Amateur arts and folk culture
Due to a lack of professional, legal and employment frameworks to recognise art as a profession, the arts in Malta still operate on a relatively amateur level. The majority of artists work on a semi-professional level, with only few earning an income from their creative work. However, in Malta, semi-professional work, even though it is mainly created as an after-work activity, is perceived differently from community art or cultural activity in the community which is embedded in the identity of each town.
Malta has a long tradition of amateur cultural groups and associations, originally connected to Church-run parish centres and band-clubs. After political Independence in 1964, this activity proliferated, especially after the creation of the Movement for the Promotion of Literature (1967), a front that set the pace for new-wave thinking in devising popular cultural activities.
There exists no official Amateur Arts policy in Malta, but the government regards such activity of immense socio-cultural importance. Certain village clubs and cultural associations receive ad-hoc financial support from the government through the National Lottery Good cause fund.
All towns and villages have their own array of cultural associations, which can range from historical societies to theatre groups. The cultural landscape is further enhanced by “friendship societies”. These structures run on a voluntary basis, which promote cultural connections between Maltese and foreign counterparts in the fields of painting, music, dance and other areas, which sometimes include theatre. Other friendship societies, with interest limited to the local scene, are active in the field of heritage (e.g. Friends of the Cathedral Museum) and theatre (e.g. Friends of the Manoel Theatre).
Cultural houses and community cultural clubs
The cultural identity of each city and village in Malta and Gozo is shaped by the presence of village band clubs which are also directly connected to the village patron saint and at times also indirectly linked to one of the two main political parties. These band clubs, often housed in the main village square, act as rehearsal spaces for the brass band, formal and informal meeting spaces for the members and organising committees and also act as concert halls for fundraising activities or as part of the society’s yearly cultural programme. The clubs are also often transformed into exhibition spaces for nativity cribs during Christmas time and performance spaces for passion plays and exhibition halls for the traditional re-enactment of the Last Supper and miniature Good Friday statues during Easter. In Victoria Gozo, the two village band clubs also double up as opera houses that host the yearly opera performance which, even though belonging to the community, is often referred to as a national event.
In 2008, Band club members stood at 6.4% of the total population aged 5-84 years. 2 543 were resident band members, 1 380 were trainee band players, 1 409 acted as committee members and 24 855 were registered members.
Between 1997 and 2000, the number of young persons who joined musical associations, band clubs, heritage and crafts associations and amateur theatre groups rose by 31.1%, bringing total membership to 6 318, representing 44.7% of children and young persons aged 5-29 years in Malta.
A Cultural Mapping project was launched in 2013 as a research project designed to generate information and analysis on cultural use and practice in public and publicly-accessible spaces in Malta and Gozo. The scope of this project is to create a valuable information database which maps out the cultural use of public and private spaces across the islands. This project will have two deliverables; an interactive online map and an academic publication bringing together academics and specialists from a number of relevant fields. In order to identify the spaces, sites and venues of relevance and their basic tangible qualities, a map of all localities in Malta and Gozo will be drawn up using GIS technology. Data shall include spaces, streets, squares and venues used for a range of cultural activities. This map will be publicly-accessible and can be used by individuals, organisations and policy-makers in the planning of any activities or events. Furthermore, researchers will be able to directly contribute to development of the map by adding layers of data obtained through their own research.
Meanwhile, an analysis of contemporary cultural activity in relation to the use of these spaces shall also be carried out. This analysis is being carried out by a University of Malta Working Group comprised of academics from the fields of Education, Sociology, Public Policy, Anthropology, Built Environment, and Economics.
This tool will allow the Valletta 18 Foundation to address challenges in the artistic and cultural sectors through an assessment of the cultural infrastructure across the country. Cultural mapping is one way in which the Foundation plans to leave behind a sustainable and long lasting heritage; future teams in cultural management will be provided with a digital tool with which to make informed decisions about venues, cultural practices, regeneration of various localities and the needs of local cultural industries.