Owen Bonnici – (Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts, and the Local Government.)
This week, together with my friend the Parliamentary Secretary Chris Bonnet, we visited the ongoing works at Malta International Contemporary Arts Space (MICAS) in Floriana.
This project is a major infrastructural legacy project for our sector and seeks to strengthen Malta’s cultural infrastructure by providing a platform for contemporary art and internationalisation. Once the various different phases are completed throughout the current legislature, MICAS will be providing a space for local and international contemporary artists to exhibit works of art in the 7000 m2 of gallery spaces … and more! It will become a thriving hub for contemporary arts, creativity and artistic innovation, welcoming more thousands of visitors per year.
Floriana’s Balzunetta district will host Malta’s new contemporary art space at the repurposed Old Ospizio and Ritirata sites. Yes, MICAS will be located in the Balzunetta Area in Floriana, close to the historic Msida Bastion garden of repose and touching the iconic Sa Maison gardens. The site is part of the efforts to increase footfall to the adjacent areas of Valletta – thus improving the tourist experience. The premises are also located above the Marina di Valletta and we are working hard so that there eventually also be direct access from the Marina to the premises.
The MICAS project footprint extends further down along the Polverista Curtain to the La Vittoria Bastion, the adjacent Ritirata and San Salvatore Counterguard with its spectacular arcone, or skew arch. On the other hand the indoor galleries will be housed within the Ritirata, an inner line of defence consisting of an inner trench and parapet that guarded against the loss of the outer defences, and as its Italian military term denotes, provided a safe passage for defending troops in retreat.
This dramatic historical landscape, which has been thoroughly restored with an investment of more than EUR 2 million, will soon house the focus of the whole project: the MICAS indoor galleries. In these galleries outstanding and cutting edge, international and local contemporary art will be displayed. The nearby earthen parapet of the San Salvatore counterguard will also host the MICAS outdoor galleries and sculpture garden. MICAS will offer new experiences and engagement with contemporary art as well as open new leisure trails and spectacular harbour views for visitors and the neighbouring communities.
The museum spaces will be accessed from J.J Mangion Street in Floriana, from Sa Maison gardens and finally from the Marina through the connecting sally port. The location guarantees a good flow of traffic as visitors will be exploring this new space. MICAS has free-access space that can potentially operate beyond the opening hours for the museum galleries.
The Spaces within and out MICAS offers unique surroundings to create the ideal atmosphere in which to communicate with the visitors, and guests.
The galleries will promote an international identity addressing the culturally diverse world of contemporary art across Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa, Middle East, Asia and beyond. The galleries will comprise a number of multifunctional interchangeable and flexible exhibition spaces, providing for different foci and rotating shows. These galleries will function interchangeably hosting the main exhibitions, showcasing both international and local contemporary art exhibitions of exceptional quality. Exhibitions will be temporary and will include established and emergent artists with exhibitions of recognition and excellence, hosting group or single artist shows, and international museum collaborations or partnered exchanges.
The gallery building will be easily approached through a pedestrian route on the north-eastern side from Valletta. That shall be the main entrance to MICAS, from the third level of the building, 25.40 meters above sea level. Furthermore, car access is available at the same level, allowing trucks and large vehicles carrying artwork or other equipment to access the site the site will also be connected to the Marina at Pieta Creek.
Considering that the site is an old fortification bastion, a series of existing countermines create interesting paths and interconnectivity between the different spaces and environments forming part of the MICAS project. One of these countermines is accessible from within the gallery building, thus making it a integral part of this system. Finally, there is a secondary access to the building from the adjacent Sa Maison Garden directly to the outdoor space on level zero.
The MICAS internal Gallery space, which is being constructed with a total investment of nearly EUR 13 million (EUR 7.6 million of which come from EU funding) will offer a footprint of over 4000m2 on four different levels. All halls will be equipped with paneling and rigging facilities for artworks suspension.
The MICAS external Galleries shall be adjacent to the restaurant and will feature a sculpture garden of approximately 2000m2. Outside the restaurant, the existing garden on top of the San Salvatore counterguard is to be transformed into an external art gallery. The landscape design shall follow the natural slope of the terrain and will include a sequence of paths and natural terrains where artwork can be exhibited.
The slope concludes in an amphitheatrically designed staircase that could be used to host events and also acts as a containment of the terrain. Parallel to the bastion, a ramp system will be created that, on one hand allows the direct view to the sea and to the whole panorama of Malta, and on the other provides access to the different levels of the garden.
Following the construction of the galleries, a site at a lower level, adjacent to the galleries will be set up as artist residencies, where artists may lease out the spaces to create art on site.
I would like to thank the MICAS Board, led by the hardworking Phyllis Muscat and her colleagues, the Restoration Directorate, led by Perit Norbert Gatt and all the people who are collaborating in this beautiful project.
This week, the Baroque Festival 2023 started off with an amazing first night featuring some of the most beautiful music ever written in one of the most beautiful churches ever constructed. Indeed, the St John’s Co-Cathedral was the perfect backdrop for an extraordinary performance of some of Handel’s best, including one of my all-time favorites “Zadok the Priest.”
I thank Festivals Malta for the fantastic work but certainly last but not least my young (at heart) friend Kenneth Zammit Tabona who never ceases to amaze me for the energy he puts in this unique festival!