As we near the end of Valletta’s tenure as one of Europe’s capital of culture it is time we analyse the impact is has left on our island. The project has been long-coming and its main objectives as outlined by the European Commission are to promote and help culture within communities. This evaluation will not include any critique on either artistic tastes or controversies about politically appointed people. I will instead focus on the programme’s contents and aspirations. Has the programme really regenerated Malta and Valletta? And do we have a long-term cultural agenda in place?
Let us start off with the profile it has raised for Malta. The way the organisation was oriented in general made it look like it was a point of arrival rather than an ambitious point of departure. A good chunk of the activities organised were mainly originating from themes of folklore festivals. I have nothing against festas but I think this is just a celebration of something we already embrace quite enough and whilst folklore forms part of culture, culture is not measured only through folklore and social life. It feels like we always settle for the obvious just to please everyone and we base success only on attendances and monetary value. If we only settle with what we already have we will never generate anything new to build on for the future.
Although we have to appreciate our cultural heritage we should be really looking at how this can propel us into the future rather than nail us to mere nostalgia. We need to analyse and challenge our socio cultural make up rather than merely venerate it. Culture necessitates context and people. They both need to be engaged with education and discussion as a community so that we can open up ourselves and reach out to the rest of the world. There are many issues which should have been given more importance such as sustainable economy, politics, environment, transportation, immigration and the list goes on… Of course, this isn’t to say we didn’t have some really good and well-founded themes relating to these subjects but unfortunately in most instances initiatives were lacking such current concerns.
A cultural inclusion plan should have also been identified. As it stands, most Maltese do not participate in cultural activities mainly because of the rife misconception concerning culture. The cultural scene seems to be cut off from reality and it portrays an image that it is only reserved for the ’privileged’ and ‘enlightened’. This can be changed by reaching out to different segments of society and engage them in topics that are relevant to them. We would have also reaped more benefit if the programme had a more selective approach with smaller niche events that identify different social landscapes. Since our community is made up of small regional clusters we should have involved our local councils more so that they themselves would have explored and shaped topics.
On the other hand we also need to keep developing a cultural curriculum in our schools so that children and young adults can understand and adapt in our ever evolving society. Students need to be engaged with formal and non-formal methods of education so that they can nurture and develop their abilities in their own way.
This leads us to the way the regeneration projects were carried out in Valletta. We now have additional cultural facilities such as the MUŻA Museum and the Design Cluster that should eventually help us to host and increase access to culture. On the other hand we have other projects such as the Valletta covered market and Strait Street which still lack a proper vision. While it is obviously good that we restore and regenerate, these projects seem to have developed into an extension of Malta’s current commercial model that facilitates gentrification and increases the social gap. It is crucial that during the planning process of such developments we should take into consideration the social impacts that such projects generate. More needs to be done to incentivise businesses and communities to work together on projects that help to bridge social inequalities that regenerate the city in a creative and viable way.
It is also ironic that as we celebrate the Capital City of Culture, only the state sponsored way of looking at things is allowed. This is to date glaringly evident in the way the makeshift memorial to Daphne Caruana Galizia has been handled by none other than the Minister of Culture himself. This when we should be unleashing creativity and the consequent diversity of interpretations and meanings. It is the official diet or no diet at all: a case of the European Capital City of Monoculture.
The closing celebrations that we are to expect at the end of the year also seem to indicate the end of our tentative cultural trail. I am afraid there is no long-term vision in place and the opportunity we had will just fade away and leave no legacy to the one-off events we have experienced.
It would be a pity to waste such a splendid opportunity. We still have a chance to turn things around by 2028… If only we want to…
AD Public Relations Officer and Spokesperson for Youth and Sport