The Malta Independent 22 January 2019, Tuesday

V18: Valletta’s year of opportunity

Saturday, 20 January 2018, 19:00 Last update: about 2 years ago

As the city gears up to become 2018’s European City of Culture, we asked its Mayor, Dr Alexi Dingli, to share his hopes and aspirations for the coming year.

Valletta 18 is with us at last. What are your hopes for this year for Valletta and Malta in general?

I hope that both Valletta and Malta get the most out of Valletta 2018. I like to describe The European Capital of Culture (ECOC) as an opportunity for regeneration through culture. So we have to seize the opportunity to change our country once and for all.

Culture is what defines and enriches us as individuals. It also helps us to open our viewpoints and consider new alternatives. So apart from the infrastructural upgrade, through ECOC and by exposing more people to culture (especially those who wouldn't normally consider it), I hope we manage to make the culture change which our country badly needs. After all, the success of such an event should not be measured by the number of events organised or by the number of people who attend such events but rather by the effect, not just economical but more socially, which it will have on the country in the following years.



How will the city absorb and promote all the extra events and visitors it will need to accommodate during the year?

In the past years, we've seen a huge rise in boutique hotels. These offer quality accommodation within the city. Today we're seeing the city alive at night thanks to the visitors who make Valletta their obvious choice. Through the organisation of past events such as Notte Bianca, the NYE, etc, we've also learnt how to handle logistical nightmares which these events bring to the city.

Whilst doing so, we always strive to have as little impact as possible on the residents who have to continue with their life. So we are confident that with this baggage of experiences, we can manage to absorb all the events which are in store for this year.


How important is the help and enthusiasm of Valletta residents, and in what extra ways are they supporting this very significant year?

The help and enthusiasm of the Valletta residents is vital. ECOC is not just about using Valletta for its locations, it must also leave a legacy in the city. This was one of the main deliverables promised to the evaluation panel who gave us the title. In fact, many people from Valletta will be involved as helpers and in other roles within the Valletta 2018 Foundation. Various outreach activities were held with the children in Valletta and with the community in general. The local NGOs will be directly involved in the projects. Finally, we hope that residents actively attend the various events which will be held throughout the city.


What would you suggest visitors, local and foreign, can do to discover the hidden treasures and special advantages of frequent visits to Valletta during its year as a City of Culture?

After attending one of our various events, I suggest visitors get lost in the city. Valletta is a small walkable city. It's also very safe. So I do suggest that visitors venture beyond the city centre and into the residential zone. Whilst there, the secret is to look up and admire the architecture which adorns the city. I'm sure they will be pleasantly surprised.

Even though I've lived most of my life in the city, I still discover new stuff each and every day. The secret is to look for the details; the small niches, the sculptures under the balconies, and loads of other hidden gems. After soaking themselves in these baroque jewels, they should then find one of the bars, restaurants or even gardens which are located within the residential areas and they should get to know the locals. I'm sure they will be inspired with the stories recounted by the people living in the city.


What do you hope will be the legacy of this period and all the activities that take place during the year, for the city?

I hope that ECOC manages to change how we look at Valletta.  Unfortunately, sometimes I feel that some people look at Valletta as a commodity, good for exploitation. You can see it every day from the lack of respect for the city. For people like me who hail from the city, Valletta is very special.

First of all its our source of pride, and this can be felt immediately when you meet someone from the city. We were soaked in culture since our inception. When we opened our eyes for the first time, they most probably landed on a piece of baroque architecture. Just going out of the front door makes you feel as if you've stepped into a museum. When you consider that the most important buildings in Malta like the Palace, the Office of the Prime Minister, the museums, etc and the most important commercial centre on the Island are all within walking distance, what else can you ask for?

The choice of cultural events within our various theatres or the culinary experiences which one can savour in the city is the best you can get in Malta. Valletta does give people a holistic experience. So I really wish that the legacy which ECOC brings to Valletta focuses on respecting the city. I want people to feel that the city is also theirs, especially since we're also a World Heritage Site. But people have to do their best to respect it, keep it clean and not be of nuisance to the residents of the city.

I hope people take this unique opportunity and participate in the various events organised in Valletta. I hope they get to know Valletta better and they learn to respect it. Finally, I really hope that Valletta 2018 will touch them personally and give them a new outlook towards culture and its importance for our society to thrive.

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