Culture: water the wasteland

Perhaps to no-one’s surprise, the Maltese have once again been officially defined as cultural philistines, with our participation scoring the second lowest in Europe (http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20131110/local/Malta-s-cultural-wasteland.494022#.UoCWGifEkUo).

Embarrassing, but expected, as anyone who is somehow involved in the arts – whether as participant, organiser or from the side of the media, like me – will tell you.

While all free events enjoy massive attendance (just check out Notte Bianca, Żiguzajg or Science in the City), people usually attend for the ‘wrong’ reasons.

Of course, even the wrong reason is useful in gathering converts, so to speak, so keep them coming by all means. And in case you’re wondering, by ‘wrong’ reasons I mean the fact that the events are free, and that they are viewed as a family outing, much as the annual trade-fair used to be perceived until recently.

What’s keeping the great masses away from other cultural events? The good-quality events are there and they are marketed well. All those who are somehow involved in the scene have a pretty shrewd idea about the reasons that keep the majority away from plays, concerts, exhibitions and the like. Since no-one seems to want to put them down in black and white, I will oblige.

The following reasons might appear trivial, but to someone who has never set foot in the Manoel Theatre, to quote one example, they are very real.

Misconception 1: You do not have to wear a suit to go to the theatre. Go ahead, laugh at how flippant this sounds. But if I had a penny for every time I asked someone whether they had attended some production that I knew was up their street, and they replied that they shied away from attending events where formal wear was needed…well maybe I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d have enough pennies to keep me in chocolate digestives for a couple of years. This is someone who wears her jeans and boots even to the national theatre (unless I’m attending a specific, formal occasion, of course), so there you have it.

Misconception 2: Cultural events are not just for “a certain type” of person. I’m constantly shocked by how alive and kicking classism remains in Malta. Many are those who wouldn’t dream of attending a play because they seem to be under the impression that it’s for the puliti only.

It’s not – nowadays you will find all sorts, from students to elderly couples, hardcore enthusiasts and… me. Contrary to what many seem to think, going to the theatre does not require membership to some elite club. It simply requires a ticket and the ability to sit still for an hour or so.

Misconception 3: Some people are just not into culture. I always find this one hilarious. What do you mean, you’re not into culture? What is culture, anyway? There is such a range of diverse events happening across the island that something, somewhere is bound to tickle your fancy.

You might think you don’t enjoy music. Maybe the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra’s tribute to Verdi is not your thing, granted. But how about some live indie rock? There’s always something happening nowadays.

And if music really doesn’t move you (you weirdo), then why not check out a stand-up comedy gig or a comedy in Maltese, or a photographic exhibition, or…

From the mainstream plays, like last week’s Nanna Ġenoveffa, to niche events like the upcoming Malta Comic Con, there are so many options that it’s impossible to get away with “I’m not into culture”.

Misconception 4: I can’t afford to attend cultural events. Wrong. What you mean is you haven’t bothered checking. Granted, you may not be able to afford to attend the most high-level events every single time. But (depending on the production) an evening at the theatre costs roughly the same as an evening at the cinema when you pile on the parking and the popcorn. Art exhibitions are usually free. Tickets to music gigs are typically extremely affordable.

If you have enough money to spend your Saturday evening getting wasted in Paceville, then you have enough money for theatre tickets.

Misconception 5: Culture is boring/ culture is difficult to understand. Umm, no it’s not. Not all theatre necessarily involves the absurdism of Beckett. Not all art necessarily involves the controversy of Hirst. Not all music requires an understanding of German opera. It’s just a question of picking those events that are likely to appeal to you, and building on from there.

The million euro question: how do we kill the above misconceptions? Education and awareness, of course. Which aren’t going to happen if we continue spreading the idea that culture is on the last rung on the ladder of priorities.

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