Creative strategy to make culture ‘professional’

Creative strategy pinpoints what needs to be done in the local cultural sphere – public consultation meetings start tomorrow.

Toni Attard: “The priority here is the process of professionalisation”.
Toni Attard: “The priority here is the process of professionalisation”.

The announcement of a 'creative strategy' on the part of the Creative Economy Working Group (embedded within the Office of the Prime Minister, the Group was also a key driving force behind the drafting of the Cultural Policy) signals another step in what seems to be an ongoing effort to 'professionalise' the local artistic field.

With a presentation at St James Cavalier Centre of Creativity in Valletta on 7 August - arguably Malta's most consolidated symbol of a European-friendly, interdisciplinary creative space - members of the Creative Economy Group Caldon Mercieca and Toni Attard were joined by Finance Minister Tonio Fenech and Culture Minister Mario de Marco to herald in this new step in Malta's ongoing cultural development.

The linking of culture and the economy is doubtlessly a shrewd move - we were reminded, once again, that culture makes up 4% of our national GDP ("almost as much as the construction sector") - and it's a direct response to an ingrained perception of culture as an economically 'flaky' pursuit.

Speaking after the presentation on Tuesday, Creative Economy advisor Toni Attard said that it's in the interest of anybody working within the cultural sector to "assess and interpret the freely available data about cultural participation, economic performance, voluntary activity, youth engagement..."

To this end, the strategy can be parsed through online and the Group will be taking suggestions from the public up until 14 September. Attard also emphasised that although funding remains an ongoing priority vis-à-vis the country's cultural health (a cursory glance at the recipient of the Malta Arts Fund reveals an eclectic list, for example), our main focus should now be to seek ways in which artists can gain at least some degree of financial independence.

"This is not a matter of hope for funding or support but an issue of providing the necessary arguments to pitch for projects, build audiences, diversify production, export work and so on... the declining funds for culture across Europe should be a clear warning to avoid full dependency on public funds," Attard said, emphasising that initiatives such as the Culture Card - aimed at young children, it provides discounts for cultural events - and the Invex - aimed to foster entrepreneurial skills among cultural operators - is an example of how the strategy "calls for fiscal incentives for private financing and crowd-funding mechanisms to match public funds with private investment".

"The priority here is the process of professionalisation," Attard added. 

And a more professional outlook on culture is arguably very welcome, since group's research seemed to identify some key problem areas, chief among them being the audiovisual sector, and the issue of dwindling cinema audiences.

Certain aspects of the creative strategy also confirm some unpleasant prejudices associated with Maltese culture, one of the most telling being the topsy-turvy relationship between local theatrical output and the audience.

Presumably referring to productions such as the Maltese-language panto and several other 'regional' productions thriving away from the auspices of the Manoel Theatre and St James Cavalier, Attard pointed out how "the majority of Maltese theatre audiences attend productions in Maltese, however the majority of productions in the public theatres are still in English", a stark reminder of how "knowing one's audience is key to develop diverse programming, to target niche groups and to raise the curiosity and excitement of cultural engagement".

"Ultimately, people are choosing whether their evening out is going to be a take-out and telly, wining and dining at a restaurant, attending a theatre show or volunteering for their local band club. So we must constantly renew our offerings and experiences," Attard added.

A series of public consultation sessions on the Creative Strategy will be held at St James Cavalier this week from tomorrow to 11 September. For more information log on to
creativemalta.gov.mt.

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