NGOs and private sector to support cultural heritage
Malta’s cultural heritage is so huge that it is impossible for the government to do everything by itself. It is gratifying that not only NGOs but also the private sector are now getting involved in conservation and research. The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage is drawing up a number of guardian deeds with various NGOs for the restoration and opening of various sites to the public.
Winding up the debate, Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco said the government’s duty was to preserve the past for the future with well-established political, social and economic priorities. Cultural heritage was part of Malta’s DNA and today was no longer the country’s Cinderella, with tens of millions of euros invested in restoration.
In tourism, which yielded over €1 billion yearly, Malta’s competitive edge was not only sun and sea but also cultural heritage, which protected the national identity and safeguarded the livelihood of many Maltese.
The fact that Valletta was to be the cultural capital of Europe in 2018 gave Malta the opportunity to lay out a roadmap not only of activities for that particular year but also of investment in cultural infrastructural projects well beyond that year. Malta had a duty to look at 2018 humbly and take stock of its needs in cultural heritage for years, not a year, of excellence.
It was an opportunity to invest in theatres, museums and visitors’ centres. EU funds were also helping the private sector to work on sustainable tourism, bringing out the historic heritage in various areas. All sectors were investing as never before.
Heritage Malta was the first to agree on its huge responsibility to bring about social inclusion. Museums must be accessible to all, but the first responsibility was to get the Maltese to appreciate the contents of their museums. What with school visits and Notte Bianca, in 2010 over 104,000 Maltese had taken the opportunity to visit museums for free.
Dr de Marco said the agency had continued to organise various activities to make history and heritage more accessible, even through more than 92 open days and other activities that had drawn more than 41,000. The emphasis had been on educational programmes at all levels of education.
A programme of outreach had long been needed, and now the right response was being given.
Heritage Malta had set up a conservation centre that was capable of the best restoration in several areas.
Dr de Marco said the shocking states of Forts St Angelo, St Elmo and Ricasoli were living proof that lack of use led to abuse and dereliction. Two applications had been made for millions of euros in ERDF funds for St Elmo and St Angelo which were now being processed with others.
As for Dr Bonnici’s comments on the Domus Romana, he said work on the ceiling had not been done and was being done now.
Looking to the future, he said Heritage Malta’s board of directors had laid out a strategy for the three years between 2011 and 2013, realising that this year’s work must be done within a longer-term framework. The agency’s biggest challenge was to transform museums and visitors’ centres.
It was not enough to allow visitors to admire museum contents, but to make it a veritable experience.
Dr de Marco said the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage had done a lot with a very small workforce. An element of rethinking was necessary on merging the efforts of various units responsible for cultural heritage, including the unit at Mepa. It was possible to better utilise human and other resources.
The superintendence’s inventory of national heritage was an important tool to help the preservation and promotion of Malta’s treasures. More research was needed for the benefit of both the Maltese and their international audiences.
A cultural strategy had been laid out in 2006 and would expire later this year. Work had already started on a revision of the document for a second edition.
With the superintendence’s help a national forum on cultural heritage would be held next October and November, in which the State of Heritage Report for 2010 would feature. Dr de Marco said he was committing himself to hold such a forum annually.
On the issuing of warrants to conservationists and restorers he said a number of loopholes had been tackled and he would soon be submitting a memo to Cabinet to authorise the necessary amendments.
He agreed with Mr Bartolo on the need of a policy tool. In the next few weeks an ad hoc committee under the superintendence would be working to draft a national agenda that would include the university, Heritage Malta, Mepa, heritage units and NGOs.
An action group in the Finance Ministry would be working on aspects of the creative economy that represented four per cent of GDP and involved more than 7,000 workers. This sector must be helped to continue to develop. The NSO too would be seeing how to enhance its statistics on the creative sector.
The VAT rate for cultural activities had been pegged at five per cent since 2008.
Dr de Marco said Malta had the largest concentration of Unesco world heritage sites per square kilometre outside the Vatican. More sites in Malta, such as Mdina, Vittoriosa and others, should be identified in order to extend Unesco’s protection.
Within the next few months several international conventions would be ratified.
EU funds had been well utilised on restoration of the bastions and other projects.
Dr de Marco said the future of Malta’s cultural heritage depended on how talents, sometimes invisible and intangible, were used. People must be encouraged who might not even know yet of the talents they possessed.
Concluding, he said it hurt to say that since Malta did not have all the necessary resources to handle the treasures it had, it might have been better if some of the unearthed treasures had remained buried underground until such time as they could be properly safeguarded.
Nationalist MPs Franco Debono, Frederick Azzopardi, Jean Pierre Farrugia and Joe Falzon also contributed to the debate.