malta_la_vallettaCon una  superficie di 316 kmq e una popolazione di circa 400.000 abitanti,  Malta è la più grande delle isole dell’arcipelago maltese, seguita da Gozo, Comino e Cominotto (isolotto disabitato).
L’isola ha una cultura millenaria e un mix di popolazioni  sono almeno passate per questo piccolo lembo di terra nel cuore del Mediterraneo. Come molte nazioni  europee, anche Malta ha compreso negli ultimi anni il valore strategico dell’arte e della cultura come strumento di crescita sociale.
Ne parliamo con Natasha Borg e Sara Falconi di Atelier Culture, organizzaizone che dal 2007 offre servizi di consulenza, formazione e ricerca nel settore culturale a livello internazionale. Si occupano di project management, strategie di comunicazione e soluzioni innovative. Partner di progetti europei, si impegnano per creare una forte sinergia tra il settore culturale, gli enti pubblici e privati e, non ultime, le aziende.

 LG: With its accession in the European Union on the 1st of May 2004, Malta enhanced its strategic position in an enlarged Europe and confirmed its commitment towards the economic and political development of the European Union. From the cultural point of view, what HAS this inclusion had represented for Malta?
AC: The access in the EU has represented for the cultural sector an opportunity to exchange and to communicate with peers all around Europe in an easier way, with improved mobility. It’s now easier to create networks and to pull resources with other EU based organizations. The access helped to reduce the isolation, the limits that being on a small island could generate, to reduce the ‘conservative/traditionalist attitude’ in the arts. It has also helped to initiate new ideas, which are more connected to the contemporary art world, and to have more awareness of the importance of creativity in many fields of society and in the business community.

The accession has also obviously opened an access to EU funding for cultural initiatives and this is a vital source for the cultural sector since local funding initiatives are extremely limited. It has also granted access to new opportunities for being actively involved in a European life (both politically and economically).

LG: “At present, the promotion of culture in Malta is moving away from an elitist position into the centre of daily life. Culture tends to sustain support in embracing the social and economic spheres” (from pag 9 of the “Cultural policy in Malta. A discussion document” issued by the Ministry of Education, Malta 2001). How would you comment about this sentence? Any evidence of this? In your opinion and experience, can culture really empower people?
AC: This sentence taken from the Cultural Policy document of 2001 sounded like a very promising program  – unfortunately not completely implemented yet. We are still moving the first steps towards the inclusion of Arts and Culture into the strategic vision for the country. But some encouraging signals are present like for example the increased presence of culture and inclusion of the creative sector in the latest budget, where some funds have been allocated for the creative economy and the cultural sector (the actual implementation of these plans needs to be checked in the following months):

(From the Budget speech 2010) ‘The creative areas of the economy, which include ICT, films, arts and design, as well as performing arts and others, create a lot of high value added work, support other sectors within the economy, like tourism, manufacturing and other sectors, and at the same time create a vibrant and innovative environment in those contexts where these sectors develop. Thus, even the people’s quality of life improves. We will therefore continue to incentivise this sector consistently with the Vision 2015 to make our country a centre of excellence in various sectors, including that of creativity.
We will continue to support culture and we are increasing the allocation to different of Cultural Entities by more than 800,000 euro in order to improve their sustainability”.

What was correctly stated in the 2001 policy document was the case of an art which should be beneficial for the whole community in many different forms, stimulating involvement and public participation as well as generating development and growth in direct and indirect ways. Today these instances are felt even more, in a socio and economic environment which is very heavily challenged and in need of deep restructuring.

Art and Creativity must really feature as priorities and vital resources from which to gain new inspirations for everyday life. They are instruments that can help people look at things from alternative perspectives, from different points of view.

LG: Malta has a huge historic heritage. Past and tradition are very important. On the other hand, contemporary forms of expression are pushing to come out. What is Malta doing to link the present to the past?
AC: The challenge of safeguarding and looking into a magnificent and sometimes encumbering past, without getting stuck in just a sterile remembrance and conservation exercise, is fundamental to the Maltese artistic and cultural dynamics.
Contemporary Art forms and innovative approaches to Cultural Management are slowly finding their way into a relatively conservative environment within these spheres, and Atelier is one of the few organizations that are struggling to achieve this change in the general attitude and to inject a contemporary approach to culture and creativity.
It is a long process that requires a lot of effort and determination. Our aim is to generate more awareness at a local level and above all at decision making level, on how to implement innovation through cultural and artistic practices.
Several different groups of artists, practitioners and creative professionals are starting to feel the need to push all together towards a common goal.

LG: It seems that Malta is trying to attract famous and well know personalities to let them work in the island. For example we can mention the Renzo Piano project for the new City Gate in Valletta. How do you judge this kind of operations?
AC: It is undoubtedly very important that prominent creative personalities are being invited to give their contribution to the Maltese contemporary reality (artistic, urban, etc).
However we feel that a more participative approach, with more space for public debate and maybe innovative forms of public consultation would have constituted a more strategic approach, for example for the City Gate project – at least at a preliminary stage.
Such initiatives, involving names as big as those of the archistars, should be carefully weighted, particularly in a territory as small as that of the Maltese Islands. It is also fundamental that the local creative industry is also somehow involved in the project.

LG: One of the current areas of concern here in Malta is the large influx of irregular migrants from Africa to Malta. Unfortunately, this traffic gave rise to sentiments of racism and xenophobia, which are openly expressed in the public domain. What can art and culture do in order to reduce this kind of feelings and facilitate integration between Maltese and migrants? Did you work or are you working on any projects which address these objectives?
Immigration is obviously a very sensitive issue in Malta, often politically manipulated and used in different ways also by the media. It is very easy to feel ‘under siege’ in a small country that for centuries has always been facing invasions and threats from the outside.
To be the first southern access point of the EU ‘fortress’ is quite a heavy burden for a  Nation of less than 500,000 citizens.
If we also add the fears and tensions that the economic recession has injected into society, it all starts to become a very complex issue to handle.
However, once again we believe that a different approach is possible, an approach that doesn’t try to ‘sweeten’ or minimize problems, but which can offer some alternatives (small scale, targeted, measurable).
For example last April Atelier organized a workshop, as part of a larger EU project, with 5 European partnering organizations. The workshop was held inside one of the open centers for immigrants and it targeted the staff of the centre. It was a collaborative effort between artists, creative practitioners and cultural managers. The workshop promoted a different vision within the core staff, who was invited to reflect and to see the space – with all its critical circumstances – in a different way. The results of this project were tangible, focused, simple and effective.

LG: In 2004 Malta became a partner of the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for Dialogue between Cultures. To date, few Maltese organisations have managed to capitalise on cultural cooperation programmes offered by the Foundation. What your experience?
We have managed two projects with the Anna Lindh Foundation. One was targeted at youths within the context of Intercultural Dialogue: we organized facilitated workshops to create an environment that would generate some thoughts, and therefore words or sentences related to Intercultural Dialogue. These we then used for an artistic installation placed in 2 sites here in Malta: in Birgu where we projected  these expressions onto a wall and another installation at the entrance of the capital city in Valletta, where these same expressions formed part of a larger exhibition revolving around the question of interculturality and geographic location. Some pictures related to these projects are available on our web site (
While this year the other action we implemented in collaboration with the Anna Lindh Foundation was: “Restore trust, rebuild bridges”. Malta is not a country with open conflicts, yet there are other more hidden tensions. We chose to focus on negative stereotypes and subsequent social tensions and conflicts and worked with a range of participants in creative workshops. The result was an artistic installation revolving around the concept of public art and art as a gift. The artwork produced was placed in various localities, on three separate occasions which were unannounced, and therefore were a surprise to passers-by.
The reaction to the project was very positive. People were at first surprised and apprehensive about whether to take the gifts, but once they realized they could be taken freely, they were intrigued. The media dissemination was quite successful and we managed to a get a lot of coverage. In fact we were covered in a series of articles through which we tried to disseminate as much information as possible about the message carried by the project.
Our aim would be to increase our collaboration with other Mediterranean countries, and expand our network in the Mediterranean area. The position we have here is unique. Malta really bridges the Mediterranean with the rest of Europe, so once again we go back to our roots, I guess, with our strategic geographic position, this time by building  dialogue and bridges between people rather than  using strategic location for war. It’s an interesting perspective for positive action.

LG: How do you image the cultural scenario in Malta in 5 years time?
Our hope is that culture and the creative industries will gain a key position in social discourse in the coming years. As Atelier, we aim to participate in this process and we are planning a number of projects which will push in this direction and hopefully increase awareness about these key issues.
We are aware of the limitations locally in these areas, and we would like to see a change where policy makers actively embrace the discourse of culture and the creative industries and follow this up with positive action.