Awarding the capital of culture title to Marsa is the push the locality needs to encourage more investment after decades of “abandonment”, mayor Josef Azzopardi told Times of Malta

On Friday, the locality was named the first ever local ‘capital of culture’, which will see Marsa hosting a programme of activities throughout 2022 and allocated a budget of €200,000.

Having throughout the years been associated with heavy industry and a bustling migrant community, reaction to the news was met largely with scepticism and irony, with people on social media quick to point out Marsa’s more illicit connotations rather than its ties to national culture.

But Azzopardi has pushed back at the notion and refuses to let Marsa remain the butt of the joke.

“One of the sad things I’ve encountered is people who are sceptical about Marsa,” he said.

“The reality is there was an open scheme which we applied for, worked very hard to develop a robust, fully-costed programme  and it was awarded to us. This was not a contest for the most beautiful village. Do you think that Marsa is devoid of history, culture and activities that are not worth sharing? Well, now we have a chance to prove you wrong.”

Azzopardi said that the programme would be carried out throughout 2022 with one activity per month, including a grand opening ceremony in the village square next to the Holy Trinity Church, a seaside water activity during regatta season in September and an innovative Christmas Village planned for December next year.

If people were to see the culture we have to offer, they can appreciate it for themselves

Much like how on a European level, cities like Valletta or Liverpool stood to benefit from investment and widespread public attention through the capital of culture title, Azzopardi hopes the opportunity will serve as a wake-up call to the rest of the country that Marsa needs investment and that people are willing to put in the work for it.

“More than just representing our culture, I hope this activity brings widespread attention to Marsa and highlights the fact that for many years several governments had abandoned us and we could not go on like this,” Azzopardi noted.

“I see Marsa as a place in transition, it is developing and changing and needs a good push to keep heading in the right direction.

“The waterfront, for example, is a place that many turn up their noses at and ascertain that it’s been abandoned for too long to fix. But a lot of spaces there have already been taken by willing businesses... all it requires is the proper primary infrastructure, and everyone else will start to develop.”

The public reaction to Marsa being declared capital of culture has not deterred Azzopardi, if anything it’s put the wind in his sails to see the project through.

“I believe people were shocked and some of the messages genuinely hurt because as mayor I want to bring things that dignify our locality,” he said.

“I want people to believe in themselves and their homes.

“Of course, we have problems in Marsa... which locality doesn’t? Is this going to solve our problems? Far from it, but it can be another thing in my corner when I have to face the authorities and lobby on behalf of our home.

“I feel some of the criticism comes from as a result of classism – if people were to come and see the history and culture we have to offer, they can appreciate it for themselves. It’s a chance for us to say ‘listen, we have something here, give us more so that we can take care of it’.”

The cultural programme is also set to include activities such as showcasing, art, painting, photography, sculpture, an introductory activity for the public to try their hand at salt and rice painting, literature, music as well as an infiorata.

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