The Most Famous Art School In Malta Has A Young New Leader

Any Maltese artist you can think of probably studied here

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Think of Malta's most well-known artists – Emvin Cremona, Robert Caruana-Dingli, Frank Portelli, Esprit Barthet. These and so many other accomplished artists on our islands had, at some point, attended the Malta School of Art

Since its inception in 1925, it's offered free art classes to the public. In its heyday – around the 1950s – the best artists at the school were awarded a scholarship to attend an art school abroad, very often in Italy or France. This kind of opportunity launched many a local-artists career, and provided them with the skill-set that couldn't be offered on the islands. 

Now, the school has now brought on a new Centre Administrator – Robert Zahra. He is young, passionate about art, and ready to bring new life to the school of the Maltese people.  

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"I’ve been working as an art educator for around 18 years," Zahra tells Lovin Malta.  "I’ve also kept myself busy with visual art practice. I've done a few solo exhibitions and a good number of collective ones". His career and background have been steeped in developing his art within the context of education.

Zahra's studies focused on art education and practice. He has a Fine Art degree in Painting from the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, Milan, and studied art education at a Masters Level at the University of Malta. So it seems quite natural that he would be drawn to this role.

"The School of Art should be a hub for the young art student/artist. This is what I'm working for"

Robert Zahra, Centre Administrator, Malta School of Art

"The only school that I could ever dream of managing was an art school. My idea of education goes beyond the normal system of exams and achievement of certificates. I think the school of art could be a space where alternative forms of education can be put into practice. I want to stretch boundaries," Zahra says. 

He's been appointed as Centre Administrator of the School of Art in Valletta. His role is to manage the School, create new educational programmes, new projects and connections to provide learners with an exceptional educational experience. He is also responsible for managing the school's administration and taking care of its spaces.

So what does he envision for one of the most important art institutions on the islands?

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"The School of Art should be a hub for the young art student/artist. This is what I'm working for. Open classes for older adults and juniors will remain part of the school’s system. However, we already started working on a new educational programme that leads to a Level 5 diploma".  

Zahra's mission is to cultivate courses that offer students enough time to delve deeper into the subjects they choose, to develop skills and ideas and get acquainted with contemporary art theories.  

"The School of Art will continue to offer non-formal education programmes to enrich the young artistic community. A series of new Masterclasses will be starting in March. These classes will be aimed for the young art student/artist but open to all those who already have basic knowledge in Art practice or history".  

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Under Zahra'a leadership, the school are considering a young artists in residence programme for summer 2017, as well as a number of public talks by artists and art-related practitioners.  

"I see the place as a hub for cross-disciplinary practices connected with visual art," he tell us. "We already had a poetry book launch and we have poetry/film nights with discussions in the pipeline". 

"We need to create new possibilities for the young artists working today, and new spaces to bring about a new artistic climate"

Robert Zahra, Centre Administrator, Malta School of Art

Zahra's vision is confident without over-promising. His measured excitement for what this historic school can offer is admirable. His determination to make the school work is grounded in pragmatism, and his ideas as to why the school has suffered in popularity are equally lucid.

"Most probably many young art students in Malta don't even know that the School of Art exists. The School of Art was established in 1925 and for many years it was situated in the same building where it is now, in Valletta. But for a number of decades it moved from one place to another, since the government needed this building. Also, the head of school and teachers always worked on part-time basis. I believe these two factors together with the removal of the scholarship for the school of art students showed a lack of interest and investment from the part of the state, which partly reflected in the deterioration of the School’s importance". 

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The future seems as bright as it can possibly be for the Malta School of Art with Zahra at its helm. Does he believe the institution will be contributing to a fertile art scene in Malta?

"We have a number of young artists experimenting with a variety of media, but this is very limited. The creation of new art institutions and courses helped in some way to attract young people to the industry. What happens after young people graduate is another story, as only a few keep on working as artists. This says a lot about the situation and the art market that doesn’t really exist".

"But the art crowd is growing, and there's more awareness. But we still need to create new possibilities for the young artists working today, and new spaces to bring about a new artistic climate".

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Written By

Ann Dingli

Ann Dingli writes mostly about art and design. She enjoys friendly debates and has accepted that she's a small person.

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