On the 15th anniversary of Malta Foundation activity, Kasia Tórz talks to founders Karol Działoszyński and Michał Merczyński.
Kasia Tórz: What were the circumstances when you decided to set up the Malta Foundation?
Michał Merczyński: In 2002, I got an offer from Grzegorz Jarzyna to take the position of director of Teatr Rozmaitości [renamed TR Warszawa in 2003], I was supposed to share my life between Poznań and Warsaw. I remind you that Malta was then organized by the Henryk Wieniawski Musical Society, and before that by TAFF ART agency and the Polski Theatre. The Henryk Wieniawski Musical Society suggested to me leaving the festival within its existing structures, but we decided to become more independent.
Karol Działoszyński: The best idea was to set up a foundation. Our aim was to make Malta an independent event, which would serve Poznań and its inhabitants, apart from existing economic situations on every market, including the cultural market. In the first decade of its activity, Malta became a flagship event, strongly supported by local authorities, so it was very important that all cash ow between self-government and sponsors was transparent. Michał Merczyński requested that I cooperate, we sat together and invited Piotr Voelkel to the foundation, then finally Jan Kulczyk and his wife, Grażyna, who was dealing with culture in the urban and commercial arenas. In this way, a structure was formed, which could function independently as a non-governmental organisation.
MM: In the 1990s, Malta was developing dynamically. On one hand, we organised mass lakeside concerts, and on the other, we coproduced more and more with Poznań performance companies Biuro Podróży and Strefa Ciszy. Later, the city authorities, more precisely the then deputy president of culture Krzysztof Łukomski, came up with an idea to create a cultural institution called Malta. I rejected it. I believed, and I still do, that it is a bad idea, as the city has too many institutions, which were founded and are maintained, and which are given particular tasks to do. However, Malta has always been a creation standing on its own two legs: public and private founding. I would like to remind you that the first Malta in 1991 was generously supported by Jan Kulczyk, who donated half the budget. Simultaneously, though many people have forgotten about this or just don't want to remember, we used to sell tickets. After three editions, Malta started to use European union subsidies. Within Kalejdoskop, we received 30,000 euros. I had no idea what it was then, the EU was just preparing to introduce the euro currency. A private little organisation, which TAFF ART was then, applied for the subsidy and was successful. But to keep that kind of independence on public funding, which was based – in every sense – on different social view.
KD: We are facing here a very important issue – the fact that Malta must be competitive within the background of Poznań city institutions, it must evaluate, seek communication with people. The whole foundation team must plan Malta in advance. To do so, it must have a budget. The foundation helps to be transparent and honest in its creation. The cash flow is bigger and bigger. We use selfgovernment, private, European and [Polish culture] ministry support. But there is also a different kind of capital: human support. We can notice this in last year's experience: more than 1,800 people took part in a crowdfunding event.
KT: So it was never just about a formal case, but about changing the best and most developmental form for Malta.
KD: Independence gives development. This is why in two year's time, we are going to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Malta.
MM: I'd like to mention a few examples. What is MoMa, the most famous modern art museum in the world? It is a foundation. What is the London Symphony Orchestra, one of the biggest and greatest orchestras in the world? The Avignon Festival? The Cannes Film Festival? These are also foundations. We can find plenty of such examples. In Poland, the third sector in culture is still working well, but is undervalued. I refer to some kind of trend, but not just in order to complain. The present Ministry of Culture talks mostly about the nationalisation of culture.
KD: If we weren't a foundation, we would be dependent on self-governmental, national politics. Foundations have their traditions in the world – for better or for worse. If a foundation is well managed, it works. It enables maintaining the greatest independence of creation, constructing a dialogue with artistic environments.
KT: Does the public institution of culture serve that?
MM: For some years, I was both the chief of the Malta Foundation and the director of the National Audiovisual Institute (NInA). I saw what level of security is provided by the public institution of culture, but also what possibilities – and problems – are connected with the structure of a foundation. Working in the third sector, we always face the unknown – we wait for competitions results, we look for sponsors.
KD: We always have to go forward, to overtake the competition. Some people find this irritating.
MM: We receive grants because we have a great experience. We were also – as the first festival in Poland – awarded by the prestigious EFFE prize – Europe for Festivals, Festivals for Europe. After 15 years of our activity, we are the organisation that works all year long. Not only do we work on Malta preparation, but also on the cyclical festival Nostalgia. Although if we talk about the size of that event, it is much smaller, but still it has a great meaning for us. We also organize Akademia Miasta [the City Academy] and many projects in different districts of Poznań, prepared in cooperation with artists, researchers, inhabitants. We have organized spectacular projects, such as the Radiohead concert on the Citadel grounds. What's more, we are partners for different projects. We have published books, cooperated with different foundations. So the Malta Festival is not a single activity, run by the eight-person foundation team. The place, which we are talking about – a loft on the first foor of the Poznań Arkadia – it is not an offce, it's also open space for debate, meetings, discussions. It is a living place. Recently, a meeting of a social-dialogue committee took place here.
KT: What are the foundation's plans for the future?
KD: Most festivals work seasonally. Malta wants to implement its idea into the city texture. We talk with the Poznań authorities about the idea of building La Fabrica – similar to the multifunction stage opened a few years ago by the Avignon Festival. This is a theatre for the local community, and the Malta Foundation would manage it. As the festival, we have proven through our history that we are a serious partner for and brand of the city. The current mayor supports the idea of creating such a place.
MM: La Fabrica is our biggest challenge. It is supposed to be a space for performative art with excellent equipment, with movable audience seating, the newest technology, a place suitble not only for Malta but also an entire spectrum of partners, an open space for subjects from Poznań, Poland and Europe.
KD: Poznań is the city where there are the most citizenship movements. In this case, suddenly, as at the beginning of 1990s, again we are becoming leaders. As a foundation, we are open to cooperation with them and still – especially with Generator Malta – we deepen relations with organisations working for the local community and for the life quality in the city.
KT: What is the time perspective for La Fabrica coming to life?
MM: Mayor Jędrzej Solarski showed us places a few years ago where La Fabrica could potentially be created. We liked Bogdanka the most. However, we are facing the great challenge of creating a budget based on various sources. The EU perspective – the one that formed the basis for building cultural institutions from scratch from European money and from one's own contributions – doesn't exist anymore. Today, you can apply for [EU] funds for expanding or renovating an existing building. There is also the Norwegian mechanism, but nowadays this has been stopped by the Norwegians because of our government's activities, which have led to nationalising this in ow of sources. Some time ago, Karol came up with the idea of organising social action, through which Poznań citizens would support the building of La Fabrica. If in the 19th century we built the Polski Theatre ourselves, it could be that we can do the same now. We would raise our own contributions through people from Poznań who believe in this enterprise.
KD: At the same time, it's about the idea of independence. Thirty years make us obligated to something. As Generator Malta has become a totem built in Liberty Square, La Fabrica would be a totem built in Poznań. We would like to say: here is theatre space, which we give in service to Poznań's people. If this idea finds their support, then it will be alive and natural, it will work.
MM: Malta is a constant leap into believing. I always repeat that I have been in Malta from point A, but certainly I won't be till point Z. No matter if the building is created or not, I believe that Malta will be a machine for the transfer of ideas.
Poznań, 16 May 2018