Country reports

MALTA

Expert authors: Adrian Debattista and Neville Borg
Last update: April 17th

On March 22nd, in response to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the Government of Malta banned all public gatherings and closed all non-essential services and stores (including those related to the creative sector). This effectively meant that all cultural sites, including museums, theatres, libraries, and exhibition spaces were closed until further notice and all performances were cancelled. A number of cultural sites, including sites managed by public cultural organisations and privately owned cinemas, had already elected to close their doors on March 13. All educational institutions, including those offering cultural education, were also shut down as of March 13th. Meanwhile, a good number of major cultural events were voluntarily cancelled or postponed as early as March 11th. All traditional summer festivities have also been cancelled.

The Government of Malta is attempting to mitigate the economic impact of these restrictions by implementing a programme called Covid Wage Supplement, which provides a basic wage supplement to people active in sectors deemed to have suffered drastically. The Covid Wage Supplement programme is being managed by Malta Enterprise, Malta’s economic development agency.

On March 24th, the creative arts (including performing and visual arts) were identified as one such sector which suffered drastically as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. Through this programme, people working in the creative arts – whether full-time employees or self-employed/freelance – are entitled to a monthly supplement of EUR 800. Part-time employees within the creative arts sector are entitled to a monthly supplement of EUR 500.

Creative practitioners working in the sectors which are originally considered to have been adversely, but not drastically, affected were to be entitled to a monthly supplement of EUR 160 in the case of full-time employees, EUR 100 in the case of part-time employees, and EUR 320 in the case of self-employed/freelancers. These sectors include publishing; motion picture video and television programming; and radio broadcasting. The Malta Producers Association publicly expressed its misgivings over the fact that the film and television industry has not been included amongst the worst-hit sectors by the restrictions. Following this feedback and further discussions, amendments were made on the 29th of March, to include the film and television industry in the list of drastically impacted sectors, a move which the Malta Producers Association welcomed. Other new sectors included in this amended list were cultural education and photography.

Malta’s creative sector is adopting its own measures to adapt to the situation. Arts Council Malta issued a call for feedback from its beneficiaries on March 20th, to assess how they were impacted, and has relaxed obligations related to its funding agreements with artists while fast-tracking payments in light of the situation. It has also assured its beneficiaries that project losses due to COVID-19 restrictions will be made up for. Public cultural organisations were directed to support the sector by easing up on financial obligations and providing more flexibility in terms of logistics.

Meanwhile, both public and private organisations are shifting their programming to online channels, for instance ŻfinMalta, Malta’s national contemporary dance company has launched a 9-week online programme of events under the title Dance is Us. Teatru Malta, the national theatre company, launched three initiatives to address the situation. This includes a call for artists to send proposals to be included in its programme, with those approved getting 50% of the fees in advance. Other initiatives include a platform that will enable theatre projects to be viewed online as well as an invitation for artists to send short videos with their performances, with the ones selected being offered a fee and uploaded on social media. Furthermore, there are a number of grassroots activities and initiatives that are taking place online through livestream, including performing arts festivals and literary readings.

In mid-March, a number of independent surveys investigating the impact of COVID-19 on the creative sector have been launched. One of these surveys, aimed towards measuring the impact on artists, carried out by Culture Venture, an independent creative enterprise based in Malta, received a total of 346 responses and brought forth a series of recommendations, including the establishment of financial assistance for artists, calling for public and private institutions to fast track pending payments as well as commission new work while providing advance payments for research and development which may be carried out at home.

Another survey, being carried out by ARC Research & Consultancy, launched a survey to measure the impacts of COVID-19 on artists, cultural operators and service providers working in and/or with the creative sector. This survey had 184 responses and was not considered to be conclusive, but rather a starting point of discussion and further research on how the creative sector can operate on a long-term basis given the changes brought about by the pandemic. Responses indicated that there is a need for immediate actions due to the increase in the use of online means, better representation and cohesion of the sector as well as a long-term strategic approach that goes beyond the current needs.The findings and recommendations from these surveys are currently informing the immediate actions being taken by Arts Council Malta in order to support the sector.

On April 3rd, in response to the disruption caused by COVID-19, Arts Council Malta issued a special call for the Malta Arts Fund, the most established funding programme for the arts in Malta. This call provides a fund of EUR 75,000 for artists and practitioners to develop projects which address the cultural and creative sector as impacted by the situation. This call encourages artists to consider various pertinent themes – including borders, confinement and isolation – within their projects. The deadline for the call is Thursday April 23rd 2020.

Arts Council Malta has also launched Special Series ACMlab, a six-week series of online public discussions addressing a number of issues which are increasingly relevant in light of the impacts of COVID-19 on artists. These include discussions on subjects such as connectivity, resilience, sustainability and online engagement amongst others. Other public cultural organisations are also increasingly active in the online sphere, with organisations such as Teatru Manoel and the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra streaming performances through their social media channels.