On my recent visit to Malta I was fortunate enough to spend three days working with representatives of those organisations that have been selected to become Arts Council Malta’s strategic partners during the years 2017-19.
Such a focus on strategy is important, for while the relative security that three years of guaranteed funding offers is evidently welcome, such funding inevitably comes with the expectation that it will be used effectively to support creative practice and cultural participation in Malta. In turn, any organisation receiving funding must inevitably grapple with the question of what is the best way for them to achieve these goals. Should they use the money to invest in their programme, pay artists a living wage, and continue to provide their offer for free to all that are interested? Or should they seek to professionalise their activities, employ an artistic director and seek to diversify revenue streams? Likewise, such funding might allow an organisation to turn its attention to international activity, supporting the export and exchange of cultural production across Europe and beyond. Or alternatively, organisations might choose to focus more on their immediate community through developing new projects that seek to remove barriers to participation for those that face them.
These are not easy questions, there are no standard answers, and it is certainly not a binary choice. However they are ultimately questions of strategy and in reflecting on such questions it is fundamental that the leaders of any organisation are clear about what types of value it is that they are seeking to generate, how they see the relationship between these values, and what they believe are the best actions to maximise the value that they seek to create.
For what are commonly referred to as commercial organisations, this value is economic and can be extracted through dividends. However for organisations like those who I was working with, it is cultural or social value that they primarily seek to generate and sustain. Yet economic, social and cultural values are inevitably interconnected, as the generation of one is often needed in order to facilitate its exchange into another. The formation of a strategy is the process by which the members of an organisation make clear their beliefs about how this exchange happens, and in making it explicit increase the likelihood of its occurrence.
Each of the Cultural Partner Organisations is different, and how they choose to use the opportunity offered by three years of guaranteed funding will inevitably vary. However I urge each and every team to be clear about what value they seek to generate and to develop a strategic plan that will leave them better placed to continue to generate such value at the end of the strategic partnership. This is how they can build the legacy of this programme, ensure others can follow in their footsteps, and ensure creative practice and cultural participation remains central to the civic life of Malta.