An artistic hub

An artistic hub

The Valletta Contemporary, a space he has lovingly put together piece by piece.

The Valletta Contemporary, a space he has lovingly put together piece by piece.

This is what Norbert Francis Attard – director, manager and founder of the Valletta Contemporary gallery that opened earlier this year – hopes his project will grow into. He shares some of his ideas with Anna Marie Galea.

Artistic director, manager and founder of the Valletta Contemporary, Norbert Francis Attard, cuts a striking figure. Full of passion and love for the space he has lovingly put together piece by piece, he walks me through the gallery’s journey from conception to birth and all the twists and turns that have been taken on the way.

So how did it all begin? “This project is one that I initiated around 10 years ago. As you can imagine, at the beginning the concept was on a much smaller scale. The first property I procured with the purpose of turning it into a gallery was much smaller and then things just developed and everything took its own course.

“Two years later I got the first property, and continued evolving from there. New spaces obviously call for new plans and so the layout and options kept changing and things started becoming more crystallised. There are always new ideas to implement; indeed, there is no shortage of innovative ideas. Even now we are juggling new concepts while consolidating what we have. It’s been a work in progress: a beautiful and interesting process.”

Speaking of all the hats he is currently wearing as director and manager, Norbert states that he is always on the lookout for fresh talent.

“Being both manager and director is very cumbersome, but it is also hard to find someone who is like-minded and fits with the vision I have for the gallery’s future. From day one I saw this as my legacy to the island and my wish is that it will outlive me. I want this gallery to continue to function as an artistic hub long after I am no longer here to take care of it personally,” he says.

It is my hope that contemporary art can be used as a means of education and growth

A successful artist in his own right, Norbert felt that it was his social responsibility to make as much of an impact as possible.

“I didn’t just want to be a practising artist; I also felt this enormous need to make a difference. I have always felt that contemporary art goes hand in hand with social responsibility. Even very early on in my career, I was set on this course. I remember coming back from Germany in 1980 full of ideas and, in fact, I had opened the Gallerija Fenici when I was around 29 years of age. Unfortunately, in 1980 there was no infrastructure to support my venture and the gallery was losing so much money that it had to be closed. I never gave up the dream though and 40 years later, here we are. The gallery is just the structure, it is the organisation itself which is paramount.”

Norbert Francis Attard: “Mixing the contemporary with the old is always a language I understood.”Norbert Francis Attard: “Mixing the contemporary with the old is always a language I understood.”

Viewing it as a true labour of love, Norbert has poured himself relentlessly into the project.

 “ I wanted to bridge the contemporary with the beauty that was already in existence and to enhance what there was. Mixing the contemporary with the old is always a language I have understood and to my surprise, I’m really happy with how everything turned out.

“Usually, I’m my own worst critic. I’ve had many sleepless nights over this place, but I think my happiest moments have been when people have come up to me and told me how much this place was needed. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than people telling me that we are making a difference.”

Talking about the future of Valletta Contemporary, Norbert is brimming with enthusiasm.

“There have been many difficult moments when I’ve given the impression that I’m giving up. But, I am a survivor through and through and whenever I am close to throwing in the towel, I always rise up and reinvent myself.”

 As artistic director, he has compiled a programme comprising both career and established artists, both local as well as international. The idea, he says, is to create a synergy between established and emerging artists and, mostly importantly, to host a string of educational events.

“We are collaborating with the YMCA as well as with a primary school and it is my hope that contemporary art can be used as a means of education and growth. We have plans to open a coffee shop or bistro in the very near future. I want this to be an artistic hub  but most of all,  I want this journey to continue long after I am not here.”

A Tribute to Gabriel Caruana: A Contemporary in the Modern runs between August 24 and September 5. The exhibition  is curated by Norbert Francis Attard. Text is by Paul Sant Cassia. In collaboration with the Gabriel Caruana Foundation.

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