Government responds to Fine Arts Museum move backlash

Government says it will "consider all options" before moving the Fine Arts Museum from its current location at Admirality House, South Street, Valletta.

The Museum of Fine Arts was set to move from its current location in South Street, Valletta and into the Auberge d'Italie in Merchants Street.
The Museum of Fine Arts was set to move from its current location in South Street, Valletta and into the Auberge d'Italie in Merchants Street.


In what was perceived to be another negative political message towards the cultural scene in Malta, the decision not to move Malta Fine Arts Museum from its current location in Admiralty House, South Street, Valletta to the more central Auberge d'Italie in Merchants Street - as promised under the previous government - has provoked outrage among artists and local cultural operators.

The decision, was made in lieu of the fact that the Auberge d'Italie - which also houses the Tourism Ministry and the Malta Tourism Authority - would be a more attractive spot for the museum, while also serving to provide more space for its collection, which houses both historically relevant and contemporary artworks.

The decision led to indignant complaints from artists in both the mainstream media and social networks, with a petition to 'reverse the reversal' garnering over 670 signatories at the time of going to print.

But the government moved in to apply some damage control yesterday evening, after it issued a statement reassuring that it remains "committed" to securing an adequate venue for the Fine Arts Museum.

A joint statement by Tourism Minister Karmenu Vella and Parliamentary Secretary for Culture Jose Herrera revealed that "government remains committed to securing an adequate venue for a Museum of Fine Arts - as was promised in the electoral manifesto".

Herrera and Vella said that such a venue would also serve to present artistically valid Maltese works "which unfortunately up until now could not be adequately appreciated by the public and tourists".

However, "before a final decision on a venue is taken, government needs to consider a variety of relevant factors and venues which would do justice to our artistic heritage".

The government's statement was a timely balm, given the outcry provoked by the announcement that the move had been aborted.

It was perceived to be something of a blunt move on government's part, particularly when a centrally located and structurally adequate structure for the museum was seen as something of a necessity, particularly in light of the fact that Malta is set to become European Capital for Culture in 2018.

Citing ministry claims that the Admiralty House was not large enough to accommodate both the tourism ministry and the MTA, former Din l-Art Helwa president and council member Petra Caruana Dingli referred to the decision as "stop sign".

"Tourists are not interested in offices, but they are very interested in museums.

"Now that plans for the move have already been in the pipeline for two years, how can the Ministry justify blocking the use of one of the grandest buildings in one of the main streets of Valletta for the offices of the MTA, when our national museum is crammed into a smaller building in a less popular street?" Caruana Dingli wrote in a blog post on the DLH website.

Artist, curator and University of Malta lecturer Raphael Vella was vocal in his condemnation of this development, taking to social media to vent his anger at what he perceived to be a culturally insensitive decision.

Writing on Facebook, Vella foregrounded this decision against a recent Heritage Malta competition "for artists to create a series of sad monuments to dead politicians".

"When the arts merely mirror the cult of political self-gratification, they quickly lose their autonomy and disappear, out of sight, where they can't hurt anyone," Vella said.

Bad timing

The decision was also a victim of bad timing, as just a week prior the local cultural sphere took another blow after a Eurobarometer survey revealed Malta to be among the lowest-ranking countries when it came to cultural participation.

Second only to Bulgaria in the overall survey, the Maltese were revealed to be the least interested in visiting music concerts (49%) and theatre performances (54%).

In light of this, the termination of the Malta Arts Museum move could only be seen as an unpleasant portent, with some interpreting it as yet another message that the Labour government is not making culture a priority.

Asked about ways to potentially strengthen Malta's sense of cultural participation, Creative Economy Advisor within he OPM Toni Attard said that "all public organisations need to become audience-centred and artistically led," while adding that other - perhaps more 'invisible' - factors that should also be taken into account when assessing cultural participation.

"We should strive to be more sensitive towards both deeply entrenched local traditions - if we include village feasts, passion plays, carnival and other local cultural activities, cultural participation is very high - and contemporary realities (if an 18-year-old is at home or with friends composing and mixing music or watching a concert streamed live from home, will that be excluded as participation?)."

On its part, the Valletta 2018 Foundation - responsible for the events related to Malta's upcoming role as European Capital for Culture in 2018 - said that the results of a Eurobarometer survey was an "opportunity to continue working with government and private entities in its drive to better improve participation and perception of culture amongst the public". 

"This includes participation in all various art forms, addressing challenges of access and accessibility in its widest sense, while advocating further coordination between the various efforts of the sector.

"In this light the Foundation works closely with a number of government-led cultural institutions in order to coordinate the national effort in the areas of contemporary art and culture in preparation for 2018," a spokesperson for the Foundation said

With the new Parliament at the entrance of Valletta being a lame duck right from inception with insufficient space projected even for a Library and Archive, so necessary for a vibrant parliament; with the miserably failed Piano project pushed down the throats of us all Maltese by the GONZIPN and AG & Co, the Government has to keep essential ministries around the new Parliament when it opens to be at hand. So I can understand that the Government has decided to reconsider the move of the Museum of Fine Arts to Auberge d' Italie. The important thing now is that the Government identifies a good (and Secure) site for the expanded Museum to be enjoyed by all. I disagree with the columnist who constantly mentions tourists as the prime movers. The first to appreciate our Maltese Art Heritage should be us Maltese and this Malta Taghna Ilkoll should be the prime mover for all and everything that we do.
Another suggested site, would be the new building which is in its final stages of completion sdituated at the entrance to Valletta through Republic Street
House them in the old theatre after roofing it with glass. I beleive plans already exist for such a project. After all, an open air theater in Malta, in Valletta, is nonsense.