The launch last Saturday of Muża – the chosen name for Malta’s new museum of art and flagship project for Valletta’s European Capital City of Culture title 2018 – is a milestone for all art lovers and the whole community. It represents a significant development in the history of museums in Malta, as a new museum typology – in line with the latest developments in Europe and elsewhere.
When the Prime Minister and I launched Muża, I was pleased that months of planning, meetings, discussions, restoration and branding resulted in the launch of this innovative concept, a first for a museum of its kind in Malta.
Muża will stand out as ‘the project with people for people’, a community project in which people can participate while the museum provides the tools for interaction.
Housing a collection of well over 20,000 works of art, Muża presents stories through objects and displays: the Mediterranean, Europe and Empire, all of which are associated with the geography and history of Malta and The Artist. All presented in innovative ways – in gallery spaces overlooking a courtyard that will be a public space for all visitors to access. The courtyard and the creative activities that shall happen within that space shall be the beating heart of the museum as a space accessible to all.
The newly-launched museum at the Auberge d’Italie, a historic building originally dating to the late 16th century and used as the seat and residence of the Italian knights of the Order of St John and, subsequently, by government departments, is now repurposed as a public space for all to enjoy.
Why the name? Muża stands for the project’s vision. The word is an acronym, which stands for MUŻew Nazzjonali tal-Arti, Maltese for the former Malta’s National Museum of Fine Arts.
However, it also refers to the muses; the mythological figures from classical anti-quity inspiring creativity. Muża is also the Maltese word for inspiration.
Even before its conception, the new museum hit the international scene.
Featuring Malta as a must-visit for the tourist, the Architectural Digest placed Muża as one of the top museums to watch for. In the article ‘The 15 most noteworthy museums opening this year’, Malta was placed in this top list with significant museums opening their doors in 2018, including the Victoria & Albert Museum in Scotland, the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Toronto and others in New York, Minnesota, Ohio and Florida to name a few.
This is just the beginning.
A real-life testament of our vision and legacy, which we wish to pass on to future generations
I concur with the Prime Minister’s apt description: “Muża is a gift to Malta on the occasion of Valletta 2018 as the European Capital of Culture. A gift for everyone. A gift for our children who, as from this year, will be able to bring their parents and it will be the children that will provide their parents with a free entry, not the other way round.
Now, we have a place in our capital city that truly does justice to our culture scene as a people, despite being the smallest nation state in the European Union and also one of the smallest around the world.”
In Muża, particular attention is being given to younger generations, specifically schoolchildren, who will be encouraged to be inquisitive and respond to art through innovative ways.
I also commend this ambitious €10 million project, partially financed through EU funds. This building is a real-life testament of our vision and legacy, which we wish to pass on to future generations. In the past years, our decision-making process has led to the strengthening of our investment within this sector, both in a financial way and through more professionalisation within the sector, while we provided more space for artists and creatives so that we keep on nurturing their talents both locally and internationally.
Pioneered by Heritage Malta, the museum, three times larger than the former Fine Arts Museum in South Street, Valletta, is as a hybrid of public spaces, galleries and retail facilities, equally relevant within one interconnecting weave that defines Muża as a national community art museum. Muża also serves as an art gateway to our capital city and country.
By highlighting narratives, Muża aims to empower participants to experience, engage and co-create irrespective of knowledge levels, turning traditional museum audiences into participants. Muża seeks to be a significant community asset promoting social cohesion, intercultural dialogue, creativity and inspiration.
Renovations to the historic building included provisions to ensure it is energy-efficient and has climatic control to protect the artwork on display. This museum runs on a new green-powered energy efficient infrastructural system to optimise the passive energy efficient features present in the historical building.
Muża will now host the annual conference of the Network of European Museum Organisations, due to open today, an extraordinary opportunity for Malta to showcase our beautiful patrimony.
Owen Bonnici is Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece