2018 is a big deal for Malta. Its capital, Valletta, is the European Capital of Culture and the island is currently readying itself to take centre-stage on a prestigious global platform. At the forefront of this is the Valletta 2018 Foundation, the body who are curating Malta’s exciting events programme. Here, its executive director Catherine Tabone reveals what visitors can expect and how the Foundation are nurturing the island’s cultural and social development.
What does Malta and its islands have in store for visitors in 2018?
As a project, Valletta 2018 is underpinned by a lively interaction with the communities and the spaces where creativity happens. Our programme is an exuberant and inclusive mixture of events, consisting of over 130 projects. It features mega-spectacles such the Valletta Pageant of the Seas, as well as smaller projects developed with various local and international communities.
The island will host multi-site exhibitions and dynamic shows that engage with city spaces including the hidden subterranean passages underneath Valletta. Guaranteeing access for all is one of our main priorities. This is a programme that makes the case for culture as a lived experience, encouraging participation and co-creation. It is designed and woven to inspire, uplift, and encourage innovation.
You’ve recently joined Valletta 2018 Foundation as Executive Director. How do you hope to shape its direction leading up to next year?
Having been involved in the cultural sector for many years, I know that no creative leader has all the ideas. I see my primary role as creating spaces where meaningful interactions and participatory engagement can occur, whilst ensuring that public investment will continue to nurture creativity and challenging work.
My colleagues at the Foundation make up a dynamic team of motivated people who firmly believe that Valletta 2018 is a great opportunity for the country. It is a Carpe Diem moment for the nation, to celebrate our identity, our heritage and our stories, while building bridges with other parts of the world, inviting everyone to be part of this unique experience.
How do you think Malta’s history and landscape informs its cultural output?
Malta’s history and landscape are a fertile resource for creatives to engage with. Valletta, as a case in point, is a Renaissance city that welcomed the finest thinkers, engineers, scientists and artists over the centuries. Masters like Caravaggio, Mattia Preti, Lord Byron, Hugo Pratt, J.M.W. Turner, and Thomas Pynchon – to name but a few – lived and thrived within its walls across the ages. We are now presented with an opportunity to shape the future of the city and the Maltese islands. We want to ensure this moment is grasped fully by investing heavily in our people as the principal catalysts of innovation.
Have Malta and its islands undergone a social, architectural and cultural regeneration recently? And how has Valletta 2018 been instrumental in that?
Malta is experiencing regeneration on many levels and Valletta is, crucially, at the heart of this. Our capital city – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – was in urgent need of resuscitation, energy and investment. With the support of central Government, an unprecedented program of conservation and embellishment was embarked upon, with over €60 million devoted to this vision.
Valletta has bounced back with creative energy, enhancing the social pride of the communities of ‘Beltin’, who are singular in their passionate loyalty for the city and attracting visitors from around the world. As a Foundation, we work to increase urban democracy by providing spaces where people from all backgrounds and perspectives can come together, improving the lives of residents and making the city more attractive to visitors.
Do you hope that being the European Capital of Culture will have an enduring effect on raising Malta’s profile as a great destination to visit for excellent arts and culture
Valletta itself was an innovation in urban design. We want to build upon this narrative and reignite that innovative spark. Nurturing a professional creative sector is a fruitful step towards upgrading the cultural product and raising the bar. We now have festivals and concerts that are firmly established on the international culture map. Ultimately, the greatest legacy of the ECoC title would be wider participation, facilitating people’s engagement with the arts and the challenges they pose, while inspiring imagination. This will further increase Malta’s potential in a world where creativity is increasingly becoming an economic powerhouse.
Aside from being the 2018 European Capital of Culture, why should people visit Malta?
Because it is an all-rounder. It ticks all the boxes for leisure time: 300 days of sunshine, relaxing sun-soaked beaches, pristine blue waters, spectacular views, great dining experiences with a varied cuisine, outstanding heritage sites and a thriving nightlife. It is a combination of history nestled in cutting-edge contemporary innovation.
What are your favourite aspects of Maltese arts and culture?
Maltese culture thrives on the energy of Mediterranean resourcefulness and spontaneous exuberance. The intense passion, competition, colour and ritual, coupled with the sacred and the profane soundscapes of our festas are incomparable. Our creative sector is thriving with strong market growth, participation and artist mobility. We have a diverse culture, bearing various influences, and as a frontier nation we embrace them revelling in the profound cultural richness they bestow.
For first-time visitors to Malta, which museums and monuments would you recommend they must see and why?
Valletta, of course, is a must with its extraordinary artistic and architectural legacy. Staying within the capital city, I would definitely recommend MUZA, one of our flagship legacy capital projects. It is the new national museum of fine art, embracing the innovative concept of a proactive community-based museum.
And finally, which buildings really encapsulate the island’s culture and heritage for you?
Malta has an intensely layered history that has inspired creatives throughout the ages. This can be seen clearly in its outstanding megalithic structures with their sophisticated design and carvings, a testament to the sheer creativity of the temple builders. The temples are just one part of the story though, as it is difficult not to be inspired by the iconic skyline of Valletta, with its domes, spires and spectacular military fortifications. The islands are one complex structure that holds within it a tangible legacy of the past and a gateway to the future.
The Athenaeum Spa is the epitome of relaxation and luxury, positioning itself as a superb spa destination. Bask in a spa escape to remember.