The Maltese Time Machine: Magna Żmien

As I write this article, a box full of 8mm film has just been delivered to our studio. On these tapes is local home footage featuring carnival celebrations from the 1960s, a visit by the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II, and an assorted series of family events recorded around the Maltese Islands. These films are valuable historical records opening a window onto the unfiltered and uncensored perspective of Maltese citizens.  Magna Żmien is a Valletta 2018 project coordinated by artistic director Andrew Alamango and a collective of like-minded individuals. The purpose of the project is to collect and preserve historic Maltese content recorded on home sound, image, and video equipment over the past century. Left neglected, these personal documents containing evidence of Malta’s changing landscapes—physical, social, and political—might have been lost and forgotten. Instead, the team is reusing them, reinterpreting them through art. 

Armchair Voyager Wistin (Jacob Piccinino)

The move to digitise and make available fading analogue memories is physically manifested through ‘The Magnificent Memory Machine’—the Kapsula Merill, designed and built by Matthew Pandolfino, Andre Vujicic and Late Interactive. In the driver’s seat is Armchair Voyager Wistin (Jacob Piccinino). Behind the scenes is the professional studio that makes it all happen, digitising open reel tapes, audio cassettes, vinyl, Super 8 and 8mm film, photographs, negatives, and slides at high resolution. Since February 2018, we have digitised over 2,000 items from 51 different donors, in addition to receiving a further 600 digital files from private collections.

An eager viewer going back in time!

The collected material has many stories to tell. Our performance events throughout 2018, including at Science and the City and Malta Café Scientifique, only scratch the surface when it comes to the sheer volume of material we have been allowed to copy by donors. 

One thing we often encounter is the personal voice message—greetings between diasporic Maltese. Dating back to the 1950s, these appear most frequently on open reel and audio cassette tape, but also on special vinyl discs. One particular recording is by a man named Charlie who recorded his message in a Calibre booth on a platform at London Waterloo station. In the message, Charlie sends wishes to his family and regales them with tales of all the football matches he is attending, one of which he is particularly excited about: England vs East Germany. Some minor detective work has revealed that this recording was made on 24 November 1970 when England beat East Germany three goals to one. 

Messages such as these may seem inconsequential, but of all the voice recordings we have heard, they are perhaps among the most honest. Recorded in a busy, alien environment under strict time constraints, the speakers didn’t have the luxury of retakes before their voices were forever fixed on vinyl. 

Magna Żmien will continue to collect sounds, images, and videos like these, and present its research in innovative contexts beyond 2018. We want to continue engaging citizens in the technical and cultural components at the heart of our project. Agreements are also underway to establish a formal association between Magna Żmien and the National Archives, ensuring the longevity of this material as public documents are accessible to all. What we collect, after all, belongs to the Maltese people at home and abroad. The recordings contain an essence of our national identity that cannot and should not be lost.  

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Author: Andrew Pace for the Valletta 2018 Foundation

Grassroot legacy

Capitals of Culture want legacy. Wrocław 2016 established a microgrant system for small operators that is still in place. Aarhus 2017 combined qualitative and quantitative methods to evaluate a city’s cultural sustainability. Valletta 2018 wants to leave behind a vibrant grassroots movement actively shaping the country’s cultural policy. Rachel Baldacchino speaks to Szilvia Nagy to find out how this is possible…

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Player 1: ready to learn

Can digital games form part of the answer to dwindling attention spans in the classroom? Sara Cameron attended the ‘Playful Learning in STEM’ Seminar at the MITA data centre in June to hear entrepreneur Dr Lauri Järvilehto’s thoughts on the matter.

Our attention is constantly bombarded by the likes of mobile games, social media, Netflix, and Google. Adults are having a tough enough time focusing, let alone children sitting at their desks trying to wrap their heads around algebra and particle physics. Textbook lessons are fighting a losing battle with personalised entertainment. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Dr Lauri Järvilehto, co-founder and chairman of Finnish startup Lighteneer, believes his team might have a solution. Games see kids experience progressive challenges. Children, as players, use diverse problem solving abilities, then receive instant feedback, satisfaction, and a sense of achievement. To ignite that same fire for games in learning, education needs to tap into that world and harness what makes it special. The feat, Järvilehto explains, is finding balance. We need games that contextualise mathematical or scientific concepts, allowing players to master these concepts, all while being engaged and having fun. A tall order.

Gamification has the potential to ease the introduction of subjects that are normally considered complex. It can make them more approachable, allowing students to grasp the basics before undertaking formal learning to further deepen their understanding.

‘Our thinking is that great learning games can work as the first spark for the love of learning in future generations. They can convey the awe and wonder you see shining in the eyes of our scientific experts as they tell us about the wonders of particle physics,’ says Järvilehto, speaking at a seminar called Playful Learning in STEM organised by the Science Centre (Ministry for Education and Employment) in collaboration with Malta Information Technology Agency and the Valletta 2018 Foundation.

But whilst digital learning is becoming all the craze, Järvilehto warns that educators should be wary of jumping on this trendy bandwagon. Technology is not a cure-all; there is no magic wand. Lighteneer aims to develop games that complement, rather than compete with, formal learning. He also believes that, even with an abundance of tech-based tools, an engaging teacher is still the best way to improve education and inspire the next generation. Games should be used as an initial spark to reel students in at the outset. ‘Perhaps kids will soon grow to think about particle physics and atoms as something as cool as collecting Pokémon.’ Game learning can be the key to unlocking students’ potential, offering a more accessible route to developing an understanding of complex topics.

To keep up with a fast-changing digital world, we must acknowledge its challenges and adapt. Games can’t solve this puzzle alone, but used in the right way, they can be a tremendously useful addition to a teacher’s toolbox.

  Author: Sara Cameron

Living between two worlds


Cesar A. Cruz famously said that ‘art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.’ People have placed plenty of emphasis on the second half of that sentence—art is often used to provoke and make the viewer rethink their perception of the world. But what about the first half of that famous maxim? Can art serve as a comfort to those enduring difficult times? Pamela Baldacchino, the artist who founded the Deep Shelter project, certainly believes so.

Baldacchino has experience with serious illness. Not only is she a qualified nurse, but she also suffered from fibromyalgia for 14 years, a chronic condition characterised by constant pain, fatigue, and trouble sleeping.

While reading for her Master’s degree in Fine Arts, Baldacchino created an audiovisual work purposely designed for a hospital environment. The work expressed empathy with patients by erasing the distinction between the sufferer and the audience, visually and symbolically showing states that merge into one another; the flesh of the artist’s hand becomes one with the ‘flesh of the sea’, for example. In another piece, the boundaries between sky, earth, and tree blur. She wanted to explore the concept further, to take her ideas beyond her degree and see them implemented in a practical manner within a clinical environment. With this goal in mind, she successfully acquired funding from the TAKEOFF Business Incubation Centre (University of Malta) as well as Arts Council Malta. Deep Shelter also forms part of the Valletta 2018 Cultural Programme and was presented during the Living Cities, Liveable Spaces conference held in November.

Others embraced Baldacchino’s approach to use art in helping those suffering from illness. A mutual friend introduced her to Dr Benna Chase, a psychologist within the Oncology Department (Mater Dei Hospital), who started using Baldacchino’s work during therapy with her patients. They then met clinical aromatherapist Marika Fleri, and the trio was complete. ‘We realised how much in sync we were. Through completely different mediums, we came together with instant understanding,’ Chase says.


As the Deep Shelter project, they have organised two series of sensory workshops, consisting of six sessions each, as well as artist workshops for the creation and donation of artworks to clinical hospital spaces. Some of these workshops were aimed at people in palliative care, many of whom are aware that they are nearing the end of their lives. The workshops aimed to help them recognise, create, and make use of the ‘language’ that art provides when words are not enough.

“It is difficult for patients whose lives are punctuated by clinical sights, sounds, and smells to feel in tune with nature.”

‘In one of the workshops, author Leanne Ellul started reading from Tereża, a book she translated about  a girl during the Second World War. Several of the patients had lived that experience and it took them back to their own childhoods. Then, we asked composer and percussionist musician Luke Baldacchino to pick up on the feelings conveyed in the writing, compose a piece of music, and play. We realised that something was happening within them,’ Baldacchino says. The most marvelous transformation was in an elderly woman who usually sat perfectly still and was almost totally unresponsive to the outside world. ‘While we were using spoken language, we couldn’t manage to get through, but then a piece of music brought a rare smile to her face. Through this alternate sensory experience, we were allowing processing to happen; it’s a form of therapy as well.’

Nature has always been central to the context of the Deep Shelter project; it becomes ‘a metaphor of the self, where both fluidity and tension are captured.’ But it is

difficult for patients whose lives are punctuated by clinical sights, sounds, and smells to feel in tune with nature. With the help of her aromatherapy oils, Fleri brings in an element of nature and tactility to the patients. ‘The kind of experiences we are trying to create are aimed at making the patient feel contained and held,’ Baldacchino explains. ‘We want to provide something that supports their gritty journey towards acceptance. Even if it does not fit into what we traditionally think of as contemporary art, it fulfils the scope.’ She expresses her frustration with the art in spaces where people are undergoing medical treatment that is merely ‘decorative’ or ‘clever’, and does not provide any sustenance to the patient’s emotional well being. There has to be a story woven behind the artwork that leads one to feel understood when they are going through a time of change, upheaval, or trauma.’

Baldacchino, Chase, and Fleri have received both support and contempt about the project’s goal to derive value from art for the process of healing. However, the patients that the Deep Shelter project has treated are unequivocal about its benefits.

One patient says she believes the workshops serve to ‘release’ emotions, while supporting them throughout their different journeys. When she felt that she had nothing to lose, the artistic outlet Deep Shelter provided gave her a way to release the emotions of anger, fear, and regret she had been holding within for so long. ‘The health system needs to be more open to other therapies to be able to provide a truly holistic healing modality, incorporating mind and body and not seeing the person as ‘parts’.’

Humans are the only species on the planet with the ability to tell stories about their life through art and sensual expression. But during the cancer journey, it is harder to find yourself and your experiences reflected in a meaningful way. The Deep Shelter project seizes art’s potential as a means to process illness, pain, and trauma and puts that power into the hands of the people who need it most.   


Author: Valletta 2018 Foundation
Photos: Eliza Von Brockdorff, Anna Runefelt, Sara Pace, Pamela Baldacchino, Tim Lewis

Urban Utopia

Valletta is living proof that major cultural and artistic events can breathe new life into the city. When Malta’s capital was granted the title of European Capital of Culture for 2018, all hands were on deck to prune and preen, reversing decades of decay to make it ‘worthy’ of such a prestigious title. Now, after years of intense effort, the hard work has paid off. City Gate now provides an appropriately magnificent entryway into Valletta. Dingy, long-shuttered venues have been restored and reinvigorated. The once sleepy city has roared back to life with the wealth of events being organised. Valletta is no longer a stop on the hop-on hop-off bus; it is a bustling melting pot of old and new with an inescapable siren song.

This shift has created positive momentum in the arts scene. But not all outcomes have been positive. Valletta’s overhaul can look very different for the ones who call the city home. The burst of activities may have disrupted some people’s day-to-day business, while also contributing to the congestion and noise. The solution is in identifying ways to effectively balance the discomfort brought about by social change and the valued benefits that same change brings.

Jaakko Blomberg

Finnish social activist, Jaakko Blomberg knows the struggle. He founded the NGO Yhteismaa (Common Ground) in Helsinki in 2012. Yhteismaa specializes in new participatory city culture, co-creation, and social movements. ‘In the beginning, many municipal officers in Helsinki were against our events and projects; they just didn’t have any procedure for handling them, so we kind of had to find a new way to do things.’ Leaving room for people to share their ideas and expressing themselves is also essential, he says. ‘There should be different kinds of roles and tasks for people to take on; all changes are scary, so it’s important to inform people and make them feel like they’re part of the process. For example, many people are prejudiced against street art, but when you explain more about it and give people the chance to take part in the process, their attitude becomes much more positive. Organisers have to provide enough information and make participation easy. It’s important that it’s not just about a small circle of activists, but about the whole community.’

Residents often felt ‘helpless and disowned of their spaces.

Victor Jacono

Closer to home, project leader of the Ġewwa Barra initiative, Victor Jacono, tells us how Valletta residents often felt ‘helpless and disowned of their spaces.’ Ġewwa Barra was created to address precisely that issue: to empower residents and give them ownership of their community, using artistic tools to get a glimpse at the cultures affecting their lives and help them express the needs and dreams that shape their experience in the capital city.

‘We seek to encourage creativity, but also responsibility. We hold creative workshops conducted by different facilitators and artists to give people the chance to look at themselves through the aesthetic lens of the artworks. Currently we are engaging the residents of Duwi Balli in a process of creative place regeneration, through a collaboration between architects Maria Cerreta and Franco Lancio, the Valletta Local Council, and the Valletta Services Directorate. It is not simply a matter of approaching the residents and asking them what nice things they would like us to do for them. It is a matter of asking them what they wish to express with our support, of providing them with tools and opportunities to respond creatively to the changes affecting their lived spaces,’ Victor says. In 2017 and 2018 Ġewwa Barra is going to extend its reach even further in order to involve residents from across the capital city, with different artists conducting a series of creative workshops that will culminate in an exceptional performing arts event.

Ġewwa Barra was created to […] empower residents and give them ownership of their community, using artistic tools to get a glimpse at the cultures affecting their lives and help them express the needs and dreams that shape their experience in the capital city.

While Victor is realistic about the forward march of change, he believes it is unjust and unacceptable that changes are engineered by a handful of stakeholders, whose decisions everyone else simply has to accept— especially when such changes are going to affect Valletta’s residents’ lives dramatically. Much like Jaakko with Yhteismaa, he believes that the fear of change can be lessened if people are informed and included in the process. ‘The voices of those stakeholders with lesser means need to be amplified and given the importance they deserve. The arts can contribute greatly towards this. Ġewwa Barra is not so much about single events, but the mainly bottom-up processes engaging the residents creatively. I believe it is the experiences brought about by such processes that will leave an important and long-lasting legacy with the inhabitants of Valletta.’

Jaakko Blomberg and Victor Jacono are keynote speakers at the Valletta 2018 conference titled Living Cities, Liveable Spaces: Placemaking & Identity. More information on this conference can be accessed at Registration ends on 12th November. Discounted rates are available for students. 



Setting the stage

By The Valletta 2018 Foundation in collaboration with Arts Council Malta

Ask any practitioner of the performing arts in Malta what their biggest cross to bear is, and a veritable list comes pouring out like burning lava. However, once you plough through the expected maladies that plague every small art scene—limited audiences, limited sources of funding available, unctuous reviews—in Malta, you’ll always arrive at this: a lack of viable spaces for productions and rehearsals.Continue reading

Cultural Regeneration through Urban Spaces and Places

The effects of a European Capital of Culture are felt through both the cultural activities that take place and through the interactions people have with each other as well as the space around them in their everyday lives.

The Valletta 2018 Foundation has been working tirelessly on several projects preparing Valletta for its title as European Capital of Culture in Malta in 2018. More so, it is researching how these projects are changing the lives of people.

These interactions between communities and their surrounding space are key issues being investigated by the Valletta 2018 Evaluation & Monitoring research process. This is a five-year research study examining the impacts of the European Capital of Culture on Malta’s society and economy.

Dr Antoine Zammit, with the Valletta 2018 Foundation, has been studying the relationship between community inclusion and space in cultural infrastructural projects. His research focuses on four specific infrastructural projects taking place in Valletta as part of the European Capital of Culture: The Valletta Design Cluster (il-Biċċerija) and its surrounding neighbourhood; Strait Street; the relocation of MUŻA – Mużew Nazzjonali tal-Arti (Malta’s National Museum of Fine Arts) – to Auberge d’Italie and Pjazza de Valette; and the area surrounding the Valletta Covered Market (is-Suq tal-Belt).

The four projects are in different stages of their implementation, and have been dispersed throughout Valletta in a way that allows them to collide with many of the different districts of the capital. While none lack cultural significance, each project has displayed different strengths in implementation. The Valletta Market and Strait Street Projects have a particularly strong commercial value, while the Valletta Design Cluster is aimed at creative design and encouraging entreprenuership. MUŻA, more overtly than any of the other three projects, is an attempt at traditional forms of cultural engagement and regeneration through the development of a national, community-driven musuem of art. Zammit, together with two M.Arch. (Architecture and Urban Design) students—Daniel Attard and Christopher Azzopardi—carried out extensive studies to gain a deeper understanding of the sites.

“Quality urban design has increasingly become about creating these habitable places. It is ultimately all about the quality of life of residents.”

Attard developed a matrix in order to score the different types of interactions within each site. Split into categories such as ‘aural’, ‘user categories’ and ‘actual use of space,’ the sections help identify emerging patterns and traits from the implementations of the projects. The Biċċerija and Strait Street all score high in the ‘aural’ category, meaning various elements that contributed to noise, or the lack of it, were observed. MUŻA and the Covered Market both qualified for the ‘user categories’ section, meaning that a relatively diverse demographic was observed making use of the place. The Valletta Design Cluster was noted for having a higher level of human interaction take place daily (balcony conversations, loud conversations in general, and so on). Finally, all four sites qualified for the category of ‘actual use of space,’ meaning that people actively show awareness of the space by taking photos, complaining due to lack of public conveniences, construction work, and shops setting up or closing down, among other things.

On the other hand, Azzopardi focused on the spatial quality of the sites by looking at their accessibility and permeability, perception and comfort, and the vitality of the four sites. Of the four, Strait Street, more specifically the intersection with Old Theatre Street, scored highest, followed by MUŻA and the Valletta  Market. The Valletta Design Cluster obtained the lowest score, suggesting that the site in its current state is poorly perceived and somewhat inaccessible. Matching Azzopardi’s findings with statistical data, obtained at a neighbourhood level through the NSO’s evaluation of the available 2011 Census Data, Zammit has determined some relationship (but not statistically significant), between the buildings’ current state of repair and the community’s achievements in literacy, education, and employment.

Museum of the People

Naqsam il-MUŻA is a branch project inspired by MUŻA. Currently in progress, participants in the Naqsam il-MUŻA project were selected from different communities around Malta and taken to see the art collection of the National Museum of Fine Arts. They will then exhibit their choice of artwork from the museum in their localities. It brings the museum to the people, rather than the other way round.

The diversity of the four sites were key to Zammit’s studies. He studied the effect their differing cultural infrastructure had on the cultural regeneration of Valletta. ‘Cultural infrastructure entails those interventions, which generally have some kind of physical implication, in an urban space which tends to enhance and broaden people’s cultural appreciation,’ explains Dr Zammit, ‘but I see it as requiring an added value. In my opinion, art for art’s sake in these cases doesn’t mean anything. Which is why the question which I try to answer in my research is, “what will that infrastructure give back to the community at the end of it all?”’ Other research, similar to Zammit’s, holds that more than just creating spaces, cultural regenerative projects should aim to create places which result from quality urban design. ‘Over the past two years, I started to realise that the real difference is ‘between places that are alive, versus habitable places,’ comments Zammit, who thinks that, ‘quality urban design has increasingly become about creating these habitable places. It is ultimately all about the quality of life of residents.’ This issue of liveability is key to being a European Capital of Culture. Its goals are to create high-quality cultural and artistic activities while improving the quality of life of communities through culture. Zammit’s study highlights many potential issues such as an increase in noise pollution, gentrification resulting from a rise in property values and rental prices, and other potential impacts on Valletta residents. The Valletta 2018 Foundation is discussing these issues in its upcoming conference Cities as Community Spaces in November 2016, which will bring together a number of international speakers to explore how different communities make use of public spaces for creativity, contestation, and interaction. 

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Maltese Cultural Participation: What do the people want?

Malta is rich in culture—that is a fact beyond contention – and whose vast range of cultural activities attract different people with varied interests. But how does this fit in the context of Valletta being the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) in 2018?

Before delving into the many questions that surround this, one needs to perhaps address what we understand by the term ‘culture’ – are we talking about traditions or art? Cultural participation in Malta is often believed to be low, and a Eurobarometer survey carried out in 2013 confirmed that the Maltese are among the least active participants in culture in Europe. However, culture is not something that can be given a clear-cut definition. The term can refer to anything from art exhibitions to the more popular, traditional festi (feasts). Such feasts are not taken into consideration by many surveys like the Eurobarometer.

The Valletta 2018 Foundation’s research department has therefore embarked on a five-year research process (2015–2019) whereby it aims to understand the factors that affect cultural participation to create a body of research that will shed light on participation in the sector. The research will help artists, cultural practitioners, and policy makers.

Last year, the Valletta 2018 Foundation conducted the first in a series of surveys that are looking  into cultural participation in Valletta. The survey, carried out in collaboration with the National Statistics Office, asked 1,138 respondents about their preferred cultural activity. The top three cultural activities the Maltese public enjoyed were citywide activities such as Notte Bianca, followed by Carnival, and visits to museums and historical sites.

The events took place in Valletta and registered more active participation from residents than from those living outside the city’s walls. Valletta residents are more likely to have attended artistic exhibitions and events when compared to non-Valletta residents (18% vs 12%). People from the island’s Northern Harbour region (the area around Marsamxett Harbour and neighbouring areas) placed second after Valletta residents in their likelihood to have attended some form of cultural event in the capital. On average, 35% of residents from the Northern Harbour region    have attended some form of cultural activity in Valletta, compared to an average of 15% from other regions. These statistics give the impression that physical proximity plays an important role in the degree of cultural participation. People commented on the pleasant atmosphere and the sense of unity events created while others said that such events make for a different kind of family outing.

The Maltese people also seem to enjoy the performing arts. Other popular activities include going to the cinema or attending film screenings, artistic exhibitions and events, live music and live theatre events. These are followed by the Valletta parish feasts—more traditional activities tied to the city itself. Dance is not as appreciated as other performing arts disciplines, with a staggering 94% of respondents claiming they had never attended a dance performance. The only other activities less well-attended are passion plays in Easter time (95% never attended) and the Regatta (96% never attended).

THINK_Issue16_INSIDE-66The general consensus of the respondents was that Valletta is a cultural city which is improving in terms of its cultural offerings as well as its image. However, attendance for Valletta’s cultural events is still relatively low with people showing a lack of interest in cultural activities (38% of respondents claimed that they do not attend cultural events as they are simply “not interested”). This statistic is a concern in the light of the fact that Valletta will be capital of culture in just two years. It is the role of the Foundation to use these findings to find new opportunities that can boost cultural participation and encourage engagement with cultural activities. This data can also help other entities and practitioners in the sector.

The Foundation has developed a varied cultural programme, which is open, engaging, and accessible. To complement the aforementioned Valletta Participation Survey, the Foundation has also carried out an in-depth, qualitative analysis of its cultural programme. This research shows that the Valletta 2018 Cultural Programme not only includes projects related to the visual arts and feasts in Valletta, but also other community projects, aiming to eliminate barriers that prevent cultural participation and that allow for the co-creation of cultural activities and audience development. The study shows how the Foundation is taking a contemporary approach in developing cultural projects, by looking at a long-term development process and aiming for a long-lasting legacy. This research shows how that, to date, the Valletta 2018 Cultural Programme has focused on community and interdisciplinary projects, as well as projects involving music and film.

Both the Valletta Participation Survey and the qualitative analysis of the Valletta 2018 Cultural Programme will continue to be carried out in the coming years. Such studies explore the relationship between the cultural programme and participation countrywide in order for changes in the level of cultural participation in the Maltese Islands can be compared.

The Valletta 2018 Evaluation and Monitoring research process is a five-year project (2015–2019) that is looking into the impacts of Valletta 2018 on the country. The Valletta Participation Survey is a study carried out in collaboration with the NSO that takes place on a biannual basis. The qualitative study, titled ‘A Comprehensive Analysis of the Valletta 2018 Cultural Programme’ is being carried out by Daniela Blagojevic Vella.

Placing Cultural Research on the Map

Photo by Elisa von Brockdorff, courtesy of The Valletta 2018 Foundation.


The Valletta 2018 Foundation recently started a five-year research study to evaluate and monitor the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) project in Malta. The process combines both quantitative and qualitative approaches to collect data that will be communicated to the general public and interested stakeholders. This research will provide feedback to help fine-tune or correct the Foundation’s operations. The process aims to provide a local model for research in culture and the creative sector in order to encourage more cultural research after 2018.Continue reading