An important step to establish a sustainable and coherent policy for the protection of our cultural heritage will be taken when a document dealing with all the discussions and reports by the various stakeholders will be tabled in Parliament at the end of 2006. Recently, at the National Forum on Cultural Heritage, a number of speakers presented their reports on various entities that were created through the 2002 Cultural Heritage Act. Gerald Fenech reports on the presentations delivered.
Dr Anthony Pace – State of the Heritage Report
The Superintendent of Cultural Heritage began his presentation by giving the main reasons for the publication of the State of the Heritage Report that is also being published in its entirety on the organisations’ website. The main issue this report deals with is the establishment of a national policy on cultural heritage, Dr Pace said. Other issues are the impact of EU membership, impact on heritage sites, funding, audiences, visitor destinations and trends in the sector, Dr Pace added.
Dr Pace said the report includes a section on the various restoration and rehabilitation projects currently underway, together with MEPA’s contribution to implement such projects. He said it was crucial for all entities involved in the cultural heritage sector to share ideas and information, as the sector would suffer if such collaboration was not achieved. On the impact of EU membership Dr Pace said this was perceived to be a positive one overall. Among the benefits is the possibility to tap structural funds, participation in EU projects and the free movement of goods and harmonisation of export procedures. He added that Malta must continue to sign and ratify various international conventions on conservation and other related areas, as these are crucial for the proper management of our cultural heritage.
The report also deals with the World Heritage Sites that include the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples. He said that MEPA had now committed itself to publish a landscape assessment study of the Maltese Islands and gave details on the various scheduled properties broken down into amounts and percentages. Dr Pace also spoke about the participation of local councils in various joint initiatives such as restoration projects and commented that councils were now looking at their heritage in a much more structural manner.
In his conclusion, Dr Pace reported on trends in the cultural heritage scene and said that audiences were growing, particularly for those properties owned by the Church. However, the private and State-owned museums’ share had remained static and this was slightly worrying. Interesting statistics showed that the public prefers the baroque period by a significant margin, Dr Pace said. The prospects indicated in the report include the drafting of the National Strategy for Cultural Heritage, inter-organisational consultation and a wide process of consultation with NGOs and other organisations, Dr Pace concluded.
Dr Mario Tabone – Chairman – Heritage Malta Report
Dr Tabone began his speech by observing that Heritage Malta has gone through a philosophy of change that has brought about substantial results. The vast wealth of our cultural heritage is indeed huge, which also means that we have to shoulder a great burden to protect and maintain our patrimony, Dr Tabone said. Our cultural heritage was in crisis and the only tools that could save it were investment in our human resources, he insisted.
Dr Tabone paid tribute to Heritage Malta’s chief executive, Antoinette Cassar who was responsible for building a sound and structured organisation. He said there were now five curators and eight managers working round the clock to make our heritage more accessible. He outlined various restoration projects currently underway at various sites including the Inquisitor’s Palace and the Neolithic Temples and said the organisation carries out maintenance work ceaselessly to keep the sites in good condition.
There is also a need of a cultural shift in how people assess their experience at museums and heritage sites, Dr Tabone said. He gave details of various activities such as lectures, seminars, exhibitions abroad and other related events that were continually increasing the profile of our cultural heritage. Turning to the financial aspect, Dr Tabone said that Heritage Malta had installed its much-needed ticketing system and had explored various partnerships with the private sector such as the rehabilitation of Pinto Stores by the VISET Consortium.
“Human resources remain the most important element of any organisation and we are proud of our outstanding team of individuals,” Dr Tabone said. “There are also various ongoing collaboration projects with entities such as the university, and we have also absorbed staff from public companies such as IPSE, PBS and Malta Drydock,” Dr Tabone added. Focusing on Gozo, Dr Tabone said that there was now a manager wholly responsible for Gozo heritage sites and gave details of various projects to be implemented at the Ggantija Temples and other important sites.
“Our cultural patrimony must continue to grow, and this means we will continue to be responsible for an increasing number of heritage sites,” Dr Tabone said. He revealed that the organisation will soon acquire a priceless collection, adding that Heritage Malta was committed to diverse projects in the biological and natural history field.
“The preservation of our cultural heritage is of huge importance and, if properly managed, it can be turned into revenue that will strengthen the economic life of our island,” Dr Tabone said. We will continue working assiduously to put our heritage at the top of our agenda so that the national interest will continue to be served, Dr Tabone concluded.
Dr Joe Cannataci – Malta Centre for Restoration Report
Dr Cannataci said the Malta Centre for Restoration’s (MCR) brief is to create a centre of excellence for restoration techniques. At present there are seven divisions in the centre, the first of which is the much talked about Conservation Division, which carried out 370 projects in the last four years with another 80 in hand, he explained. One of the most important projects was the restoration of the Roman Domus, which was carried out in conjunction with Heritage Malta, Dr Cannataci added.
Other projects include the Vincenzo Bugeja Institute in Santa Venera, the residence of Grand Master Perellos in Zejtun and other chapels in Kalkara, Dr Cannataci said. Another important section of the MCR is the Documentation Division, which carries out radiography and photographic projects for the centre, Dr Cannataci said. Among the projects carried out by the division were the Ship Graffiti Project, Historical Maps and at Manoel Island.
The third department at the MCR is the Diagnostic Science Division, which is currently involved in an important project dealing with the restoration of metals, Dr Cannataci explained. The MCR has other divisions involved in teaching and other areas and recently, around 170 students from Jordan and Palestine came to the centre to further their studies, Dr Cannataci added. He also gave various details on the programmes at the centre that lead to undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in collaboration with the University.
Commenting on EU funding, Dr Cannataci said the centre is actively looking for new opportunities that will attract foreign students and also enable Maltese students to study abroad at much cheaper prices. He also gave details on seminars, public lectures and other activities organized by the centre, adding that through the Leonardo Programme, 13 students were sent to Spain to work on the restoration of fountains.
Research was also an important part of the MCR’s work in 2004 with several papers published in countries as far away as Australia, Dr Cannataci explained.
Concluding, Dr Cannataci said the centre is committed to increase its capacity building and is also involved in a number of outreach programmes in various schools. There is a growing demand for conservation services and the centre intends to continue exploiting this important niche market Dr Cannataci said.
Mgr Vincent Borg – Catholic Cultural Heritage Report
Mgr Borg explained that the Church’s Commission on Cultural Heritage was chaired by the Archbishop and normally meets once a month. Its brief is to advise and assist in the implementation and management of the cultural sites administered by the Catholic Church in Malta and Gozo. He added that much sterling work had been done in this field over the centuries and it was important that our cultural heritage is maintained so that we will always be conscious of our national identity.
The archives of the church go back to the 16th century and these are normally found in parish churches dealing with births, marriages, deaths and other social occasions, Mgr Borg said. He added that there is a continuous process going on so that these archives remain in the best possible condition and thanked a noble woman for donating a house in Mdina where the archives of the Cathedral Chapter could be transferred.
Mgr Borg said the Church has implemented a number of policies that call for the upholding and maintenance of all properties. He gave details of various projects such as the compilation of inventories that will eventually assist in the formulation of a proper policy in this regard. Mgr Borg also gave details on various parish museums that were an important part of the Church’s historical heritage such as those in Zabbar and Birkirkara.
Mgr Borg outlined various projects that are currently underway at the Cathedral Museums in Mdina and at St John’s in Valletta, adding that both sites were committed to providing better access and maintaining these priceless historical treasures. He also said that a new building was being planned to house a heritage museum at the Gozo Cathedral.
Turning to music, Mgr Borg said the Church was in possession of a priceless set of manuscripts from Malta and Gozo’s finest composers going back hundreds of years. He said there were a number of activities such as concerts organised with the help of the Carmelo Pace Foundation and other events sponsored by APS Bank, also dedicated to Maltese composers.
Dr Paul V. Mifsud – Executive Director, Malta Council for Culture and the Arts
Dr Mifsud began his presentation by focusing on various aspects of culture that included books, computer games, advertising, films, and the performing and visual arts. He said that the Cultural Heritage Act of 2002 clearly established the vision for the Council for Culture and Arts and a general improvement in quality in all cultural areas was envisaged.
The Council’s strategy was established on six parameters, Dr Mifsud said. These are: improvement in the level of cultural programmes, creation of opportunities for youth in the artistic field, development of educational structures to encourage active participation, widening of artistic opportunities in important cultural areas, the establishment of sustainable ties between administration and organisational entities and the creation of local artistic appreciation both in Malta and throughout the Mediterranean.
Dr Mifsud identified projects such as an artistic village, a music academy, an arts centre and a science museum as crucial for the future. He added that the Council was looking for ways to further the commercial aspect of artistic productions and to create employment opportunities in the cultural field.
The four major challenges that culture in Malta currently faces were identified by Dr Mifsud as follows: Culture must be open to all, the popularisation of participation in creative activities, the achievement of sustainability and the building on what we can achieve culturally, and the procurement of adequate financing.
Dealing with the accessibility of culture, Dr Mifsud said the number of those attending concerts or cultural activities must be increased as the current level of 19 per cent was too low. He added that statistics show there is healthy participation in the sports, band clubs and parish feast sub sectors. Dr Mifsud dealt briefly with the other three challenges, but the main thrust of his argument was based on tapping new opportunities to establish sustainable cultural policies for the future.
Dr Anthony Pace – National Strategy for Cultural Heritage
Dr Pace said this document was prepared by the Ministry for Tourism and Culture and was to be added to the discussion on the formulation of a Cultural Heritage Policy. He said the document includes a number of principles that were prevalent in previous policies on cultural heritage emanating from the Council of Europe and UNESCO but these were now being given a legal framework.
The preamble of the document explains that cultural heritage is intangible and cannot be replaced, and it also represents part of our national environment, Dr Pace said. Other principles mentioned in the document dealt with natural conservation and the protection of cultural heritage for future generations, Dr Pace explained. He added that the social fabric of the country and accessibility to sites were also given their due importance in the legislation.
The document also mentions the need for a wider process of participation as our cultural heritage is a community asset and we are simply guardians for the future, Dr Pace said. The preparation of a strategy on cultural heritage was crucial to establish a process in which stakeholders would become involved in a holistic process that would eventually increase awareness on all levels, Dr Pace explained.
Additionally, the national strategy is not the possession of one entity or another, but of the whole community, Dr Pace said. The strategy will be revised after five years and will be tabled for discussion in the House of Representatives, he revealed. Dr Pace gave details on the themes and consultation process of the document and added that the whole process would take around a year to complete. This will be followed by a second draft that would hopefully be up for discussion in the next forum and, if the Minister approves this draft, a third version will be prepared that will eventually be tabled for discussion in Parliament, Dr Pace concluded.