Content For Success

This interview appeared in MONEY Magazine – Dec 2017 Issue 46

Valletta will be under the spotlight in 2018 as the European Capital of Culture. Catherine Tabone, the executive director of the Valletta 2018 Foundation, shares her excitement with Giselle Borg Olivier

What investments are being made for the programme to create long-lasting value for the artistic community?

The Valletta 2018 Foundation has always been fully committed to providing opportunities and spaces that enable our creatives to express themselves to the fullest, even beyond 2018.  Legacy is not just a buzz word but a guiding principle for us. Building knowledge, capacity, infrastructure and internationalization were vital ingredients of our strategy for 2018 and for the future.  The Cultural Programme is, in fact, designed to have a significant and long-lasting effect on Valletta’s cultural vibrancy. It aims to strengthen networks, open up possibilities for new collaborations, encourage new work to flourish, and raise the capacity and ambition of the cultural sector.  A staggering €40 million have been invested in the run up to the event to prepare our creatives to meet the European Capital of Culture challenge and equip them for the years ahead.

Will the programme be limited to 2018 or is the intention for it to be extended?

Valletta 2018 has invested strongly in a programme that sees the involvement of around 1000 local and international artists, curators, artist collectives, performers, workshop leaders, writers, designers, musicians and film-makers. While a number of international artists are collaborating with locals throughout the 2018 programme, Maltese artists are travelling to our twin European Capital of Culture Leeuwarden in the Netherlands as well as other cities in Cyprus, Poland, Greece and Japan.  The 2018 programme is based on a direct investment of €10 million in the cultural sector. At the centre of the 2018 programme are several infrastructure projects designed to evolve and expand well beyond next year; among these are MUŻA, the Valletta Design Cluster, Is-Suq tal-Belt and Strait Street.

It’s the year 2028, what remains from Valletta 2018? 

Our vision has always been to act as a catalyst and provide opportunities for economic and cultural transformation. A huge effort was undertaken by the Foundation to analyse and understand the needs of our society and of the Valletta community. The realm of human ‘experience’ has always been our priority. Social justice and economic growth need to go hand in hand.  The terms ‘quality of life’, ‘well-being’, ‘urban renaissance’, ‘liveability’ became central concepts which animated our discourse and helped us shape our policies. We have worked with purpose and hope to improve the socio-cultural development of everyone. People require cities to be more connected, accessible, vibrant, safe, clean, sustainable and resilient. We believe that our city needs to be re-imagined in a way to make active, engaging street-life inevitable. We always felt that we must do everything to encourage connections which urge people to congregate, co-operate and work for the common good. The Foundation, under the Chairmanship of Jason Micallef, has worked hard to prepare Valletta for success in the 21st century.  In 2028 I hope we would have helped transform our magnificent capital into a more equitable, welcoming and lively city.

What is Valletta 2018 going to offer that is different to the usual cultural programme that Malta offers?

2018 isa great opportunity for us all, as a nation, to celebrate our identity, our rich heritage and our future aspirations. We want to share our story with the world. This title has added vigour to the Government’s will to give culture the importance it merits; culture is what makes a country richer and stronger – it is our strongest resource.  The Foundation has worked hard to ensure that the arts are not accessible solely to the few but that they are democratised and inclusive, giving everybody the possibility to develop their creativity and to expand their horizons. We have, therefore, created a strong cultural program that invites people to become co-creators and active participants.

Was the programme designed with locals in mind, or is it geared towards attracting an international audience?

Our programme encourages participation and co-creation at a grass roots level, wherein creatives, cultural practitioners, residents and visitors can engage with important issues in diverse and accessible ways. It is a contemporary take on the traditional Maltese ‘festa’ that hopes to unlock everyone’s imagination!  With over 400 events in store, the ECoC year holds something for everybody; from participatory events and initiatives, festivals in the city, community workshops, interactive exhibitions, platforms designed to support creative production and debate, extra-curricular programmes and cultural initiatives for young people, community workshops, creative residencies within the Euro-Mediterranean region, and a whole spectrum of innovative events based in film, music, theatre and opera, lectures and panels hosting some of the world’s foremost thinkers and much more between.

What does your role within Valletta2018 entail? What has been your proudest moment to date? And your lowest point?

As the Foundation’s Executive Director, I have the opportunity to be at the helm of the organisation with the most exciting remit in Malta!  The European Capital of Culture experience is remarkable, and I am glad my work can contribute directly towards making Valletta and Malta take centre stage in 2018.  Throughout my tenure at the Foundation, I have encountered both challenges and opportunities – one of the former was to engage with a programme that was already set and defined before my arrival.  With the assistance of a highly-competent and committed team however, weaknesses are regularly transformed into points of strength and achievements.  The publication of our much-anticipated Cultural Programme last September can certainly be classified as one of my proudest moments in preparation for Valletta 2018.

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