News | Wednesday, 11 February 2009

MTA director pushes to quadruple jazz festival attendance

Organisers recommend he holds his horses

David Darmanin

After a MaltaToday article last Sunday announced that the organisation of the Malta Jazz Festival will go back into the hands of government, a director on the main board of the MTA told Business Today that he has been holding meetings with Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism Mario de Marco in a bid to launch an idea that would augment the event’s attendance by tourists. This, according to Philip Fenech – who besides sitting on the MTA board is also Deputy President of the GRTU and runs a jazz bar in Paceville, “would ensure the event’s commercial feasibility and sustainability.”
But the Malta Council of Culture and Arts (MCCA), which is responsible for the organisation of the event, reaffirmed its position that its main priority this year is not necessarily to make profit, but rather to present a line up representing the same quality the annual event was once known for.
The Malta Jazz Festival, conceived and organised by the Department of Culture and subsequently by the MCCA until 2005, was making substantial losses due to its focus on lining up expensive, top-notch jazz artists year in year out. In an attempt to save the event from dying a natural death, the then Minister for Culture Francis Zammit Dimech had decided to farm out the organisation of the event to private event promoters NnG. The company’s brief was to make the event work financially, as this would have retained the festival on Malta’s cultural calendar. But 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 anyway.
Before the expiration of NnG’s three-year contract, the MCCA decided to take over again the running of the festival. The Council’s Chairman Adrian Mamo told Business Today that the reason behind this decision was because MCCA “was not happy with the content of the festival.”
“In the council’s opinion the festival had been commercialised to the extent that it had lost its flavour and appeal,” he claimed.
But in his comments to Business Today, Fenech said: “One has to look at the jazz festival not only from a cultural or educational point of view, or simply to have higher standards of culture on our island. We also need to increase our value added chain in the tourism market – something that was never exploited to the full when it was organised by government before 2005.”
The Ministry for Education and Culture will soon be announcing its chosen candidate for the post of Malta Jazz Festival artistic director. His duties will include the formulation of a programme of events and making contact and dealing with the artists or their agencies, both foreign and local. The Artistic Director will also be expected to assist the MCCA in the preparation and evaluation of tenders for sound, lights and other equipment. He will be acting as spokesman for the festival while he will also be entrusted with the supervision of the event per se.
While claiming that he supports the idea for the festival to go “back to where it was before,” Fenech insisted that the jazz crowd “is concerned about whoever will be given the contract to head the event. This person must be in the know and must be capable to make contact with top people in the international industry.”
Asked whether he was one of the applicants for the post of Jazz Festival Artistic Director, Fenech said: “No I did not apply, but I offered my services along with any assistance that may be required from my team.”
Business Today is informed that the MCCA is keen on taking an inclusive approach to individuals who are willing to help in the organisation of the event.
Over the years, Fenech has made a tradition out of hosting late night jamming sessions with Jazz Festival musicians at his Paceville bar after each event night.
“We had always dreamt of having world-renowned jazz musicians play in Malta,” Fenech said. “I got personally involved so that our local musicians would have the opportunity to meet them and, as has happened, even play with them in an informal jazz session after the concert.”
Fenech 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 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 does not doubt himself on the potential his idea has.
“The growth potential is enormous,” he said. “Malta is located towards the end of the touring circuit, so it is likely that the musicians would announce where they are playing next. It is therefore important that we are tied into this circuit. We could also have people coming in yachts purposely to see the festival – in fact we have already seen this happening to a small scale. Hotels would be able to host this package along with other events and excursions to keep tourists occupied during the day and other nights when the festival is over.”
Asked how many more people he would expect if his idea had to be implemented, Fenech said: “The event normally attracts about 2,000 people – but it deserves to have an attendance of 8,000. It really depends on how we market it overseas – but the following is definitely there. I believe we never took its international marketing as seriously as we should have in the past.”
But when Business Today approached Mamo with the idea of quadrupling attendance, his first reaction was: “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.”
MCCA is working on a budget of €150,000 for the festival, and it is expecting that half or more of the amount will be recouped through sponsorships and ticket sales.
While it would clearly not mind making a profit out of the event, the MCCA chairman said this is not in their list of priorities, since they would much rather focus on bringing back the quality the jazz festival deserves.
“We need to appeal to a wider audience, yes, and there are a number of possibilities for us to be able to do this. However, our target is to re-establish the pure content the festival had.”
When asked whether he aspires to market the event internationally in order to take the name to the level of the Montreaux Festival or the Umbria Jazz, Mamo said: “That is the sort of reputation which needs to be built up over the years, but we cannot possibly expect this to be done in four months. We hope to reach that level, but for 2009 we would be happy to attract an attendance of 2,000 people as a starting point.”


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11 February 2009

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