November, 2015. There she is, lying before my eyes: The Sleeping Lady. Indeed a very impressive, very small sculpture of prehistoric art, exhibited at the National Museum of Archaeology of Malta, Valletta. As visitors we keep silent without expressing our strong feelings of awe, for fear of awakening her. In the Netherlands my friends warned me: ‘Don’t forget that woman. You must see her!’
A few moments later, I sit on a bench at the museum, surrounded by the atmosphere of antique temples. It is surprising - although Malta is a very small country with only about 412,000 inhabitants - yet its cultural history and heritage are great and world-famous. Where can you find in such a small area the cultural influences of early Sicilian farmers, Arab invaders, Christian knights and European empires, among many other treasures?
I sit on that bench reading a volume of Encore (03-2015/16), a national art and culture magazine with very interesting publications about the Maltese cultural sector. Being a Dutch professor in art and economics, a particular article about cultural policy catches my attention. The article, ‘Create the Future’ written by the Arts Council Malta, informed me about the ideas and aspirations for a new cultural five-year strategy plan for 2016-2020. The article is a report which describes the content of a special consultation meeting, Create2020, where professionals from the cultural field discuss the making of that new plan. Finally, the Council requests that readers participate within this consultation process by submitting their ideas.
Inspired by The Sleeping Lady and her homeland, I felt the need to contribute to the debate. However, I do realize that I have to be modest because the Maltese cultural sector is not my field of expertise. Nevertheless, drawing from my international research and experience as a resource, and considering the cultural sector as an important impetus for local, regional and national development, I can suggest some issues. These issues could be added to the themes as mentioned in the article. I will formulate my contribution in the form of three core suggestions, hoping that these issues will be helpful in the process of developing a new cultural strategy for Malta.
Such an international master’s degree programme functions as an important stimulation for practice-led academic research and improvement of the professionalisation of the cultural sector.
Indeed, I have the idea that the Maltese art and cultural sectors can develop an ambitious cultural strategy for the coming five years. Still, we have to acquire our insight from elsewhere. To say it in this way: if such a plan is based mainly on Top-Down approaches the strategy would miss the potential dynamics from the bottom-up perspective of the cultural sector, formed by artistic practices, design studios, cultural spaces and public-oriented festivals.
The new development in cultural Europe is DIY/DIT (Do It Yourself – Do It Together). In connection with this new way of working and in cooperation with policymakers and advisors Malta can create the best practice on its road to 2020, with an important stop in 2018.
Giep Hagoort (1948) is chairman of ERTNAM (European Research and Training Network on Art Management) and professor emeritus art and economics at the Dutch Utrecht University-UU/HKU. www.ertnam.eu