The arts in Malta are thriving, and young artists are riding the crest of this creative wave. Artists and arts organisations are leading the development of new work that is engaging more audiences and reaching new international platforms.

The recently launched cultural participation survey commissioned by Arts Council Malta reveals that young people (16-24) showed the highest rate of attendance to cultural sites and cultural events from all age groups across all domains. A total 81 per cent of young people went to the cinema in 2016 and 54 per cent went to a live music performance. The most popular folk event in terms of attendance was the parish feast, with 67 per cent of those aged 16-24 claiming to attend at least one every year.

In recent years, we have witnessed unprecedented increased public investment in the arts with new programmes and initiatives for the cultural and creative sectors. With more artist-led spaces emerging across Malta and Gozo and new national arts events led by independent arts organisations on the rise, we can mark the shift from a dominant public-led cultural sector to a more equitable and diverse cultural ecology.

Festivals such as the Valletta Film Festival, the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival and another nine organisations receive public funds as partners to produce cultural events that reflect the principles outlined in our cultural strategy. We are also committed to this investment because we firmly believe that through such partnerships we can secure a democratic space for the diversity of creative expression.

These festivals and cultural events add value to our well-being and secure a safe space for young people to engage in voluntary activity. It is encouraging to note that 13 per cent of the 16-24 age group volunteered in arts and culture in 2016, and there is definitely scope to incentivise further volunteerism among young people.

The key to building a sustainable future in the arts lies in making young artists a priority today

The success of the Tal-Kultura volunteer programme developed by the Valletta 2018 Foundation is a legacy project that should permeate all arts organisations.

In my first days as minister for culture in the new legislature, I set out three key objectives that will shape our priorities for the next five years.

The first objective addresses the need to increase cultural access and develop audience development strategies.

The second objective focuses on further professionalisation of the cultural and creative sectors, and the third objective is to develop further the creative economy and generate employment.

In 2015, the cultural and creative sectors accounted for six per cent of full- time and part-time gainful employment in Malta.

Job creation in the sectors almost tripled in the latter five-year period, and culture created 2,800 new jobs between 2010 and 2015, compared to an increase of 1,100 new jobs between 2005 and 2010.

These objectives are set against a backdrop of strategies developed in recent years, such as the Arts Council Malta’s Create 2020 Strategy and the manifesto of the new government.

The key to building a sustainable future in the arts lies in making young artists a priority today.

Statistics reveal that young people are the most likely to consider themselves to be artists from all age groups. As at 2015, Malta had the highest proportion of young people aged 15-29 working in the cultural sector from all EU Member States at 31 per cent, followed by the UK with 22 per cent.

It is surely no coincidence that the first initiatives launched for culture in the past weeks focused on young people.

A new programme called Artivisti, developed by Arts Council Malta with Aġenzija Żgħażagħ and supported by 89.7 Bay radio will identify some of the best young talent across the arts and provide them with the necessary training, mentoring and networking in order to develop further their creative potential.

Selected artists will be awarded a package of benefits and opportunities for a year.

In another initiative, Arts Council Malta is partnering with the Salzburg Global Forum to provide young people from Malta the opportunity to join 50 of the world’s most dynamic, young, creative change-makers and help form the “Malta Young Cultural Innovators Hub” as part of the forum’s global network.

The public funding portfolio of Arts Council Malta is also registering an increase in the success rate of young artists applying for funding in areas of research, professionalisation, project development and mobility.

Judging from the improvement in public programmes for arts and culture, our cultural strategy and the outstanding levels of skill, commitment, motivation, creativity and courage that I see among young artists, I am confident in stating that the future for the arts looks bright.

Owen Bonnici is Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government.

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