Owen Bonnici – (Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts, and the Local Government.)
The Parliamentary debate on the financial estimates relative to Government entities, which has just been concluded this week, is certainly much more than a run of the mill exercise. It brings an opportunity for Parliament to discuss, ask a question and dissect the work being underdone by the entity which would be subject of the parliamentary debate.
This week was Heritage Malta and the Superintendence Of Cultural Heritage’s turn to be under scrutiny. In fact, we had an overall healthy discussion which, putting aside the most unfortunate trademark negativity of the Opposition (bar, I must say, the Hon Graziella Attard Previ, who took a very balanced and overall constructive approach), proved to be worthwhile.
I would like to discuss some of the main points I emphasised during the debate.
The year 2021 proved to be an extraordinary one for all and sundry, not least for Heritage Malta.
However, Heritage Malta undoubtedly rose to the occasion. The pandemic's adverse effect on the number of visitors to the various sites did not affect at the very least, the Agency’s drive to continueto valorise, democratise and promote the heritage resources in its care.
On the contrary, it only intensified the ambitious conservation and restoration programme whilst sustaining the national inventory's enrichment with the acquisition of significant assets, and embracing innovative genres of interaction with diverse audiences.
During the year under review, Heritage Malta also spearheaded the continuous assessment and fine-tuning of its organisational setup and modus operandi to ensure the fulfilment of its statutory obligations and strengthen its role as a leading player in the local heritage scene.
These projects would not have been financially feasible had Heritage Malta adopted a less proactive stance concerning the exploitation of local and international funding opportunities.
Equally notable is the number of projects undertaken by the highly specialised conservation arm. Indeed, hundreds of objets d’art and artefacts of varying materials have been granted a new lease of life.
Research is key to best practice and the enhancement of the services on offer. Given the Agency’s portfolio, research interests are multifaceted and intrinsically interdisciplinary. The respective research programmes also inspire and guide the Agency’s busy outreach programme.
Before I mentioned the number of visitors during 2021. Let me dwell more on this point. The admissions registered during 2021 have actually shown a significant increase over the year 2020. In fact during 2021 there has been an increase in the number of visitors at Heritage Malta sites by 57% over the previous year (2020), with the figure reaching the amount of half a million visits.
However the figure of half a million visits is a far cry from pre-pandemic levels where 1,600,000 visits were clocked in 2019. Yet the future seems to be very bright and if May 2022 is anything to go by, then we are seeing a swift and healthy recovery in terms of visits.
A word about the non-paying visitors, who would be those registered under one of the Heritage Passport Schemes or, in the case of children, the two adults accompanying them.
The number of non-paying visitors marginally increased from 55,240 (2020) to 56,671 (2021). This augurs well and we want those numbers to increase, as we believe they will now that the restrictions have been lifted.
Heritage Malta has kept moving forward key projects and I would like to mention two of them as they have reached fruition in the past weeks.
1) Borg in-Nadur - Heritage Malta has acquired a piece of land at Borġ in-Nadur, measuring nearly 13 tumuli, beneath a part of which, lies buried the remains of a village, dating back to the Bronze Age. In terms of size, this is the largest acquisition of archaeological value ever made by the State. The acquisition was made by Heritage Malta, with a total investment of €200,000.
2) Heritage Malta’s young passport holders are in for yet another treat with the launch of the popular Student Passport Summer Programme, which aims to increase accessibility to our cultural heritage among children and young teens.
Commencing as from Friday, 1st July, and ending on Tuesday, 20th September, the Student Passport Summer Programme includes various fun and educational activities to be held at Heritage Malta’s sites. Including walking trails, painting, a patchwork workshop, model making, artwork analysis, cloth dying, an introduction to paper conservation, a tour about different types of sea turtles, a hands-on cooking experience, and more.
Now I would like to turn the focus on the Regulatory authority per excellence in the field of historical patrimony: the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage.
Superintendence Of Cultural Heritage
The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage was created with the aim of ensuring the protection and accessibility of Malta’s cultural heritage.
Since its inception, the Superintendence has grown and become more efficient in its operations, although there is still more work to be done. Recent years have also seen an increase in awareness to protect cultural heritage property and a growing interest in research in Maltese heritage both from local initiatives and international venues.
In 2021, the Superintendency employed ten (10) new employees, eight (8) in the rank of Executive Officers, and two (2) in the administration, as well as issued several internal promotions.
The Superintendence is also working to launch the new website and digital platform to continue enhancing services provided by the entities. Further works in the pipeline are aimed at starting a notification system for all restoration and conservation work carried out by professionals holding a warrant in the field, as required by law.
Recently the Superintendence launched a register of non-governmental organizations as required by law. At the same time, work has been made in order to further compile the national inventory.
It is crucial for the Superintendence to continue working hand in hand with Heritage Malta towards their mission in protectingand give accessibility to Malta’s cultural heritage. This has to be done while implementing changes in the way it functions to ensure its efficiency, and also by providing expertise in the different areas of cultural heritage.
I take the opportunity to thank all the Management and staff at Heritage Malta and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage for their sterling work, aimed at safeguarding our past for a better future.