The arts scene still lives within a hobbyist environment, placing low in the country’s political agenda, according to two leaders in the field as a new report ranks Malta’s cultural participation the second lowest in Europe.

Malta’s scoring is abysmal – Maltese are the least interested in going to the theatre in the EU (54 per cent) and the least likely Europeans to dance (two per cent) or sing (two per cent).

The decline in participation across the EU has affected all cultural activities except the cinema where an average of 52 per cent (51 per cent for Malta) saying they went to the movies in the past year.

Vicki Ann Cremona, chairwoman of the University’s School of Performing Arts, and Chris Gatt, general manager at St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity, were concerned although not surprised by the latest Eurobarometer survey.

“In education, culture is relegated to an ‘after hours’ activity and, worse, is turned into a boring experience within the school curriculum. And we had better not even start on university, a wasteland when it comes to cultural discourse,” Mr Gatt said.

Prof. Cremona was equally disheartened and said unless the country woke up and “smelt the roses” it would completely miss out on the opportunity of V-18 – becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2018.

“If you had to go on the streets and ask what V-18 means you’ll get blank faces – we have to involve the people and this requires a long-term policy,” she added.

If all you have eaten is hamburgers there is no way you are going to appreciate a good wine or haute cuisine

Both Mr Gatt and Prof. Cremona insisted the cultural policy had to be fully implemented and reserved criticism for the island’s politicians and their failure to be engaged in the arts.

“For too long the message to our children has been that the arts are useless... Politicians need to believe in this profession. You can count the ones who attend events on the tips of your fingers,” Prof. Cremona said.

Mr Gatt was also disappointed at the way different governments bandied the cultural sector from ministry to ministry like a ping-pong ball.

“I will never forget the look on the face of a French journalist when she reported back home with a suppressed giggle the news that the culture ministry fell within the tourism ministry,” he said.

“And that is part of the rub: culture is officially seen as something ‘for tourists’. Even worse, we are still in a situation where directors on boards of cultural institutions are selected not because of their various competences but because of their political allegiances.

“This leads to a high level of amateurism where decisions are taken without the proper vision, strategy and knowledge.”

Asked if there was any hope in awakening the public’s interest in culture, Prof. Cremona said: “They’re never interested, unless you interest them.”

Mr Gatt disagreed people were disinterested since there was enthusiasm for feasts and local drama groups, but people had to stop thinking culture was easy to digest.

“If all you have eaten is hamburgers there is no way you are going to appreciate a good wine or haute cuisine. Very often people discount themselves... It also boils down to the artistic community offering relevance.”

• Maltese (54 per cent) are the least interested in the EU in going to the theatre and to a concert (49 per cent).

• Maltese (52 per cent) are the second least interested in visiting museums and galleries, after Cyprus (61 per cent).

• Citizens in Belgium, Ireland and Malta are more likely to participate in non-national cultural activities in general.

• Bulgarians (86 per cent) followed by Maltese (82 per cent) have not personally engaged in any artistic activity in the last year – the lowest levels in the EU.

• Maltese are the least likely Europeans to dance (two per cent) or sing (two per cent).

• 44 per cent of Maltese have not read a book in the last 12 months.

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