The main priorities in the past few years have centred on:
- establishing a national cultural policy;
- developing a creative economy strategy;
- providing a platform for national debate on the future of the arts in Malta including theatre censorship;
- professionalising the cultural and creative industries through effective strategies and funding structures;
- preparing the bid for the European Capital of Culture in 2018; and
- identifying cultural infrastructural projects.
In January 2007, St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity launched a think-tank for culture called the Valletta Creative Forum (VCF). The aim of the VCF was to focus on issues challenging contemporary culture in Malta through a series of encounters and working groups which seek to provide concrete proposals and a road map for the future of culture in Malta.
The 2007 edition of the Forum, which tackled six major issues, included the participation of more than 300 stakeholders from the artistic, political, business and governmental sectors, together with more than 20 European speakers and contributors. The forum not only served as a lobby group for cultural development but offered an excellent networking opportunity for all stakeholders. The most successful and tangible outcome of the forum was the inclusion of new measures in the 2007 Government Budget. The outcomes of the forum, together with all the supporting documentation, were published in 2008.
The first sessions focused on:
- cultural governance in Malta and beyond;
- arts and health: the wellbeing of Maltese society;
- arts, heritage and tourism;
- creativity in our local communities;
- show business: sustaining our creative industries;
- cultural diplomacy: endorsing identity & celebrating diversity.
The launch of the Forum reignited the debate on the implementation of the 2001 cultural policy document. A prominent member of the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts has also publicly called on government to start implementing a cohesive cultural policy, even though such a role should have been fulfilled by the Council as outlined in the law.
The think-tank had no intention of subscribing to this debate and sought to expose the value of the arts on a social and economic level and lobby for measures towards the professionalisation of the creative industries.
The establishment of the Malta Arts Fund and the Malta Film Fund were two very important and concrete developments by the Culture and Audio Visual Unit (a small team of 3 individuals) within the Culture Ministry to increase the government’s commitment towards the cultural sector.
The first priority for the Minister of Culture in 2008 was to appoint a working group for the drafting of a national cultural policy. The national cultural policy was published for public consultation in January 2010. The public consultation programme was held over a 6 month period with various stakeholders providing comments and feedback through public seminars, information sessions and online communication. The submissions by various Ministries, NGOs, Agencies and individuals were evaluated and reviewed for official publication in 2011. The Cultural Policy was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers and a monitoring group has been appointed by the Parliamentary Secretary for Culture to follow-up on the implementation of the policy.
Another important policy development was the announcement of the government’s commitment to develop the creative industries as part of the National economic vision for 2015. In all budget speeches since 2008, the Finance Minister announced new measures for the cultural and creative sectors with increased allocations for public cultural institutions, training programmes for cultural operators, infrastructural projects, fiscal measures and investment schemes (see chapter 3.5.1 and chapter 7 for information on recently introduced measures).
The new government elected in March 2013 committed to develop a strong cultural programme, which included, amongst others, proposals to:
- set up a School of Art at the University of Malta;
- establish a Museum of Contemporary Art;
- regenerate the Johan Strauss School of Music;
- give utmost support to the National Philharmonic Orchestra;
- establish a National Gallery for Modern Art;
- set up The National Fund for Excellence;
- establish a National Archive of Oral History;
- strengthen creative niches;
- improve incentives for those businesses that support the arts;
- introduce a free day at the public museums on a regular basis;
- update censorship laws;
- strengthen the National Council for the Maltese Language;
- set up a Consultative Council for film makers.
Themes and objectives of Valletta 2018
As per ECoC regulations set by the EU, the Cultural Programme is to promote a European dimension and encourage citizen participation. Valletta 2018 will enable the participation of the citizens of Malta and Europe and will form an integral and sustainable part of the long-term social, economic and cultural development of Malta. The Cultural Programme is built on four themes: Generations, Routes, Cities and Islands. In conjunction with the Cultural Programme, the Foundation is developing a programme of consistent, accessible and comparable research and evaluation directly linked to culture.
The approach of Valletta 2018 to culture is inclusive and encompasses artistic expression and creativity, and extends to other forms of human expression such as food, the built environment, science and sporting activities.
The Foundation so far has had two different artistic directors, with both appointments considered controversial and highly criticised by different media organisations and segments of the artistic community.
Malta Council for Culture and the Arts rebrands as Arts Council Malta
In 2014, the new chairman of MCCA, Albert Marshall and the new Culture Minister Owen Bonnici, announced the restructuring programme of Arts Council Malta. The major change lies in the structure, which has gone from one entity which previously managed everything from funding and festivals to a larger body with three specific directorates.
The change has long been coming. In recent years, it gradually became clear that the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts was being weighed down by its festivals arm – the Council organises national festivals such as the Malta Arts Festival and Notte Bianca – which absorbed most of its resources, leaving its broader strategic role with a leaner flow.
The creation of a larger entity will enable the separation of the organisation of festivals from the strategic development of the cultural and creative sectors, enabling a distinct focus on both. The implementation of this structure will subsequently impact the improved performance of the Council and will consolidate a stronger agenda for the creative economy.
The creation and development of strategies for the sector will fall under the Strategy Directorate. The Directorate will be built on five strategic focal points which include internationalisation and business development but also research, education and training and diversity and communities, making this an official remit for the first time.
The directorate will also focus on the management and development of the funding portfolio, which currently includes six national funding programmes amounting to around one million euro. A brokerage team will be engaged to assist operators in the cultural and creative sectors to maximise their potential.
In short, the directorate will work on the creation of a one-stop shop for culture, a service hub for those working in the sector, mainly characterised by micro-enterprises and individual operators. This will also include the services offered by the Creative Europe desk in Malta, the new funding programme for the cultural and creative sectors.
Festivals will now fall under their own distinct directorate, whose role will be to focus on the management and development of the diverse festivals portfolio of the Council. With a brief which ranges from ensuring that festival development is built on solid ground to issues such as audience development and cultural participation, it will also create a partnership with existing festivals, with the view of eventually increasing the number of festivals in the calendar.
The restructuring has its eyes set firmly on Valletta 2018 and Malta’s legacy of the European Capital of Culture (ECOC). In the end, in 2019, it will be up to the various cultural entities to ensure that the legacy created by Valletta 2018 is absorbed into a permanent structure with lasting benefits.
The third directorate – Corporate Affairs – will provide all the support services for the effective and efficient functioning of the other two distinctive directorates.
Such an extensive reorganisation will involve a process of realignment of the current staff; all the current staff will be absorbed into the three directorates while the necessary public calls will be issued for the filling of new posts.
Such a large-scale reorganisation, in the end, points towards an acknowledgement of the value of the arts to society.
Culture Minister Owen Bonnici pointed out that the restructuring reflects the implementation of the government electoral programme that calls for more coordination and synergy between public entities and increased support for artists and creators. It will also encourage cultural entrepreneurship and will reduce bureaucracy.
Valletta’s UNESCO world heritage status
In 2013, UNESCO expressed its concern over the impact of the City Gate Project by world renowned architect Renzo Piano on the outstanding universal value of Valletta. Valletta’s UNESCO world heritage status was granted in 1980 and a vociferous campaign was launched in the media objecting to Renzo Piano’s design, citing UNESCO’s conditions for world heritage status. A report prepared for UNESCO stated that “it is agreed that the development will have no direct negative impact on the outstanding universal value of the property.” Moreover, UNESCO had doubts over the impact of the flea market which is to be transferred to Ordinance Street in Valletta, however a report concluded that “both the location and the situation of individual stalls is totally reversible so that there will be no obvious damage to the outstanding universal value of the Valletta world heritage site.”
After the government provided all the necessary documentation, the UN agency dropped its reservations over the project. In addition, following the introduction of a mandatory management plan for UNESCO sites in 2005, Malta finally submitted a plan.
Two other major issues dominated the cultural debate in recent years.
1. Opera House Site Development
In June of 2009, the Prime Minister presented Renzo Piano’s designs to develop the open space at the entrance of Valletta into the new Parliament House and transform the site which previously housed the Royal Opera House into an open air performance space. The project, budgeted at EUR 80 million, led to a vociferous public debate about the designs, the concept of an open air theatre and the validity of a parliamentary building at the entrance of the city. A u-turn had already occurred after initial plans to place the parliament in the Opera House space were highly criticised by the public. As a reaction, 128 theatre practitioners signed an open letter to the PM expressing disappointment at his final decision to retain the roofless theatre. International Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja and Maltese violinist Carmine Lauri, leader of the London Symphony Orchestra headed the group. The Prime Minister met representatives of the lobby group, however still retained the stand on the open air theatre.
Two positions emerged from the discussion:
- the validity of having a performance space that is open-air; and
- the need for a fully-fledged purposely-built space for the performing arts that can cater for the needs of artists, which are not being addressed in the existing theatres.
The project is now being concluded as an open-air theatre with a Management Board already in place to run the venue; however plans have already been tabled on the development of a purpose built space for the performing arts. This is also expressed in the cultural policy and listed as an infrastructural project in Malta’s bid to host the European Capital of Culture in 2018. The lobby group has also formalised its operations through the establishment of APAP (Association for Performing Arts Practitioners).
The open air theatre was opened in 2013 as Pjazza Teatru Rjal. Although the space successfully functions as an open air theatre, the need for a purpose built theatre able to house 21st century productions still echoes within the performing arts circle.
A series of Court cases were filed in the past years by the Police or private individuals on a variety of matters ranging from the banning of a play to the publication of a short story in a university newspaper. The two important cases are still awaiting a final judgment with the banning of the play Stitching awaiting a ruling from the Appeals tribunal of the Constitutional Courts after the first Court ruled in favour of banning. In the case of “Realta”, the Attorney General filed an appeal following the Criminal Court’s decision in favour of the publisher.
The censorship ball was set rolling in January 2009 when a controversial play, Stitching was “banned and disallowed” by the Board of Stage and Film Classification and thus not allowed to be staged at St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity. The play which had already been performed in other countries dealt with themes of loss, abortion, depression and sexual identity. But due to accusations of blasphemy and references to Auschwitz, sexual servitude and the abduction and assault of children, the Board of classification decided the whole play was “an insult to human dignity.” From day one of the ban, the producers, Unifaun, believed the board had completely misread the script, something they felt would not have happened had the board watched it being performed.
Although at first the producers said they would defy the ban, they later chose to battle things in court. They called on the Maltese judge to actually watch the play instead of relying on the written script but he refused.
In June 2010 the Civil Court found that the Film and Stage Classification Board did not violate freedom of expression when it banned the play Stitching last year. The court, in a 115-page judgement, said it had been asked to decide whether the decision by the board to stop the staging of the play had violated freedom of expression. It had no hesitation in saying that the decision of the board was correct and according to law. The court said the board was obliged to follow the law. The presiding Magistrate stated that there was nothing unreasonable in the board having viewed the play as being offensive to the culture of this country in its broadest sense. The judgement claimed that it was not proper, even in a democratic and pluralistic society of Malta, for the lows of human dignity to be exalted even on the pretext of showing how a couple could survive a storm.
One could not make extensive use of language which was vulgar, obscene and blasphemous and which exalted perversion and undermined the right to life. Neither could one undermine the dignity of women including the victims of the holocaust, reduce women to a simple object of sexual gratification, and ridicule the family.
A civil, democratic, and tolerant society could not allow its values to be turned upside down simply because there was freedom of expression.
The court said the board was right to view the play as exalting perversion as if it was acceptable behaviour. Bestiality, the stitching up of a vagina as an act of sexual pleasure and having a woman eat somebody else’s excrement, rape and infanticide were unacceptable, even in a democratic society.
Furthermore, the fact that a person was allowed to blaspheme in public, even on stage, went against the law.
The court therefore found that there had been no violation of fundamental human rights as enshrined in the Constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights when the play was banned. In an appeal filed by the claimants, the Constitutional Court of Appeal upheld in November 2012 a ban on performing the production.
The producers have taken the case to the European Court of Human Rights and are currently awaiting judgement.
“Li tkisser sewwi”
In November 2009, a student newspaper was banned from University because it contained a graphic fictional short story about sexual violence by Alex Vella Gera. The newspaper was initially flagged by the University Chaplain, leading the Rector to call for the removal of the papers and file a police report. The editor, a 21-year-old history student, has been questioned by the police but charges have not been brought against him. The incident prompted him to set up the Front against Censorship which is lobbying to change laws on obscene libel, vilification of religion and stage and film classification.
Although the news sparked outrage with pundits, opinion-makers and press bodies, the KSU president refused to read the story or comment on it, and the head of the Communications Departments which runs the Journalism and Media courses at the University defended the police action. Only a handful of lecturers and students actually stood up to defend the publication, which is a small radical leftist paper with a very limited readership. The publishers decided to defy the ban by publishing the paper online.
Magistrate Audrey Demicoli acquitted Mr Vella Gera and Mark Camilleri, editor of the student newspaper Ir-Realtà where the story had been published, but the Attorney General filed an Appeal on the decision with the defence lawyer stating that the Attorney General was “out of touch with historical realities of society”.
In response to the issue of censorship, which fell under the portfolio of the Justice Ministry, the Culture Minister stated in Parliament that the cultural policy was to address a drastic review of the current classification system. The expert note by the Council of Europe experts on the draft cultural policy also highlights the need for Malta to urgently address issues of freedom of creative expression. In response to this matter the National Cultural Policy states that “In terms of freedom of expression, legislation shall be reviewed in order to ensure that the classification of works reflects the maturity of a 21st century public in a contemporary society.”
Amendments towage-Classification Regulations
Following the widespread controversies raised by “Stitching” and “Li tkisser sewwi” awareness grew on laws affecting censorship in Malta. In the light of a number of protests, it was announced in January 2012 by the Minister of Tourism and Culture that there will be amendments to the Stage and Film Classification Framework for a system of self-classification under which producers of theatrical productions would be responsible for setting the age classification of a performance. As of 24 July 2013, the provisions of Legal Notice 416/2012 with regards to film age-classification came into force. The system of self-regulation allows for the producer and director and in some instances, the venue, to be responsible for setting the age-classification of a performance. Film classification is now no longer under the Police Laws but under the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts Act.