The Malta Independent 12 December 2018, Wednesday

More cultural infrastructure

Owen Bonnici Friday, 16 November 2018, 08:47 Last update: about 26 days ago

A month and a half before year-end, I already look back at the past months with great satisfaction. It was a superb year for the culture sector, enhanced this year with Valletta as the European City for Culture. Statistics show an increase of the culture oriented tourist, and a record of visitors at the Heritage Malta historic sites and museums.

The coming year already looks as a very promising one in this sector. And it will be.  We are currently working on several projects, which will continue to enhance the local cultural scene. Moreover, these cultural infrastructure projects will be there not only for their cultural purpose, but there for future generations to enjoy and participate in, in other words, to make these projects their own.   A few days ago, we saw the opening of MUZA - a fantastic project which will make all the difference.  But this is just the beginning.

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One of the projects that I have at heart is the Valletta Design Cluster which is the brainchild of Valletta 2018 and its Chairperson Jason Micallef and his team: this will be a community space for cultural and creative practice in the heart of Valletta situated in the Old Abattoir site in our capital.

Until a few months ago the Old Abattoir was an abandoned structure in the heart of one of Valletta’s residential quarters.  Now, it will turn into a new Cluster and into an infrastructural project that would catalyse urban development in this long-neglected area of the capital city.

The Cluster has started to build the groundwork for its main strategic objectives, linking education, industry support, awareness building, and research and policy initiatives aimed at strengthening the contribution of design to social and economic wellbeing. One direct result of this is the Cluster’s inclusion in the Malta Council for Science and Technology’s action plan that emanates from the National Research and Innovation Strategy 2020. Another is the research conducted and published by the Economic Policy Department of the Ministry of Finance, presenting initial insights into the links between design activity in Malta and the general economy.

The Valletta Design Cluster has also started to establish itself as a point of reference relating to design initiatives both locally and internationally - accepted as a new BEDA member (Bureau of European Design Associations).

The project’s proximity to the Valletta resident community is a major element in the project’s development phase. During 2016, the Cluster partnered directly with the Valletta 2018 Foundation as well as with the Centre for Environmental Education and Research at the University of Malta, to build on this first step in community engagement. The Cluster plans to take this initiative further in collaboration with the neighbouring community, by providing a platform for a Local Action agenda that empowers action directly by the community members to improve the quality of life in its shared common spaces.

Another project that will enhance another local tradition is the Malta Carnival Experience. Throughout the years, the Malta Carnival, popular with locals and tourists alike, has striven to improve the quality of its installations as well as provide a decent space where these creations can be produced, exhibited and stored. This resulted in a new project entitled - The Malta Carnival Experience, which will see to this tradition enjoyed by all throughout the whole year.

The Malta Carnival Experience will have an allocated space for carnival-related activities, with dedicated workshops and studios that were requested by carnival enthusiasts to plan and construct carnival floats and other initiatives. This experience is intended to attract tourists, increase visitor numbers during carnival, and maximize financial input by supporting the creative economy. This will be achieved by emphasizing on one dominant theme around which the architecture, landscape, shows, food services, costumed personnel and retailing will be orchestrated accordingly.

With this project, Carnival will now be an experience as never before, to be enjoyed by all enthusiasts local or foreign, during the whole year.

Culture is about all that is a tradition, be it a structure, a religious niche, but also a folklore tale, traditional music or even a local snack. However, culture is not just that. Take the music sphere – particularly the ever so popular rock music.

I am also pleased to have this project on my table. The Rock Hub, a project which oversees that musicians, artists and rock music enthusiasts have a rehearsal and performance space to immerse themselves in their passion. A place where rock music artists and fans will be enabled to enhance their talents and give a boost to this sector.

A hub that will also foster local talent and help musicians further themselves, made possible after wide consultation with several artists and enthusiasts in the industry with the Malta Arts Council. It is our hope that this project will help to develop the rock music scene in Malta, and plug gaps where musicians have seriously struggled to find spaces to work.

The idea for Rock Hub resulted after wide consultation between a number of artists and fans of rock music and the Malta Arts Council.

Launched in the past weeks, MICAS – the Malta International Contemporary Art Space has already hit the international scene. The influential Architectural Digest a couple of days back mentioned MICAS in an article titled “A Design Lover’s Guide to Malta”. This digest has already marked another achievement in this sector – MUŻA – as one of the top international museums to open in 2018.

MICAS is intended to strengthen Malta’s cultural infrastructure by providing a platform for contemporary art and internationalisation. A platform devoted to showcasing international contemporary art and visual culture through exhibitions, interaction and exchanges, and a range of cultural activities, educational events and programmes – MICAS will be a great step forward for Malta to become a proactive player in the contemporary art world.

Scheduled to open in 2021,  MICAS will not only become a showcase for local contemporary artists but will also engage with international institutions to present ground-breaking works by acclaimed artists from all over the world.

MICAS aims to positively energise Malta’s cultural ecology and impact that of the Euro-Mediterranean region it inhabits with a mission to be an advocate of contemporary art by raising public awareness to the significance of the visual arts in contemporary life, and by bringing to the forefront the way art and artists help mediate and interpret the world we live in.

MICAS is a Government of Malta infrastructural legacy project for the Culture and the Arts sector and will be realised through state funded restoration of historical fortifications and is earmarked to be a EU co-funded project that will deliver the MICAS internal galleries through the European Regional Development Fund in 2021.

Another endearing project is the regeneration of the Grandmaster’s Palace in Valletta. Plans for this regeneration started even before Parliament moved out to the new Renzo Piano building.

As I announced in May, this palace in Valletta is set to get a much-needed overhaul thanks to an EU-funded project, the biggest investment on the palace since Independence. Our aim is to regenerate and revitalise the Grandmaster's palace by creating an effective and engaging museum environment, ensuring a memorable visitors' experience.

With works on the facade, which was restored in 2012, the project will also see the Palace Armoury reinstated in its original place, an entrance foyer and an interpretation centre, facilities for an exhibition about the Order of St John, whilst some €5 million will be spent on the restoration of art works on the ground floor corridors. A total 80% of the costs will be funded by the European Union.

The reader is probably out of breath reading all the projects currently underway.  We are so excited about what is in store for the cultural scene.

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