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An Artist at Work: Madeleine Gera’s Valletta

Valletta is a fascinating place and when I decided to set up my studio here five years ago, I thought it would be an ideal location for an artist to work from.  But I don’t feel I am pioneering anything with my studio in Valletta and I certainly don’t feel that anybody owes me anything by being there.

A great part of Malta’s artistic patrimony is in Valletta. It’s a weighty heritage to be working alongside, however just being in a city once home to Caravaggio and Preti can never be suffocating to me.

Nobody can force a city to become a magnet for the arts today though. First and foremost, Valletta is the seat of government; this is the role that it has always been designated. The question is: what do we want out of Valletta? Do we see ourselves being part of the Valletta story today?

It seems to me that it must have a thriving population, a happy business community, it must be user friendly and our cultural heritage must be valued to such an extent that visitors troop to the city for music festivals, international art exhibitions and so on.  As we all know, the competition in these areas is huge, however it still can be done here too.

My views about the city have evolved over the years.  I am still very keen on the idea of a National Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art being set up in the capital, but today it seems to me that Valletta needs a number of things.

One can’t help asking why it is that one never finds young families moving to Valletta? It would be great if families had more incentive to buy property in the city. Ironically, there seems to be a lot of empty property about.  The resident population has dropped to a few thousand, there is one supermarket and many businesses exited Valletta a long time ago.

Some may say this is a good thing, but what or who has replaced them? Who does Valletta belong to today? Government ministries occupy major historic buildings, but after 7pm, the place is a ghost town.

Perhaps we could have a stronger University presence in the city too with some of the campus’s faculties relocated to Valletta to help breathe fresh life into the city. A younger population would bring business and possibly more residents.  

Valletta has a lot of potential, however I’m not sure if it’s being focused in a direction I’d like to see.  For example, if you take the city’s perimeter, I would like to see a well-paved, well-lit ring road there; a space people use on a daily basis for encounters – walking their dogs, jogging, stopping for a drink with friends - and not merely as a parking place in the morning.

We need only take a look at similar early Renaissance fortified cities in the Mediterranean to understand how we could use Valletta imaginatively.  We need to look more perhaps at fortified cities or port cities like Dubrovnik, Rhodes, Jerusalem, Marseilles, Valencia and Haifa for inspiration rather than neighbouring capitals like Rome.   

What can I say? Perhaps we need to all ask ourselves what it is we want from Valletta.