Malta Arts Festival is summer at its best, not just on the Maltese Islands but perhaps across the Mediterranean. It is a concentrated three weeks of eclectic entertainment from the thought-provoking and classical to the light hearted and thoroughly contemporary. As usual, it gives us a blend of home-grown and overseas cultural talent and this year's programme of what is undoubtedly Malta's premier summer cultural event has a very Mediterranean flavour. But there are Slavic and Swedish overtones too and a dash of science meets art as well.
Over the best part of three weeks, local islanders and visitors are treated to an exquisite melting pot of music, theatre, dance, visual arts and more. The last week blends with that other internationally-flavoured event, the Malta Jazz Festival, 15-17 July, now in its 20th edition and going stronger than ever.
Malta Arts Festival is to Malta what the Avignon theatre festival is to Provence (indeed all France and the world of theatre) and the Edinburgh Festival is internationally to new talent and performance genres of the world. Malta's Arts Festival is becoming set in stone as the event in the islands' cultural calendar and there's no reason why it won't, in time, cut the mustard with Europe's renowned festivals.
Malta's private sector does a fantastic job in bringing over big name acts and cult DJs to the islands, but it won't stretch to supporting the diversity of performance and the arts that a small island state needs if it is to provide for its tourists and open the eyes of its locals. It falls therefore to the Islands' public sector to pay the lion's share of funding the annual July Arts Festival.
And rightly so. The Malta Arts Festival each year brings in acts that broaden minds to cultures and cultural forms that would rarely get a look in on Malta's home market which is often dominated by popular forms of culture such as festas, carnival, pop nights or traditional song festivals. Britain's Wayne Marshall conducting and the Shakespeare Globe Theatre's touring group are highlights of this year's programme. But conversely, some events are not big budget nor big names, but they are no less inspiring for that.
The Malta Arts Festival is special for many reasons. World-class artists, postcard settings, world heritage contexts, a journey for the heart, the head and the eyes. And sometimes, the feet. At around Euro 15 a ticket for a great night out, there is no excuse not to go to a couple of events on the programme if you're heading Malta way; if not, perhaps book a holiday around the first three weeks of July next year, and come enjoy the cultural bonanza Malta has to offer in spite of its smallness of size.