After over a year since it closed its doors due to the pandemic, Valletta Contemporary (VC) is set to reopen its doors. ARTZ ID spoke with founder and artistic director Norbert Francis Attard about what the past year has been like and what to expect from the gallery over the next months.
What has the past year been like for VC? Can you share with us any of the challenges and planning that went into reopening the gallery?
Last year, Valletta Contemporary (VC) started with its third exhibition program on 28th February 2020 with the project titled VC Community Month consisting of a string of educational events and a kind of retrospective exhibition called UP TO NOW with works by artists who had shown their work at VC in 2018 and 2019, together with a second exhibition, VC EDITIONS, consisting of editions of art works by local and international artists which are commissioned by VC. Apart from the two exhibits, we also planned a series of workshops, talks, video screenings, walktroughs and including a book launch of our annual publication VC002. Unfortunately, VC Community Month was disrupted mid-way as on 13th March 2020 the gallery closed down due to the lockdown caused by Covid-19.
When the Covid-19 pandemic was officially announced, I realised that this was not going to disappear any time soon, so I had no choice but to postpone or completely cancel all our future projects and exhibitions. Immediate action was taken to shut down and one month into the pandemic it made sense to terminate the employment of my staff. We hoped to continue after the summer months but the pandemic continued to pursue in full force. There was nothing one can do but to wait until the day when the circumstances became more clear. By October, everyone including myself, was tired of the pandemic so towards the last quarter of the year 2020, I took a decision to re-open sometime in the second quarter of 2021. I thought that this would be enough time for the situation to become more stable. During the last few months I have dedicated much time to planning a new exhibition program for 2021. As the pandemic is still not quite over yet, and we are now only a few weeks prior to the re-opening I am not quite sure what could still happen even though everything is planned to re-open on the 30th April 2021.
What do the next months look like for the gallery? What can we expect from VC?
As Founder and Artistic Director of VC, there were a number of decisions that I had to take to make things happen again. Firstly, I decided to open the gallery only for 3 days instead of 5 days and secondly to start operating with a skelton staff because our financial situation required this approach. I also decided not to have an education program and no corporate events for this year. In any case, even if I wanted to include these, it would not have been possible because of the covid restrictions which still exist today. One important decision I had to take, in order to avoid not having future cancellations or postponments, was to devise this years exhibition program to consist and involve only Maltese artists and international artists who are based in Malta. Two of the participating artists who will be having a personal show this year will also involve a few works by international artists.
VC was used to having not only a diverse program in terms of different disciplines but every year exhibiting well established, mid-career and emerging international artists together with a number of Maltese artists, thus creating a balance which I am always wanting to establish. Of course, and this is very unfortunate, we will not be achieving this same balance this year. Unfortunately too, that we will not have the diversity of exhibitions we had been used to, partly because the covid-19 situation does not permit this but also partly because of the financial support which we desperately need.
What do you look most forward to in the gallery’s future?
My personal vision is still very much intact (save a few more new ideas) so eventually I am still hoping that Valletta Contemporary will continue were it left off a year ago. Covid-19 was a definite set-back for the gallery by loosing its momentum, but it also was a blessing because it gave me time to realise my personal things that were shelved for so many years. Mostly, it was a great opportunity that during the last twelve months I had time to think and reflect about my priorities and how to proceed and develop with more caution regarding the gallery. In the meantime, I revised and updated the Statute of the Foundation which runs the gallery, adding a few more Administrators, to make sure that VC will continue well into the future. Also, I have had time to reflect by becoming more aware of how to achieve the gallery’s sustainibility which remains fundamental and its greatest challenge.
I am hoping that in 2022, next year’s exhibition program, will reflect more of the vision which I set out to have from the beginning. I can only achieve this when I develop a larger team and when there is enough financial support, especially from the private sector. In the future, we are planning some interesting exhibitions of high profile international artists but this depends also on the travel restrictions and the covid-19 situation in general. I am very optimistic, and one way or another, Valletta Contemporary will continue its journey for the benefit of the artists we support and believe in, but also for the community which we continue to serve.