In January, both Valetta in Malta and Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, the European Capitals of Culture for 2018, presented their programmes to the citizens of their cities, countries and the world.
The Maltese programme, dubbed as a “year-long festa”, was launched on January 20th in the centre of Valetta. “We succeeded in attracting around 110,000 or 25 % of the population to attend the four main attractions of the opening evening event on January 20th. Additionally, 280,000 viewers followed our live Facebook feed. This feed has been selected for live or deferred relay by various European television channels. In undertaking the presentation, recording and wider dissemination of the day, the Foundation worked with the country’s Public Broadcasting Services to transmit the event as a live broadcast and as a recording a day later to reach additional viewers,” noted Catherine Tabone, the CEO of Valetta 2018. “Given the temperate clemency of our weather, the public events were staged in the open air, inviting the public – from citizens to Government Ministers and visiting European delegates – to mingle generally unhindered”. The representative of Valetta 2018 also stated that the visibility of posters, banners and commercial branding, including liveried Air Malta planes, generated, particularly in the weeks leading up to the opening, significant hype and public expectation.
The Foundation focused on getting the message across: this was a major one-off event, an unprecedented cultural celebration of an island-nation, involving its entire people. “This was the best, most attractive and appealing way to kick off our cultural year, setting a solid tempo in anticipation of the many cultural angles and perspectives included in forthcoming events,” Catherine Tabone said.
Back in 2012, when the Foundation was preparing its bid, the team tried to imagine Valletta and the cultural sector in 2018. The team looked at this special place of theirs, which needed so much attention. “We looked at a city that was a Unesco World Heritage Site yet was full of neglect, eye-sores and reminders of past abuse. We looked at the cultural sector where we found creatives in need of training and facilities to become culture professionals competing as equals on the European and world stage,” the CEO explained.
One of the key messages of Valetta 2018 states that culture at all levels of human experience is and should be accessible to everyone, also, that through 2018 everyone, whatever their age, inclination or interests, will find something to do, to enjoy, to participate in. The team also aims for people to discover different types of cultural activities and events that they might not otherwise attend: “Workshops are an important element in our programme”.
“Ultimately this is the underlying message of our year-long festa, which in itself is an intrinsically Maltese phenomenon that differs from other similar manifestations abroad,” Catherine smiled.
As every European Capital of Culture, Valetta also invested in a handful of infrastructure projects: “With these, we looked at a deficit in the cultural sector, and tried to fill the gap, looking at the long-term use of such projects well beyond 2018”.
The principal projects include: the much-needed regeneration of Strait Street, Valletta’s former entertainment and red-light district in Colonial times, now it’s a vibrant hub with its own cultural programme; the renovation of the almost-abandoned Is-Suq tal-Belt, a 19th-century covered Market Hall distinctive architecturally for having been the first building in Malta to be constructed largely of iron cast in England which was recently reopened and restored to its former glory through collaboration with the private sector; the new museum of art, MUŻA, which will be taking a community curation approach, thereby differing radically from existing local museums; the Valletta Design Cluster at il-Biċċerija, originally an abattoir in the 17th century, later a barrack situated in one of the city’s least popular areas. This Valletta 2018 flagship project will be reinventing a substantial area in the lower end of the city into a hub for creative and economic development. We are looking at taking on feedback from the local community living in the surrounding area, thereby ensuring, as far as possible, ownership of and accessibility to projects by local residents and artisans.
“2018 may be about Valletta today, but it’s also about continuation, past legacy, and the future. Our mission was to create an Open Port – a state of mind where curiosity, openness, tolerance and the fearless sharing of ideas would flourish for years to come. At the end of 2018, we’d like to celebrate this project being a victorious tale of changing perceptions, giving our city back its identity and beauty, not a fairy tale but a watershed in time where some dreams really did come true”, Catherine Tabone stated.