Valletta 2018 seminar: Design crucial for Malta's creative economy

Economist Kevin Vella suggests that design is the way forward to strengthen Malta's cultural economy, while opening hours of cultural sites remain a bugbear for tourists, as revealed in a Valletta 2018 'Culture Matters' seminar this morning

Teodor Reljic
25 February 2016, 1:10pm
Kevin Vella (far left) and Tania Sultana (second from left)
Kevin Vella (far left) and Tania Sultana (second from left)
The statistical impact of the Valletta 2018 Foundation’s presence and activities were assessed during the ‘Culture Matters’ seminar at the University of Malta, where it emerged that the majority of tourists visiting Malta were not aware of Valletta’s European Capital of Culture title, and that design is one of the key growth areas of the Cultural and Creative Industries on the island.

Additionally, software services were revealed to be the most dominant creative industry in Malta in terms of their value-added economic impact – closely followed by printing and publishing – while ‘traditional’ sectors like heritage and arts registered the lowest economic impact.

Opening the conference, Valletta 2018 Chairman Jason Micallef said that such statistical exercises are important to ensure an open dialogue with all stakeholders, and to assess what needs to be changed and improved in the Maltese cultural sphere. This transparency of knowledge, Micallef added, also ensures that Malta can engage in a substantiated dialogue about the cultural scene with other countries.

“Working in a vacuum would be suicidal. The diffusion and exchange of ideas remain crucial to the Valletta 2018 Foundation,” Micallef said, adding that in terms of statistical research and data collection, “academia has a vital role to play for Valletta 2018, and we want to ensure that students and academics form an integral part of the Valletta 2018 process.”

Citing figures from the National Statistics Office, Culture Minister Owen Bonnici referred to how 81% of respondents believed that Valletta is changing for the better, while 72% said they would attend events organised by the Valletta 2018 Foundation.

“This is an important time for Malta, during which we have to engage with both local and international cultural issues. I look forward to these next few years with great enthusiasm,” Bonnici said.

During a presentation on the economics of culture and creative industries in Malta, Kevin Vella from the Economic Policy Department of the Ministry for Finance highlighted how the field of design is likely to be a decisive area of Maltese culture in the coming years, not least because of the Valletta 2018 Foundation-powered Valletta Design Cluster, which is set to regenerate the ‘Djuballi’ area of the city and provide space for design-based startups.

“Design activity has a strong potential to increase the economic contribution of all industries, including manufacturing,” Vella said, adding that design – which could also incorporate architecture and engineering – could be the “missing link” that provides value-added to industry.

Vella noted that the manufacturing industry in particular could benefit from fostering more active links with the design sector. He however also noted that foreign companies based in Malta tend to outsource their design component to designers working from their home country, and that it may take some time for a level playing field to be established on this front.

He added that taking full advantage of the design sector could in fact be the next step for Malta to achieve active competitiveness in innovation.

Speaking more generally about the cultural sphere, Vella cited statistics which showed that software services and printing and publishing were the most economically robust cultural practices in Malta, amounting to 36.8% of the Culture and Creative Industries which provide value-added from an economical perspective. Printing and publishing came second with 22.9%, while the more ‘traditional’ sectors like Arts (7%) and Heritage (3%) registered the lowest numbers.

Vella however stressed that these ranking were not a reflection on their overall value to society, simply their economic impact on the island.

Addressing how the tourism industry has attempted to capitalize on the Valletta 2018 ‘brand’, Tania Sultana from the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) said that according to a survey conducted by the MTA, 23% of tourists visiting Malta in 2015 were aware of Malta title as European Capital for Culture in 2018, while 57.6% were not aware of it on arrival, but were made aware of it during their stay. An additional 2.6% claimed to have visited Malta predominantly on the strength of its Capital of Culture title.

While the MTA survey revealed that the tourist experience of Valletta appeared to be satisfactory “overall”, Sultana noted that there was also plenty of room for improvement, with tourists complaining about opening hours for museums and other cultural institutions, with ‘value for money’, ‘variety of events’ and ‘quality of service’ also registering pretty low.

“Tourists felt safe overall… but not from traffic,” Sultana added, citing reckless driving, overdevelopment and poor infrastructure for pedestrians as other common complaints. 

Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...