Malta’s ‘capital of culture’ track record was spotty at best. What happens when we’re left to our own devices?

The Skinny | No 103 – Marsa, Capital of Culture

What are we skinning? Marsa being named Malta’s inaugural ‘Town of Culture’ in 2022.

Why are we skinning it? Because the collective chuckle it seems to have elicited among the population is loaded, and very telling.

What do you mean? Let’s just say that the beleaguered town’s successful bid in a competition more or less everyone found to be a bit of a joke, brought certain prejudices and assumptions to the fore, which were - and remain - unflattering all around.

Such as? Well, the idea that Marsa being nominated in the first place is an automatic source of ridicule - or at least a sustained flurry of giggles.

But it is kinda funny. Why is that the case, though? Do you find Marsa to be an inferior town when compared to other places in Malta?

No, that’s not it! It’s just that it’s been neglected for so long, that such a title feels like a slap in the face. That’s a fair enough observation to make, but it’s not really the most dominant strain of the discourse right now, alas.

People will be petty. That they will be, and that will likely be another factor in this whole initiative floundering from the start.

Why do you say that? As things stand, the idea is to hand over €200,000 to the Marsa Local Council for them to organise spruced-up versions of things that are more or less happening at the town on a semi-regular basis already.

Such as? Fireworks, music shows and a Christmas village.

Come now, I don’t think Marsa has ever had a Christmas village. Still, hardly the most cutting-edge cultural programme though, is it?

What would you have them do? Anything with a more community-sensitive approach to actual regeneration-by-culture, rather than the flashier low-hanging fruit of the festa vibes.

Why does all of this feel really familiar to me all of a sudden? Because this is precisely how Valletta’s bid for Capital of Culture panned out.

Ah yes, the festa above all. A worthy, potentially thorough initiative degenerating into bread-and-circuses.

Isn’t Marsa famous for its bread? That’s Qormi. Though don’t give them any ideas…

Do say: “It’s not fair to rag on Marsa, and if anything the knee-jerk instinct to do so only strengthens the argument that the neglected harbour town is in urgent need of rehabilitation. But Malta’s ‘capital of culture’ track record was spotty at best even when we were observed by European bodies. What will happen when we’re left to our own devices?”

Don’t say: “I propose a treasure hunt for this Marsa ‘hidden gem’ which Herrera keeps mentioning.”