MY MASK & ME: Children, the Pandemic and Art Making

19th May 2021

Georgina Portelli speaks about celebrating children’s creativity and giving children and their experiences visibility through the display of their art.

It is a well-established fact that participation in the arts helps to redress inequality while increasing social engagement and well-being[1]. The MICAS ethos is one with a clear commitment to social inclusion and diversity. MICAS will do its utmost to increase opportunities for access and participation in the arts for everyone, including children.

Education is at the heart of the MICAS mission and as a start-up public cultural organisation, MICAS has been working steadily to build a valued partner relationship with children, educators, and school communities, since the unveiling of its concept in 2018. For our very first international art exhibition, children actively collaborated with artist Ugo Rondinone on his site-specific project ‘the radiant’ at the Milorda Gardens. In this collaboration, Maltese school children expressed their aspirations for a better future. Their contributions, written on balsa wood strips strung with bronze bells, were hung on the trees surrounding Ugo Rondinone’s sculpture transforming the lower terrace of the historic garden into an aspirational sound sculpture. Building on this positive experience and the MICAS ARTLAB project with our neighbourhood schools, which launched in 2019, MICAS is further investing in the education and community strand of its programme. Given that participative engagement is one of the priorities, an aspect of this programme will focus on children’s art as museum and virtual programme content.

The MICAS philosophy, while committed to supporting all learning experiences, embraces children as creatives and collaborators. We believe that cultural organisations should give children visibility through the display of their work. By recognising children as originators of content and cultural production, all aspects of programming and practice can become tangibly more democratised. This partnership will help spur the development of visual arts across our communities.

As a champion of creativity, inclusion and children’s rights, MICAS unequivocally values the perspective of children as proactive contributors to their communities. We are passionate about celebrating children’s creativity and making sure that their voices and experiences are heard.

It is from this perspective that MICAS embarks on its first online exhibition celebrating children as art practitioners. Art can help interpret the world we live in even during times of adversity and uncertainty. Therefore, as a cultural institution that advocates and supports children’s creativity and access to cultural education, we are proud to showcase and document the remarkable work created by children in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MICAS is now hosting an online gallery exhibition of all the artwork submitted for the MICAS Design a Mask Challenge. The exhibition MY MASK & ME presents a remarkable body of 730 works. The exhibition offers a window into the aspirations, wishes and concerns of children living in Malta as they experienced the challenging times of the pandemic during the Winter of 2021. These children, aged between five and sixteen years of age, expressed through art, reflections on the new realities and the significant disruptions experienced in their daily lives.

While we congratulate and acknowledge the exceptional work sent in by our prize winners, we want to celebrate all the wonderful work submitted for this challenge. MICAS  is greatly heartened by the positive response of children and their school communities to this initiative.

This vibrant display of creativity from our young collaborators is a cause for celebration. At  MICAS, our overriding objective is to encourage the exchange of new ideas, with children and young people as the protagonists at the helm. We welcome children as knowledge generators and meaning makers, not only as learners. MICAS is committed to doing its utmost to support children’s cultural life and development.

Our programme has other opportunities lined up in the coming months that will offer children an invitation to experiment and create. We greatly look forward to their participation.

The MICAS team and I would profoundly like to thank all the educators, school management teams, parents and caregivers who generously facilitated and supported this project.   

Dr Georgina Portelli
MICAS Creative Committee

[1] Fancourt D, Finn S. What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2019 (Health Evidence Network (HEN) synthesis report 67).

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