction finalist. It was named best book of the year by the New York Times, NPR, Elle, Time, and more. The Shadow King is now available in paperback and was called “a brilliant novel…compulsively readable” by Salman Rushdie.

Her debut novel, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, was selected by The Guardian as one of the 10 best contemporary African books and named one of the best books of 2010 by Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and other publications.

She is the recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, the Premio il ponte, and fellowships from the Fulbright Scholar Program, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Creative Capital. Her work can be found in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Granta, The Guardian, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and BBC, among other places.

Photo credit: Nina Subin. 

Joe Sidek
Best known as director of the George Town Festival (GTF) 2010-2018, Joe Sidek has established himself as one of Malaysia’s strong advocates for the arts. GTF is an annual month-long festival that turns the town into a brilliant canvas for local and international performances, visual arts, culture and community-infused activities.

Before taking up the position of festival director, Joe Sidek played major roles in various forms of art expression - from event management, art curatorship, restaurant ownership and even costume design. A lesser known fact about Mr Sidek is that he still runs his family-owned textile chemical factory. With his industrialist background, entrepreneurial nature and his visionary passion for the arts, it is no surprise that 8 years after his appointment as Festival Director of GTF in 2010, the festival has grown incrementally ever since.

Joe also directed the 3rd Rainforest Fringe Festival Kuching, which he founded 3 years ago. He has also helmed the Butterworth Fringe Festival for 3 years (2015-2017) and earlier in 2014, he brought Tropfest, the world’s largest short film festival to Southeast Asia and showcased the inaugural Tropfest South East Asia in Penang.

Over the years, he has been invited to speak regionally and in cities like Brisbane, Taipei, Seoul, New York, Salzburg, Adelaide, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and many more, about his role in the creation and continued growth of GTF. He sits on the Industry Advisory Panel of the federal government's CENDANA (Cultural Economy Development Agency), and is the 2020 - 2022 chairman of the Federation for Asian Cultural Promotion (FACP).


Elyse Tonna

Elyse Tonna is a design architect and a curator with a background in Cultural Heritage Management. Her curatorial practice is primarily related to contemporary art practice and socially-engaged projects. She is an Administrative Board Member of ACT, focusing on Arts in Public Spaces. In 2020, she was appointed the Curator and Co-Creative Director of the Gabriel Caruana Foundation, a member of the Board of Governors of Ambjent Malta and a member of the Visual Arts Sub-Committee within the Malta Entertainment and Arts Association (MEIA).

Tonna is a Fellow of the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators (2017) and a UNESCO European Young Heritage Professional (2019). She is greatly interested in cultural policy and strategy. Between 2014-2019 she was a Committee Member of the Malta Society of Arts and its Arts Advisory Board.

Glen Calleja 

Creative entrepreneur, book artist and writer. Founder and managing director of Kotba Calleja, a small bindery specialising in small edition handmade paper and book products, and co-founder and director at Solid Eye Ltd. a CGI studio. Since 2017, Calleja is also the co-founder of Studio Solipsis, a cultural venue in Rabat and am also co-founder and president of Fondazzjoni HELA which advocates for the Maltese literary sector. Over the past 20 years, Calleja has published a number of poetry books. He now operates from a studio in Rabat, Malta.


Raffaella Zammit

Raffaella Zammit is interested in creative research practices that weave environmental issues and community involvement for cultural change. She has developed and participated in a number of projects including Nimxu Mixja, ħożż il-ħsejjes, Kreaturi, Fluid Space, the Tree Council, developed together with different collaborators. In 2020 together with her collaborators of Nimxu Mixja she has been awarded the Premju Għall-Arti Best Project in the Community Category. Zammit holds a degree in Geography (Melit) and an MSc in Countryside Conservation and Management (UWE).

She is the Executive Director of the Gabriel Caruana Foundation, with extensive experience in the planning and environmental sectors as well as cultural sector. She is the Co-Creative Director and Programme Manager of the Gabriel Caruana Foundation.

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