In its comments sent to Business Today, The Malta Council for Culture and Arts (MCCA) expressed its satisfaction with the ‘top quality programme’ presented at this year’s Malta Jazz Festival, held throughout last weekend at Ta’ Liesse after a three-year break.
“Key jazz journalists from some of the foremost Jazz magazines in Europe commented on the high level of the artistes invited to this edition of the festival,” said MCCA Executive Director Davinia Galea. “Also, the ‘back to the roots’ approach taken by artistic director Sandro Zerafa and the MCCA as organisers, proved to be a great success.”
In his replies to questions posed by this newspaper last February, MCCA Chairman Adrian Mamo had said he would “be happy with an attendance of 2,000” this year. It turns out that his expectations were exceeded as the event attracted more than 3,000 people over the three nights.
On her part, Galea did not enter into specifics on whether the event managed to make a profit, or how much money the government put into the organisation of the event. Instead she said that in the world of arts, “it is not a matter of financial profit but one of cultural profit.
“A government subsidy here does not mean a loss but an investment in arts and culture, with a resounding audience satisfaction which was evident last week.
“The question we need to ask is do we want a jazz festival? Does Malta want an arts festival? Does Malta want quality events at St James Cavalier or the Manoel Theatre? If so, then government needs to subsidise in the way it does for health and education.”
Galea said government subsidy is important in order to adopt “a long term vision that might eventually see a financial return, even with the Jazz Festival. This will come about with a professional arts management vision and an appropriate investment in marketing the Malta Jazz Festival both locally and overseas.”
GRTU Hospitality and Leisure President Philip Fenech, himself a director on the Malta Tourism Authority’s main board had last February said that the Jazz Festival has the potential to attract as much as 8,000 people.
He said he was worried about the fact that the event will be organised by the MCCA since the council “will be looking at the event from a cultural perspective.”
“This is why the council needs to join forces with the MTA,” he had said. “We need to consider the festival as an end product to be able to offer it to the international market. Our main challenge would therefore be to promote the jazz festival on the international jazz circuit, as is done with other festivals like the Montreaux Jazz or the Umbria Jazz.
“The product can be offered to local tour operators. These will create a three day stay where the tourist comes to see the jazz festival, while is also introduced to other cultural events and historical sites on the island.”
Fenech, who also runs a jazz bar in Paceville, had told this newspaper that he had not applied for the post of Jazz Festival artistic director given to Sandro Zerafa, but he had offered the council his assistance.
But Fenech’s idea to augment the festival’s attendance to such high proportions in such a short time was not welcomed by the MCCA Chairman at that time.
“We’re not looking at anything of the sort. In the past two years, the aim of the organisers was to attract a larger audience – but this necessitated the watering down of the jazz element,” Mamo had said – referring to the former Culture Minister’s idea to farm out the organisation of the festival to organisers NnG, with the intention of making the event profitable.
NnG’s strategy to include rock line ups had irritated jazz enthusiasts up to a point where the event as it was once known was considered defunct.
“In the council’s opinion the festival had been commercialised to the extent that it had lost its flavour and appeal,” Mamo had claimed.
This year, Galea believes that the event has helped the tourism industry in more ways than one.
“This was a start at reviving an event that should become a yearly attraction on the island,” she said. “Any country that respects cultural exchange boasts of at least one Jazz festival of note. Important Jazz Festivals are to be found in Morocco, Italy, Cyprus, Turkey and France, and each adds to the attraction of the particular country. In staging the 2009 Malta Jazz Festival, the MCCA aimed to place Malta once more as part of a prestigious world circuit of Jazz events. More collaboration is intended with the Malta Tourism Authority to promote the Festival as one of Malta’s important cultural events. We feel that we have proved that this can be done.”
But Fenech, while admitting that “this jazz festival was very encouraging both in terms of musicianship as well as in following”, still insists that the event “can grow much more”.
“The event has to be seen as value added to our country and has to be looked at from an economic point of view,” he said.
“It is important that we get it on the international jazz circuit for it to build the reputation it was heading to before it stopped three years ago,” he added.
“My dream is to sell the jazz festival as a package to jazz aficionados, so that they can come here purposely for the concert – like in Umbria or Montreaux but on a smaller scale.”
Galea does not disagree with Fenech on the potential of the event.
“The Malta Jazz Festival has the potential of gaining a reputation internationally as an important cultural event and an attraction for tourists in general, but especially Jazz lovers,” she said. “We need to nurture this using a strategy of arts marketing both locally and internationally, in order to put the festival on the international jazz circuit. This year we had an integrated marketing plan which concentrated on internet marketing with a special focus on social media, but of course this also needs time to develop.”
Zerafa in fact, bombarded social networking site Facebook with countless updates leading to the event.
“We believe that this way of marketing does indeed deliver what it promises,” Galea said. “Also we see the need to offer a more complete Jazz experience to visitors, with the inclusion of more jazz workshops and the organisation of a complete ‘Jazz Trip’ which will be advertised abroad.”