4 November 2012

‘Starting the Engines’ in Malta’s Creative Economy

We recently caught up with Toni Attard, former participant in our Cultural Leadership International programme, who updated us on the progress of Malta’s first national strategy for the creative economy.

Malta’s cultural and creative landscape is undergoing some rapid and exciting changes. For a small Mediterranean island of 400,000 people there are a lot of plans, not least hosting theEuropean Capital of Culture in Valletta, in 2018, which last month received recommendation from the ECoC jury with a unanimous vote (formal nomination will take place in May 2013).

There is good reason for Malta to be optimistic about its creative future. Between 2000-2007 the number of enterprises operating in the country’s cultural and creative industries nearly doubled in size; and from 2004-2008, exported cultural and creative services rose at a considerable annual average growth rate of over 60 per cent (supported mostly by the audiovisual services, advertising, and architectural services). Tourist interest in Malta is also thriving, with the latest figures showingrecord monthly increases in tourist arrivals since April 2012.

Moreover, the government have so far been open in embracing a step-change towards a stronger creative economy. Despite being on the edge of recession-ridden Europe, the Culture budget has seen increases for the last 3 years, from 10% to 12% to 6%.

Toni Attard, Creative Economy Advisor at the Ministry of Finance, Economy and Investment (MFEI), is a key member of the Strategy team proposing the way forward for Malta's cultural and creative sector -

"It’s a bit surreal to be kicking all this stuff off in 2012 – building a contemporary arts space, building a theatre, an architecture centre, programming and developing three new festivals in a year. In your own bubble you think great, but once you start talking to your colleagues around Europe, you are reminded [that others] are facing 50% cuts!

Needless to say, you need to see where we were before. We are still not at 1% expenditure from public funds, we are at 0.9%. But we were at 0.4% up until 4 years ago. So the issue now is – and I repeat this all the time – not let’s put in more money, but make sure every cent we have is strategically driven to address one part or another".

Toni himself seems clear in his own mind about the challenges ahead – keen to get on with things but also sensitive towards the delicacy of the present situation -

"At the back of my mind I am always thinking about the funding structures and investment programs that may no longer exist at some point or other. So always with every fund you create you need to make sure that if someone stops it, that energy is still retained somehow".

Seconded to MFEI from St James Cavalier, where he was EU International Projects Coordinator, Toni was also a member of the consultative body for the2009 European Year of Creativity and Innovation, and the same year participated in the British Council'sCLI programme.

The CLI programme gave him the opportunity to network with cultural leaders and speakers from across Europe and the world, and build relationships that are still proving valuable today. Toni's latest trip to the UK is for a meeting with Plus Tate, whom he got to know through the CLI community. They are now helping to develop a brief for Malta's contemporary art space:

"They're also getting in contact with other people. We're building a small village of cultural brokers! [laughs]... I'm excited for the journey. It's been tough, it's been personal, but it's also been inspired by a lot of people - it's really about who you surround yourself with that inspires the process".

Toni joined the Strategy Team, as Cultural Policy Advisor, in 2010. Based in the Finance Ministry, the working group has been tasked with mapping Malta’s cultural and creative industries (the first comprehensive study of the sector in the country's history) and developing the first national strategy for the creative economy.

Teaming up with the Finance Ministry has been, in Toni’s words, "an absolutely interesting clash, but a very positive clash, like a big bang!"

‘Starting the engines’

The objectives of theCreative Economy Strategy, drawn up by the working group, are based on 4 key areas - governance, education, route to market and internationalisation. The success of Malta’s growth towards a prosperous creative future seems to rely on a joined up approach –

"Internationalisation and exchange are so important for us. I mean, we are an island – our market is not 400 thousand people but 500 million and more. Yet we need to increase our quality in order to get international audiences interested. You cannot export a design product if you do not have the necessary quality to do so, which means you [need to] have the right education infrastructure to achieve and deliver that. So it’s kind of starting off the engines at a number of levels and giving fuel to these different things".

@ Vicki Burton

As the working group began conducting their research and evaluation of the creative sector, it became clear that small but significant changes could be made along the way, which they have so far been able and willing to implement:

"We did an analysis of the industry and started championing the sector and working a lot on advocacy. We started identifying problems [and decided] ‘ok, as we go along we should intervene wherever we can’… So whilst writing the strategy we ended up also implementing funding programs ourselves.

Suddenly we had a kitty of 2 million Euros which we are trying to strategically address. So really and truly it was a bit of a shock system. It was a bit of a shock to certain cultural creatives because they were like – ‘At first we have nothing, and now we can’t even catch up with all the different applications we have to go through and the different funding programs’. But that was the fun part!"

‘Managing change’

Of course, some proposals have been more welcome than others. One of the key changes recommended by the strategy is the consolidation of the strategic remits of the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts, the Book Council, the Malta Film Commission and the Crafts Council, creating one governancestructure:

"The sector was so fragmented. The way the government organised itself we had 10 ministries and 22 agencies dealing with one part of the cultural sector or another! How can you have one voice?

So we had to come up with a governance model. There [has been] a lot of internal struggle, because it mean[s] change, and change is never easy… There has been resistance, of course, you’d expect that. Now we enter the phase of managing change".

And it is not just a change in the concentration of power or the distribution of funds, but also a change in the mindset of creative people, creative organisations and their audiences in Malta –

"We have implemented things as we have gone along - out of 45 actions, 12 have already been implemented. But it takes time for things to sink in, and for people to start feeling it. Because, to be very honest, for years and years people had to do it all alone... They will only feel the impact of the sector if suddenly all funds stop.

[The proposals are] going to bring in new realities and sensitivities. Whereas before you could be an amateur artist, dabble in art and you could exhibit in one of the major venues, now the difficulty is going to be - how do you increasingly make a difference between those who are professionally developing themselves into that area and those who just have fun? – both are socially and culturally valid, that is important to state. But in terms of prioritising, then you need to [know] where you want to go".

@ Vicki Burton

The link back home…

One of the chief concerns is to ensure that creative professionals coming out of Malta are not forced to take up their profession abroad – to ensure that internationalisation, in the words of the strategy, is 'a stepping stone and not an escape route’ -

"This is what happened when we did the analysis. We had a model [based] on the journey of an individual artist, or a creative and that is how we designed the strategy - from the point of view of - if I am an individual creative, ‘How do I travel? How do I move from one step to another?’

We are all the time emphasising the fact that you should leave the country because it is great to travel around and to work and collaborate, but you should not leave the country because you have no other option. If creatives [want] to be out of the country for a long time, or even to live abroad, that’s really up to them. But the link back home is most of the time lost, because there isn’t the necessary infrastructure of support.

What I see now, is quite a number of people living abroad who are getting excited, at times even more excited than people who are [living] in Malta!"

Valletta 2018

Hosting the European Capital of Culture in Malta’s capital, Valletta, is of course a big landmark on the horizon, which has the effect of reinforcing the principles of the strategy and the efforts towards a stronger creative future. But sights are clearly set on sustainability and not a one-off celebration:

"[The strategy] did not exist because of 2018. But there is a psychological effect in saying (if no argument works) – ‘well if we’re not doing this by 2018, then let’s not talk about it…’. But really it’s not just about 2018. [This is] an opportunity to think of 2020 or 2025. So all this - including the 'Capital of Culture' - is going to be process-led, with results manifested by 2018 of course".

Toni (left) with fellow CLI participant, Quinten Peelen, who also has plans for 2018

Fellow CLI participant in 2009, Quinten Peelen, also has an eye on 2018. He is currently helping the bid for Utrecht (Netherlands) to join Valletta as European Capital of Culture in the same year.

So what next for the strategy?

"Next week we’ll be going through all the [public] feedback. We will then resubmit the document to cabinet and if approved, go to parliament with the legalamendmentsto develop the necessary structures to take the strategy further."

Good luck Toni!

For more information on the strategy please take a look at the Creative Malta website.