Valletta 2018: what has it left behind?
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Valletta 2018: what has it left behind?

Events, infrastructure and controversies too

A lot of positives but not everyone is singing the praises of the year-long project: A performance on the closing night last week. Photo: Darren Agius/Valletta 2018

A lot of positives but not everyone is singing the praises of the year-long project: A performance on the closing night last week. Photo: Darren Agius/Valletta 2018

With Valletta 2018 consigned to memory after 12 months of events and years of planning, the process of evaluating the European Capital of Culture project and its legacy has now begun.

Valletta 2018 Foundation chairman Jason Micallef and Culture Minister Owen Bonnici have summed up the year in terms of its diverse programme of more than 400 events, with a combined attendance of some 400,000 people.

Its legacy, for Mr Micallef, is the infrastructural regeneration of the capital, from the Triton Fountain and the new arts museum Muża, to the projects that will be completed in years to come, such as the Valletta Design Cluster.

“Five years ago we embarked on this adventure, to change the present and redesign the future of our capital city. Thanks to Valletta 2018, Valletta is now known worldwide as one of the most innovative cultural cities and is an inspiration to visit,” he said at the closing ceremony.

But the event was also marked by controversies, most notably an unprecedented official boycott by the Valletta mayor, the sister capital Leeuwarden and the EU monitoring panel over comments by Mr Micallef seen as mocking the murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, which also earned calls for his resignation from MEPs and Maltese artists.

“If we think that is not going to be remembered in the collective memory of the Capital of Culture, we’re taking ourselves for a ride,” Toni Attard, former director of strategy at Arts Council Malta, told The Sunday Times of Malta, singling out the politics around the year as its least positive legacy.

“We still had politicians on stage for the opening and closing, and it was very politicised from a PR point of view. Politicians across the board fail to understand that if they want to secure cultural development, they need to ensure that the distance is respected and implemented.”

The European Capital of Culture project is about Europe and all we talked about was Malteseness

Artistically, on the other hand, Mr Attard pointed to several “amazing” projects, particularly those related to the Valletta community, a “superb” volunteer programme, and the creation of an important research base that could guide future policy making. He expressed hope that the new connections and relationships between artists and with local communities, as well as the experience gained by artists working on large international projects, could all continue to develop and serve as the year’s lasting legacy.

However, he also spoke of a lack of consistency in the artistic programme – a result, he suggested, of the lack of a single artistic director or team – and cautioned against leaning too heavily on infrastructural projects as a sign of success.“Muża and the Design Cluster remain very important projects but those were part of the national cultural development, which were added on to the Valletta 2018 discourse,” he said.

Theatre director and former St James Cavalier (now Spazju Kreattiv) artistic director Chris Gatt echoed this, arguing that the two were “essentially appropriated” by Valletta 2018, while two others, Is-Suq tal-Belt and Strada Stretta, were “commercial projects of essentially limited cultural impact”.

“But, which is more important, there is no legacy in people, investing in talent and in the existing performing spaces,” Mr Gatt said.

For the current Spazju Kreattiv head Toni Sant, however, the fact that the two “magnificent” projects did not initiate under Valletta 2018 is secondary to how much they benefited from the push they received from the Capital of Culture.

“Without the attention given to the need to have some sort of truly lasting legacy from the European Capital of Culture project, the development of a very visible national community art museum and a design cluster in the heart of the city would not have come to where we find them at this point in time,” he said.

Part of the reason for the projects’ success, he said, was in the willingness of their managers – Sandro Debono and Caldon Merieca – to reach out to established stakeholders, to develop enduring relationships with other entities, and to pursue meaningful engagement with the community.

“If other aspects of the Valletta 2018 initiatives followed suit in equal measure, I would probably have added them to these two today,” he added.

Vicki Ann Cremona, chair of the School of Performing Arts at the University of Malta, who was part of the process of nominating Valletta for the Capital of Culture title in 2012, expressed frustration that a key part of that process had been ignored: the concept of ‘Europeanness’ and what it means to belong to Europe.

“The European Capital of Culture project is about Europe and all we talked about was Malteseness,” she said. “Did we really need a whole year about what it is to be Maltese?”

She added that her hope had been for the year to be used to give Maltese artists and cultural managers exposure on a European stage, helping young artists move up the professional ladder and showing international agents and promoters what they had to offer.

“In the end, we’ve created a series of events, some hopeless, some very interesting. But have we created any sort of lasting legacy?”

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