What has all this to do with culture? I believe there are striking parallels. Culture too is seen as the elitist hobby of a privileged few and as with yachting, the notion is completely myopic.
Perhaps the solution is the same: Culture should be seen as an economic sector, as a value-added service, as a creative industry. And just as we invest in factories for manufacturing and call centres for service providers, we need to consider what investment culture requires. The first step would be a frank analysis of where this industry lies in its evolution. For example, we are investing in university and MCAST courses to sustain SmartCity, the pharmaceutical industry's need for technicians and the Lufthansa requirements for engineers - because these are all new. But have we stopped to conduct a needs analysis for our cultural sector?
Malta may only produce one Joseph Calleja every generation but it will produce numerous dancers, lighting technicians, sound engineers and sculptors, all of whom deserve as much investment in their careers as the pharmacy technicians, engineers and software writers.
Our record so far is dismal. The government spent 0.35 per cent of its 2006 expenditure on culture, with just Lm20,000 spent on new creative projects. No wonder we get so little back. In the EU, the creative industry contributed 2.6 per cent of GDP; in Malta, the figure is 0.2 per cent. The EU wants its current average to increase, seeing it as an important component in meeting the Lisbon objectives - especially that of job creation. What about Malta?
An unpublished report, a copy of which was obtained by Showtime, was recently produced by a number of people with sound insight into the sector, who drew up a set of proposals on ways to create incentives. It suggests tax benefits for sponsors, for example, to enhance the links between business and culture and give them a chance to grow and become self-sustaining.
The report also suggests a fund to support various initiatives - institutional and individual - but also wants it to be used to improve access, training and participation. It also underlines the economic potential of culture by suggesting a fund to give micro-loans.
It does not expect businesses to be leaping out of their blocks and actually suggests that one per cent of new buildings and infrastructure projects should go to art for public spaces, something that is sorely lacking.
All too often the debate on culture veers off into the specific: More or less money for carnival; a school for performing arts etc... We get bogged down in whether the Maltese language needs more positive discrimination and whether performers at the Jazz Festival would be better suited to the Beer Festival.
We also tend to completely overlook the private sector, focusing instead on duplicating efforts in our own typically Maltese way, forgetting that the public institutions are rarely as dynamic as private ones. This may not be perfect: All we need to do is look at Maltese television to see what happens when the bottom line panders to what is most commercially viable. But remember: You cannot force a cultural audience any more than you can force a television one. All you can do is hope that the audience will get more sophisticated and with time look beyond superficial gratification to the real beauty of culture, the provoking, soul-searching questions posed by a truly great film, sculpture, etc...
This is the strength of this report: It doesn't see culture as being a constantly subsidised battle to inculcate art and culture into the minds of the great unwashed, often against their wishes.
Rather it sees it as a natural development of the Maltese yearning to create, harnessing our extraordinary passion and our imagination, a development that only needs seed money to enable it to grow strong enough to stand on its own two feet.