Culture pundits give draft policy the cold shoulder

David Darmanin

Out of the seven culture stakeholders who were contacted by MaltaToday, four did not bother reading through the cultural policy draft published by the Culture Ministry last Saturday.
Artists, thespians, writers and university professors told MaltaToday that “some evident apathy of certain key individuals” towards the document may stem from a 20-year old crusade to get the policy going, but which fizzled out, causing disheartenment as successive culture ministers dragged their feet over the issue.

Even former University Rector Rev. Prof. Peter Serracino Inglott, who thoroughly read the document, said that “artists have been waiting for the issue of a national culture policy for 20 years now. Although the content in the one published last week seems ideal, some artists could be disappointed as they have not seen any concrete action being taken yet. Everything is still at policy level – and this may seem as though the proposals are in Utopia.”

On the other hand, Serracino Inglott hailed the authors of the document as “the general thrust of the policy adopts the thought that culture is not only important in terms of holistic development, but also for economic development”.

This point was outlined in the mission of the policy itself along with a governmental commitment to invest wholly into the cultural sphere.
The authors of the report have in fact referred to 2003 statistics showing that the socio-economic importance and net contribution of the cultural sector in Malta is growing. They said that the private industry within the sector employs a total 7,041 part-time and full-time workers; apprenticeships and home workers engaged in the activities of over two thousand enterprises in the Maltese Islands.
While data on the national growth rate of the sector does not yet exist, the cultural and creative sectors have seen their activity grow at a rate of 2.2% faster than the general economy in Europe for the period 1999-2003, generating 2.6% of the EU GDP and employing 3.1% of total employed population in Europe.

“The document also clearly describes the responsibilities of cultural institutions that have been created over the years, and I think this is an important step,” Serracino Inglott said. “For instance, the Malta Council for Culture and Arts has replaced the Department of Culture – bringing with it the leap of having a government entrusted body responsible for organising events to an actual regulatory body. We’ve also seen the introduction of Heritage Malta and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage over the years, and the policy clearly outlines their function. Same goes with the National Orchestra, St James Cavalier and the Mediterranean Conference Centre. Remember that these institutions all have different statutes – St James is a foundation, others are commercial companies while the Manoel is wholly dependent on government. We needed clarification on what these institutions are and the role they fulfill in the cultural scene. The policy explains it clearly – with the purpose of taking it to the next phase where strategies are implemented.”

Serracino Inglott explained that over the past 20 years – since the first glimpse of a cultural policy draft – surveys and consultations were made with a number of stakeholders with the intention of defining strategic priorities.

“The consensus between artists is impressive,” he said. “The consultations clearly brought out the need for a music academy; an artists’ village equipped with laboratories for electronic music and facilities for interactive visual arts; and a carnival village. There was also unanimous disagreement on Ta’ Qali being the right venue for carnival, since this event is generally associated with Valletta – or at least with a centre synonymous to social activity.”

Serracino Inglott said that despite “a Utopic character” that is evident in many of the policies outlined in the document “if government commits itself to culture being so important for economic development, the document is clearly an important step forward”.
Unifaun Theatre Company artistic director Adrian Buckle said that at first glance, “the draft policy sounds very exciting, especially where education is concerned. Some things were long overdue.”
However, Buckle registered his disappointment over the fact that “censorship was not given enough importance.”

Without mentioning the word censorship once, the document clearly hints at government’s intention to take the classification board away from the clasps of the police and place it under the remit of the Culture Ministry.

Buckle told MaltaToday that he is informed that more issues directly related to censorship were originally featured in the policy document, but were removed prior to publication.

“The authorities have to realise that censorship is anti-democratic and does not go down well with today’s society,” he said. “I expected the policy to stress this issue more.”

On his part, veteran art critic, theatre director and poet Mario Azzopardi says: “The document provokes in me an uncomfortable feeling of deja’ vu and frustration.”

In 2001, Azzopardi was commissioned by former Education Minister Louis Galea to draft a National Culture Policy – which he concluded after a series of consultation meetings with various stakeholders. A revised version was drawn up the following year, taking into consideration feedback received during the consultation period, but
never since published.

“The policy document of 2001, endorsed by the Cabinet and the Council of Europe, no less, had already stressed the humanistic, economic, social, educational and democratic importance of culture in very explicit terms, and now we have another paper based on recycled principles,” he said.

“Everybody should agree on those principles, no doubt, but it is high time we moved from words to action. We should now refrain from further glorifying a generic vision, stop promising more exploration, talk and analysis and implement concrete practice. This requires not only political will but brazen energy, commitment and hard work.”

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