No doubt there will be a splendiferous, neck-cracking, jaw-aching, retina-burning, ear-drum-shattering spectacle at the opening of the Valletta Capital of Culture festival and may the thousands that will flock to it have a great time. There’s always the risk of conflating culture with spectacle but the program is long and intense and the variety wide so it would be surprising if the opening event had not been a big bang.
The effort to dragoon everyone into enthusiastic applause is starting to feel like a scheduled funeral of one of the Kims. Unanimity is the opposite of culture. Without critical detractors, without counter-culture, without irreverent sedition, art is formulaic and very quickly becomes a vehicle of power.
But let’s give it some time and in the process enjoy whatever lines in the program are to our individual tastes.
I am more concerned about rumblings from the local artistic community that seem to suggest that all the money being spent in this big party appears to be focused on the short-term binge and the opportunity for the events to leave a legacy for the cultural sector is being missed.
Mario Vella, who is as counter-culture as they come, posted on this in his unambiguous style a few days ago.
Edward Mercieca, perhaps a bit more mainstream than Mario Vella, but no less an expert in the sector was saying pretty much the same thing in different language.
If this is the case, we have a bit of a policy catastrophe.
Joseph Muscat is all over the Capital of Culture bandwagon right now. He inherited a city newly reborn designed, funded and delivered by his predecessor Lawrence Gonzi. Eddie Aquilina this morning explained it well in his The Times piece.
Joseph Muscat and before him Alfred Sant had done everything in their power to block EU membership that funded the transformation of Valletta. And then they stepped in line leading a campaign of criticism and contempt for the grandest project of all: the new entrance to Valletta and the new Parliament House, which campaign was only struck dumb by the project’s completion.
The funding, the context and the title of European Capital of Culture 2018 where the legacy left to Joseph Muscat.
The value he needed to add was to ensure there was a legacy carried forward after the fact.
But if they thought through how to use this opportunity to re-invent the cultural sector in Malta, we would no longer be able to justify paying William Mangion for his never-ending quest for rehearsal garages for rock bands, would we? Is he still looking?