Voting opens today to decide the people’s favourites in the Sovereign Student Art Prize for Malta and Gozo. Who will win the big cash prizes? The choice is yours. The Sunday Times of Malta talks to Sovereign Group Malta CEO Stephen Griffiths about the competition to find Malta’s most promising teenage artists, and gets some tips on how to pick your winners. 

We are now in the third year of the Sovereign Student Art Prize and the finalists have been shortlisted. Having seen the competition evolve over time, how does this year’s edition compare with previous years?

“The response this year has been tremendous. We have received more entries than ever before and it is encouraging to see participation from schools who did not take part in previous student prizes. We continue to be impressed by the work and commitment of the students who enter and have, in fact, taken the decision this year to increase the number of finalists from 12 to 20, so that more students have the opportunity to showcase their work and talent.”

Memories of Joy by Leura Natalie Ysabelle Garing from St Clare College.Memories of Joy by Leura Natalie Ysabelle Garing from St Clare College.

As usual, the public gets to see the finalists’ artwork for themselves at a touring exhibition. Can you tell us why it is so important to Sovereign to share the artwork publicly in this way?

 The work of the Sovereign Art Foundation is important, as is the work of the students who enter, and therefore we look to raise public awareness by taking the exhibitions to places where they can be seen and enjoyed by everyone. It’s all about accessibility of art. For the students who take part it is also an opportunity for them to showcase their talents and abili­ties to as wide an audience as possible. Who knows, some of the entries to the Student Prize could go on to become Malta’s artists and designers of the future, so having the chance to show off their work to the public and gain recognition is a great place to start.  

The exhibitions give the visi­ting public a chance to have a say in who wins, by voting for their favourite artwork. How can we cast our vote?

 Anyone can cast a vote by visi­ting the exhibitions and completing a voting slip. Alternatively, online voting is available. You can even scan the QR code.

Besides the public vote you also have a Judges’ Prize. Can you explain who your judges are and how you chose them?

We have a variety of judges, all from various backgrounds but each with a shared love for art. From Sovereign Group there is myself and the group’s chairman, Howard Bilton. Howard is the founder of the Sovereign Art Foundation and also an art collector himself. Locally, we have Caroline Miggiani and Dominique Ciancio. Caroline is an art historian who has curated a number of very successful exhibitions, while Dominique is a well known artist who has recently exhibited in Gozo. James Vella-Clark, another local artist, very kindly donated his time and expertise to help us with our Mandala Pig project, which was part of an online auction along with works by other international artists from the Sovereign Art Foundation. Finally, there’s you, of course, Laura. I seem to recall you knowing a little something about art. Actually, that’s an understatement, seeing as the Malta Student Prize would not be what it is now without your help and support.

Vote for the one that touches your heart and makes you smile. Well, at least that’s what I would do

I think we can all agree that identifying and nurturing talent is a worthy endeavour. How would you describe what the judging panel is looking for and how the judges agree, or otherwise, on who should win?

 Really, the judges are looking for three main things. Firstly, it’s about whether the student has really understood and embraced the theme of the competition. Secondly, we look for an original idea or a unique view of the subject, and finally, whether the work has been well-executed. For example, is it evident that the student has a degree of flair or skill? Of course, this all leads to spirited debate at times; however a unanimous consensus is always reached without too many bruises.

Stephen GriffithsStephen Griffiths

The winning students receive quite substantial sums of money both for themselves and their schools. Why are cash prizes so important and how has the prize money impacted students and their schools?

 For me the answer is simply that the hard work of our winning students should be re­warded. There is, of course, a nice trophy and some kudos for being a finalist and then for winning, but ultimately a tangible reward that can be spent how they wish means that making the effort was worthwhile and may hopefully encourage and motivate them.

For the schools, sadly we hear that some do not have the resources in their art departments or do not place much emphasis on the arts. It is hoped that the money given to the winning school will help to develop better-resourced art departments. From feedback we have received we know the prize has made a difference to the winning schools’ ability to purchase better materials or improve art facilities.

Young artists are required to enter through their school, which submits artwork on their behalf. Why have you chosen this process and how would you describe the engagement with the competition so far in terms of local schools coming on board?

The reason we approached it this way was to ensure we had the buy-in from the Education Department and the participating schools. Our aim is to encourage participation in the arts at both student level and educational level, so approaching this by including the schools seemed like the obvious way to achieve these aims. The Department of Education has been an invaluable help in running the prize. School involvement has also been exceptional so we are very thankful to all who encouraged their students to participate.

Crop of Fireworks! by Emily Formosa from San Andrea School.Crop of Fireworks! by Emily Formosa from San Andrea School.

The competition seeks to inspire and reward young artists in the community. To what extent do you feel it is stimulating creativity in young people?

We like to think we are helping to make a difference, even in a small way. The fact that the prize has grown year on year and that some of the same schools that supported us in the first year are still supporting us now is very encouraging. Hopefully this will continue and more and more schools will become involved, place more emphasis on art and encourage their students to see this as a way to express themselves, even to the point of receiving recognition for their work. 

Sovereign runs art competitions in many locations around the world, Malta being the latest addition to the growing list. How do you feel the competition is faring compared to other countries and what are your aspirations for it in the future?

The Student Prize has always been well received in which­ever country it has been held, and I must say that the reception in Malta has been excellent right from the word go. People here have been very supportive, welcoming and helpful to the extent that many of those who worked with us on previous prizes continue to support and encourage us. It has become a pleasure to organise and long may it continue.

The first of four exhibitions opens tomorrow, displaying the finalists’ work and giving us all an opportunity to vote. What can we expect, why should we vote and what criteria should we consider when choosing our winner?

Visitors to the exhibitions should expect to see uplifting works of art depicting the student’s feelings and ideas about what represents joy and happiness to them, which was the theme of this year’s prize. Please vote to have your say on which work you think deserves to win, and rather than vote with a strict criterion of whether the work has technical merit or whether it was the correct composition or lighting, for example. Simply vote for the one you like. Vote for the one that touches your heart and makes you smile. Well, at least that’s what I would do.

Malta Students Prize - qrcodeMalta Students Prize - qrcode

Winners of the public vote and the Judges’ Prize will be announced on April 23 at the awards ceremony at Malta Society of Arts.

The four-week touring exhibition opens Monday, March 2, at Palazzo Ferreria, moving to Mater Dei Hospital for week two, Spinola Park for week three and The Duke shopping centre in Victoria for week four, ending March 28. Votes can be cast until March 29, either in person at the exhibition, by scanning the QR code, or by visiting

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