The unexplored potential of the art’s industry in Malta

Photo credit: Mia Sarah

Last Updated on Thursday, 7 January, 2021 at 3:01 pm by Andre Camilleri

Maria Galea, Creative Entrepreneur and Visual Arts Chairperson at MEIA , Founder of ARTZ ID

The international visual arts market has blossomed into a global economy in the past generation, through auction sales, high-end contemporary galleries and international art fairs. A marketplace that attracts big money, competing with stocks, bonds, real estate and precious metal. A market- place of buyers and sellers trading services, articles and works of art; it was valued at over $67 billion in 2018, up from almost $64 billion the previous year. When looking at different regions, North America held the highest share of the global art market, with Europe placing second.

International auction houses and high-end contemporary galleries has been attracting significant investments from the rich elites. The affluence of these elites exerts a direct influence over the art industry by purchasing and pushing-up the price of artworks. Jeff Koons reclaimed the title of the most expensive living artist at Christie’s New York during its post-war and contemporary art sale, when Rabbit (1986) sold for $91.07 million with fees, narrowly beating the $90.3 million painting by living artist; David Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972).

International tech start ups have encouraged new areas of development within the visual arts market, tackling issues such as transparency and accessibility. In recent years, the market for buying, selling and learning about visual arts online has been given a significant boost through new online portals, educational platforms and tech startups. Artsy, a New York-based startup that offers a platform for people to learn about visual art online as well as explore opportunities to buy and sell work for galleries, has raised over $100 million in funding. In today’s world Art and technology must co exist.

In Malta, the economic impact generated from the visual art Industry is way underdeveloped. The market in general has as little as 12 privately run spaces with at least 50% of them being non profit organisations. This comes quiet as a surprise, when considering that Malta is classified as an advanced economy by the International Monetary Fund, a high-income country by the World Bank, and an innovation-driven economy by the World Economic Forum. There is clear untapped economic and social potential within the visual arts industry in Malta which is not being explored.

The core focus should be on the limited number of art professionals, art galleries and art market incentives which have made it very hard for the sector to be independently sustainable. The value of local property and rentals and the cost of human resources required make it very difficult for the private visual art sector to thrive and survive. Government needs to incentivise the sector to enable and encourage it to develop independently to achieve scalability and growth.

Most private initiates depend on events, project by project funding and art sales which makes it an unstable .The few existing private organisations have shown resilience in pushing forward new ways on how to operate independently and sustainably over the past years, 2020 however has clearly created a struggle and their future is bleak. Covid-19 has hit the peak months of exhibitions and events which are so essential for artists to reach their audiences. Exhibitions, events and art fora have been replaced by online initiatives however, the success of these digital alternatives require investment and re- sourcing.

The imbalance between public and private initiatives in the visual art sector is significant. The two sectors should not compete but should rather engage in a concerted effort to enable a collective impact, to create a stronger community and to attract an international audience. The arts in all their different forms uplift the spirit of countries and their people, apart from being potentially a good economic sector to nourish. The unexplored potential through the arts in Malta can both enhance our quality of life as well as be a critical contributor to our tourism sector.

COVID- 19 has had a heavy toll on the arts, with professionals and artists trying to come to to terms with the fact that they might need to consider doing something completely different or moving into another sector to be able to earn a living. It is expected that the creative economy will be the last economic sector to recover on a global scale. The budget allocated to the sector needs to be translated into tangible incentives which stimulate this economic sector. Government and private operators should work together to create the best possible environment for the cultural and creatives sector to flourish and to be firmly established as an important economic and social pillar in its own right. This year of reckoning has reformed the need for arts & culture funding models to be as bold and visionary as the work they support.

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