Time to wake the Sleeping Lady

How to make culture financially viable

Karsten Xuereb

The Sunday Times, March 7, 2004

Ara L-Intervista ta' Norbert Bugeja ma' Karsten Xuereb dwar l-attività kulturali f'Malta

See also Here to Stay

One of the more prominent news items last year was the announcement by the Société Nautique de Genève, the yacht club defending the America's Cup, that Valencia was chosen to host the 2007 Cup. What was most striking was not the choice of venue, but to what extent Valencia had planned their bid.

Clearly, the Spanish contenders had planned very well how to host the prestigious competition. Moreover, they had also mapped out the benefits of a successful bid. As Rita Barberá, mayor of Valencia, wrote in the International Herald Tribune on November 27, 2003:

"This project, which we needed, is going to help us in our effort to make Valencia a reference in tourism, in sports, in development and growth." Spanish officials have estimated that the Cup and the challenger series that precedes it will inject around 1.3 billion euros into the economy and create 10,000 jobs. Interestingly, Portuguese officials, who lobbied for Lisbon, made similar estimates.

Government officials and leaders in the private sector in Malta are pursuing their own plans. Like their counterparts in Valencia, they also aim to win and devise projects that will restructure our economy, create new employment opportunities and use local resources to the full.

As we near the completion of the Terminal Project at Pinto Wharf, the next major project could see us setting up the crafts village in Ta' Qali, rebuilding the site of the former Royal Opera House (in picture, before it was destroyed), improving the service given to visitors at Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra, or even spoiling the Verdala farmland from Mdina to Siggiewi by building a golf course.

Single large projects can create a wide range of investment opportunities and employment within a particular field and its related areas. For example, in the cultural field, renovating the sites at Fort St Elmo, Fort St Angelo and Fort Ricasoli would give a much-needed boost to our cultural heritage which, if managed well, could raise Malta's profile as a unique destination for cultural tourism.

However, these projects need time, handsome funds, and carry a large risk factor. Therefore, while pursuing these major goals with the right management and research skills, other minor objectives should not be shunned.

What I call 'minor' plans might create a long-term interest, sense of participation and ownership in Maltese citizens towards our own cultural heritage, which might translate into the recognition of business opportunities and a general generation of welfare in the country.

At school we were taught to believe Malta only had one type of resource: the human one. It's time to wake up to the fact that unless we recognise the resources that lie in our culture, the human one is not doing its job as well as it might.

I would be all in favour of a cultural policy that spreads the risk involved, where the creation of programmes and initiatives reach out and get close to the public, sell well and in turn sustain other projects, which are larger or more particular in nature. Small, long-term projects, where investment yields results slowly, but gradually would not be amiss.

Cultural productivity

The problem of spiralling expenses is persistent in the fields of the arts and culture because the industry does not benefit from the productivity gains realised by other sectors of society. For most of the 20th century, increasing efficiency in Western technology-oriented, for-profit economies has been continuous and cumulative.

In contrast, Philip Kotler and Joanne Scheff in Standing Room Only (Harvard, 1997), declare: "Productivity in the arts has decreased relative to the rest of the economy." For example, a live performance of a reading, a play or a concert will take the same number of man-hours to produce as it did when it was set up for the first time, be if ten years ago, 50 years, or a hundred years ago.

However, the performers' wages rise over time, even if their productivity does not. The other costs of managing organisations and mounting performances - managerial salaries, materials, rents, advertising, to mention a few - also keep increasing.

While large production houses in large city centres abroad run productions for as long as they can attract an audience, most local theatre companies, cultural organisations and music initiatives set up several productions every season, each requiring massive effort in rehearsing, directing, producing and promoting.

Seeing that the cost of culture is rising, and that recent increases in ticket prices still do not cover that cost, does it make financial sense to keep managing and promoting culture? As pointed out before, long-term investments takes time to yield results. Moreover, financial returns on investments in culture should not be expected to materialise solely in the short term.

The BBC World radio broadcast On the Hour of December 23, 2003, stated that one of the main benefits of cultural investment is the 'cultural diplomacy' which was created between the organiser and promoter, or host, of an event, and its guests, which can be of a cultural, political or entrepreneurial nature.

Positive cultural diplomacy can lead to various opportunities rising in the long term.

Other clear long-term benefits of cultural investment are felt in the tourism industry, which plays host to more than 1 million visitors per year. However, as John Pollacco points out in his article, "Tourism at a Crucial Stage" in The Sunday Times of November 30, 2003, the economic importance of these arrivals does not only depend on the number of tourists, but also "on how much is spent and on what".

The positive results ensuing from providing visitors with a cultural experience of high quality should also encourage local culture and tourism operators to collaborate on setting up a cultural industry in its own right.

Creating the need

For a person to be involved in the cultural sector, he or she needs to care about being there. However, many people are not interested in cultural issues at all. On the other hand, there are others who might not have enough exposure or training to translate their talent, skill and passion into a professional experience for others to share.

What differentiates a person who cares for culture from another who does not, is many times related to the exposure to books, music, museums and general arts from an early age.

When persons are surrounded by the arts from an early age, they more likely to grow to love them, and develop the need for them. As Maslow has taught us, we respond and prioritise our responses according to our needs.

The arts are not a basic need like food, shelter or a home, but people who have developed a need for music, ballet or literature from an early age will never lose it, or want to do without it.

Therefore, the inevitable question is: How do we develop and maintain this need? The answer is not so difficult and well known to those managing the cultural development of Malta, who have shared it with the general public on numerous occasions.

As Malta's Cultural Policy (2000) has pointed out, education is indispensable. Moreover, education for the young needs to be fun, kindle curiosity and create an interest that goes from one's own community's traditions to the geographical region's main characteristics and means of expression.

Addressing the need

Happily, many young people in Malta are being exposed and involved in cultural matters from an early age. This is taking place thanks to the initiatives of a number of cultural entities that see to the cultural needs of children and young people.

The list is long, but a few examples will suffice to show the variety of existing educational services. On the theatrical side, companies such as Masquerade and Stagecoach have created a healthy setup for their young members, who are not only gaining an educational experience, but also contributing to the companies' own human resources.

On a more social level, the Atturi Salesjani in Sliema address the social needs of young people from all over the island. On the literary side, a cultural association like Inizjamed regularly involves young people in running and participating in educational and arts projects.

On an institutional level, St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity allows young people to experience various forms of art by enjoying original programmes, such as the Saturday Kids Club.

On the other hand, an established body like the Manoel Theatre encourages the creative expression of youths by providing a stable framework, such as with PoezijaPlus and Teatru Unplugged. Finally, on the international side, the British Council runs educational and cultural programmes for school children while assisting young adults with programmes in further education.

What needs to be done?

In realistic terms, what is needed is a commitment by the Government and its related bodies to allow the numerous cultural players to work better, and create an environment that allows their operations to run smoothly and develop. This applies especially to the private sector.

As Ms Viviane Reading, member of the European Commission responsible for Education and Culture, said during a seminar on Cultural Patronage and Sponsorship, held in Madrid on April 8, 2002, entitled 'Encouraging Cultural Patronage in Europe':

"Public input must not and can not finance whole projects: however, it can create the right environment for private input, by giving impetus and a push, and by launching the right instruments."

Government should also realise that investing in culture, from the Ministry of Youth and the Arts to the smallest NGO, is not an act of good will, but an investment, and a wise move to tap the financial resources that we have not been exploiting enough.

This calls for serious accountability from those who take the decisions and lay down the policies, project plans for budgeting and funding or are entrusted with the implementation of the cultural activity itself.

It is also incumbent on governmental bodies and the national institutions as well as the private companies and cultural organisations to adopt professional methods when implementing programmes of assistance, sponsorship or responsibility to hold the activity, event or project.

Mr Xuereb works in cultural administration and management with a number of local organisations. karsten@vol.net.mt.
This article may also be viewed at http://www.timesofmalta.com/core/article.php?id=148540

Il-Maltin u l-Furbani


Norbert Bugeja jintervista lil Karsten Xuereb, Operatur Kulturali


  • Li torganizza “attività kulturali” llum xi jfisser?


Operatur Kulturali jrid ikun kapaċi jorganizza dik il-ħajja u espressjoni tal-kulturi li jara madwaru, u li possibilment ikun qed jgħix fiha u jaqsam ma’ ħaddieħor. Għalhekk, għandu bżonn par għajnejn tajbin, u fejn ikollu bżonn, nuċċali biex jara aħjar. Jekk jista’ jakkwista n-nuċċali ta’ ħaddieħor, tant l-aħjar. Dan għax irid ikun kapaċi jara kif jara ħaddieħor, u jipprova jifhem il-karba, l-għajta, iċ-ċajta, id-daħka, u anke s-silenzju ta’ dawk ta’ madwaru. Għalhekk, għandu bżonn ukoll par widnejn tajbin. L-aħħar u mhux l-inqas, għandu bżonn par idejn tajbin, u jkun lest biex imiddhom għax-xogħol.

  • Int għandek esperjenza fil-media, taħdem fir-radju u tagħmel xogħol ta’ filming. Dan jeffettwa l-qari tiegħek tal-letteratura?

Iva. L-ewwelnett, billi ħadli ħafna ħin mill-qari nnifsu! Dan il-fatt għallimni ħaġa importanti dwar il-letteratura: illum il-ġurnata, rakkont jew espressjoni miktuba tikkompeti kontra xita ta’ stejjer ġejjin mit-TV, mill-gazzetti, mir-radju, miċ-ċinema u mill-internet. Dan ifisser li jkolli bżonn nagħżel liema stejjer se nfittex, u liema ser inħalli jiġu viċin tiegħi. Hemm żewġ raġunijiet għal dan: l-ewwel, bħal ħaddieħor, għandi nuqqas ta’ ħin! It-tieni, meta nesponi ruħi għal stejjer neqsin mill-arti tal-metafora u l-mistur, iħallu marka kerha: is-sensittività għas-sabiħ tittappan, u t-tfittxija għal stejjer tajbin issir aktar imċajpra. Tgħallimt ukoll li kull medium għandu l-lingwa tiegħu, u storja tajba trid tkun irrakkuntata b’dik il-lingwa partikolari.

  • Naf li xandart diversi intervisti ma’ artisti minn madwar il-Mediterran. X’reazzjoni kellek wara dawn l-inkontri? Kif influwenzaw il-fehmiet tiegħek dwar ir-reġjun?

Ħaġa ta’ l-għaġeb kif ħafna mill-kittieba li ltqajt magħhom kienu jitqanqlu mit-tema tal-kunflitt. Tony Hanania kiteb dwar il-gwerra tal-Libanu, u Mehmet Yashin dwar id-diviżjoni f’Ċipru. Il-lista twila, u meta taħseb fl-ammont ta’ ġlied u atti terroristiċi li jsiru madwar dan il-baħar żgħir, tifhem għalfejn dawn l-awturi Mediterranji jiktbu dwar din it-tema. Il-Mediterran huwa reġjun vjolenti, iżda mhux b’mod qerriedi biss. Il-vjolenza qiegħda fl-espressjoni artistika li tikkonfronta, hi stess, il-vjolenza li sseħħ madwarha. Biżżejjed naħsbu fil-‘Guernica (fir-ritratt) ta’ Picasso, jew aktar reċentement, il-wirja b’karozzi mgħattnin minn tankijiet tal-gwerra fil-Palestina. Atti bħal dawn jixhdu wkoll is-sensittività kbira tal-ġnus Mediterranji.

  • Taħseb li l-kitba letterarja llum (biex insejħulha hekk) tista’ tikkomunika xi ħaġa jew huwa aktar każ li wieħed jikkomunika lilha?

Iva, nemmen li l-letteratura ta’ żmienna hija relevanti għal min jaqraha. Il-problema, bħalma dejjem kienet, hi li m’hix relevanti għall-oħrajn! Poeti bħal Benjamin Zephaniah u Sinéad Morrissey (fir-ritratt), li se jkunu Malta aktar tard dis-sena, jitkellmu dwar realtajiet ħajjin, għax l-espressjoni tagħhom hija bbażata fuq osservazzjoni reali tal-ħajja, u mwassla b’kreattività kbira. Bħala qarrej Malti nħoss li kittieba bħal Karl Schembri u Henry Holland jagħmlu r-realtà tiegħi aktar rikka, u għalhekk aktar interessanti. Naqbel ukoll li l-operaturi letterarji u l-kittieba għandhom jikkomunikaw lil-letteratura stess. Qarrej mingħajr leħen tajjeb ma jiġborx is-semmiegħa.

  • Tara xi rwol għall-qasam kulturali fil-futur qarib?

Dan jiddependi aħna x’ser nagħmlu bih. B’xorti tajba hawn numru ta’ Maltin li jafu li l-qasam kulturali m’hu xejn għajr il-qafas li jiddefinilna ħajjitna. Jekk tarmi ismek, tarmi ilsienek, tarmi s-snajja’ u l-memorja, x’jibqagħlek? Jekk dak il-vojt ma timliehx bir-rispett u l-imħabba għal dak li jagħmlek int, u l-abilità li tikkomunika u tiskopri ‘l ħaddieħor, biex se timlieh? Ħafna programmi televiżivi u inizjattivi b’ismijiet sbieħ jimlulna l-vojt b’ħafna stejjer foloz. Min ibigħhomlna, huwa falz. Irrid nara aktar nies jingħaqdu ma’ dawk li ġa hawn u jieħdu t-taħriġ tagħhom fil-qasam kulturali bis-serjetà. Ir-rwol tal-qasam kulturali huwa kbir: irridu nimlewh b’ideat kreattivi u li tassew jinvolvu n-nies b’rispett u entużjażmu.

  • Int attiv f’Inizjamed, li żżomm attività kontinwa fuq diversi fronti: l-arti, il-letteratura, l-ekoloġija, il-politika. Illum x’jagħmel “organizzazzjoni kulturali”?

Bħal kollox, għandek żewġ naħat. Għandek l-impenn politiku f’dak li tagħmel, jiġifieri tagħmel xi ħaġa għax temmen fiha, u għax biha tħossok aktar ħaj, aktar sħiħ. Dan jista’ jkun fil-qasam letterarju, l-arti viżwali, l-edukazzjoni soċjali jew dik ambjentali. Min-naħa l-oħra għandek l-organizzazzjoni stess, jigifieri mod effettiv u prattiku kif dawk il-pjanijiet jitwettqu b’mod kreattiv u ta’ ġid kemm għal min qed jorganizza kif ukoll għal min qed jipparteċipa jew josserva. Organizzazzjoni b’intenzjonijiet tajba, iżda bla struttura, m’hix organizzazzjoni, u ma ttulx. Illum il-ġurnata attivisti kulturali jridu jkunu responsabbli tal-pjanijiet li jfasslu u tal-wegħdiet li jagħmlu, għax strutturi oħrajn (bħal intrapriżi privati u korporazzjonijiet parastatali jsostnu l-attivitajiet, jew il-Ministeri fi ħdan il-gvern) jistennew li dawn ikunu responsabbli u accountable. Għalhekk, organizzazzjoni trid tkun soda, u fl-istess ħin kreattiva biżżejjed biex taddatta ruħha għaċ-ċirkostanzi li jinqalgħu.

  • Ftit snin ilu irbaħt konkors tal-letteratura u tlajt taqra xogħlok Sarajevo. Kif tiddeskrivi din l-esperjenza?

Il-vjaġġ innifsu kien eċitanti u għadu jġibli memorji sbieħ. Fl-2001 Sarajevo ma kenitx ilha li ħelset mill-gwerra, u l-art, il-bini u fuq kollox in-nies kienu għadhom isofru mill-ġrieħi ta’ din l-esperjenza. L-atmosfera li laqgħet lili u lill-artisti li ltaqgħu għall-Biennale dei Giovani Artisti, irrapreżentati lokalment mill-Inizjamed, kienet waħda bierda. Din inħallet bil-mod hekk kif l-artisti tħalltu aktar man-nies tal-lokal, anke permezz ta’ l-arti li ġabu magħhom. Kont qrajt ix-xogħol tiegħi, li kien rakkont qasir dwar par saqajn ribellużi li fil-kaos isibu l-komunikazzjoni, ġo bitħa mikxufa, taħt xita traxxex u l-arja friska ġejja minn fuq il-muntanji (dawk l-istess muntanji li kienu ospitaw l-Olimpijadi tax-Xitwa f’edizzjoni tas-snin tmenin). Il-kittieba l-oħra kienu lkoll mrekknin madwari, u ngħid il-verità stħajjiltni xi vjaġġatur ġej mill-bogħod biex jirrakkonta l-istorja tiegħu…fil-fatt, hekk kien!

  • Id-dħul ta’ Malta fl-Unjoni Ewropea: minn dak li tgħallimt s’issa fix-xogħol, kif taħseb li l-artisti Maltin se jirrispondu għal din il-bidla?

Naqbel ma’ dak li qal li aħna l-Maltin ġejjin mill-furbani. Għalhekk, aktar iva milli le, l-artisti Maltin se jkunu kapaċi jaffrontaw din l-isfida u jużawha għall-fini artistiċi tagħhom stess. B’xorti tajba numru ta’ artisti Maltin, bħal dawk viżwali tal-grupp START, jieħdu d-dixxiplina tagħhom bis-serjetà, u diġà kapaċi jagħtu prodott intelliġenti u fin lill-udjenza tagħhom. Filwaqt li l-artisti jridu jagħmlu xogħolhom sew, l-istess irid isir min-naħa ta’ min qed imexxina fil-qasam kulturali ta’ l-Unjoni Ewropea. Il-Ministeru għall-Isports, Żgħażagħ u Kultura u l-Kunsill Malti għall-Kultura u l-Arti għandhom ikomplu ħidmiethom u jwettqu l-preparazzjonijiet meħtieġa bis-serjetà. Il-kultura m’hix xi ħaġa li nagħmlu waqt il-brejk mix-xogħol, jew il-part-time ta’ erbgħa min-nies li jħobbu l-arti. Il-livell u l-espressjoni kulturali f’pajjiżna jservu ta’ sintomu ċar tas-saħħa ta’ pajjiżna. L-artisti, flimkien mal-managers ta’ l-arti tagħhom, għandhom jaħsdu din l-opportunità ta’ darba. Ma ninsewx li mhux aħna biss konna furbani…

  • Fiex ifakkrek il-kliem “letteratura Maltija”? X’jinteressak l-iktar fil-letteratura Maltija? X’tistenna mil-letteratura Maltija, llum u l-quddiem?

Maria Grech Ganado, Immanuel Mifsud, Adrian Grima, Stanley Borg, Ġè Stagno (fir-ritratt), Clare Azzopardi, Bernard Cauchi, inti…dawn huma l-kittieba Maltin li jkellmuni direttament, bla tlaqliq u metafori moħlija. Jitkellmu l-lingwa tiegħi, u jitkellmuha b’rispett għal-lingwa u għal min qed jismagħha. B’xorti tajba, għandhom ukoll il-kuraġġ li jesperimentaw bil-lingwa. Nistenna li dawn l-awturi, u oħrajn bħalhom, ikomplu x-xogħol ta’ riċerka u taħriġ li jwassalhom għal espressjoni innovattiva. Nistenna wkoll li din il-letteratura tkompli tolqot aktar nies, u ġġiegħel aktar nies jaqrawha u jiddiskutuha. Dan parti minn xogħli, u għalhekk aħjar immur inkompli…



Din l-intervista dehret fil-ħarġa tal-Ġensillum tas-Sibt, 23 ta' Awwissu, 2003

Here to stay

"It was truly encouraging to get to the end of the July issue of Tune In magazine and find the Minister for Youth and the Arts, Jesmond Mugliett, show his genuine interest in literature. A love for the arts comes from a direct experience of it, and with regard to books, the minister is very well read!

It was also good to see our own Oliver Friggieri come up among Gunter Grass, Garcia Marquez and Kundera as writers who have influenced his reading habits.
May I just add that this generation is producing its own promising writers, and that, luckily for all readers who like a good, fresh read, young writers in Malta are able to create that. Just have a look at the writers featured in F'Kull Belt Hemm Kantuniera, the latest publication by Inizjamed. Such writing is here to stay and here to be read."

Karsten Xuereb, St Julian's

(The Times, Tuesday, August 12, 2003)


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