With palaces, old forts and Neolithic temples demanding endless skilled and expensive repairs, the annual operational expenditure of Heritage Malta, the national agency for museums, conservation practice and cultural heritage, amounts to around €12 million per year, says Noel Zammit, the Head of Corporate Services and ICT at Heritage Malta.
“The central Government injects circa €5 million per year and the agency itself generates more than €5 million from admission fees,” Mr Zammit explained. “The rest is revenue generated from business development, including the rental of Heritage Malta-managed venues.” Indeed, this is just one of the reasons why Heritage Malta has opened some of its sites for special events and functions – with a variety of venues becoming living, breathing spaces once again.
These include outdoor venues such as Fort St Elmo, Bighi and Vilhena Palace, where open-air events, ranging from concerts to product launches, have been organised. The majestic front courtyard at Vilhena Palace, now the National Museum of Natural History, just a few steps away from the main gate of Mdina, for example, was recently transformed into a reception venue, where guests enjoyed dinner under the stars, surrounded by more than 250 years of history.
Other notable events organised at these sites include the Malta Fashion Week, hosted in 2016 at Fort St Angelo, and in 2017 at Fort St Elmo, as well as various theatrical productions, screenings, and concerts as part of the Malta Arts Festival, the Valletta Film Festival, and the World Music Festival.
Smaller closed spaces, such as the Inquisitor’s Palace, the Malta Maritime Museum and Fort St Angelo, able to accommodate small- to medium-sized groups for meetings or dinners, are also available, as well as the stunning Grand Salon in the National Museum of Archaeology, which may also be used for conferences.
The courtyard at the Inquisitor's Palace
“Organisers want to impress their clients. Our venues are not ordinary, and we already hold years of experience within the field. By making these spaces available, we are also promoting Malta’s cultural heritage presented as a unique backdrop; something very few other venues can offer,” Mr Zammit explains.
The price for the rental of these venues varies. Heritage Malta quotes according to the nature of the situation, and the tangible and intangible costs and benefits of organising a specific type of event. “Hence, for instance, hosting a wedding at Bighi will not cost as much as hosting a concert,” Mr Zammit says. Rental charges of large open-air spaces vary from €2,000 up to €7,000, while for closed areas and small locations prices start from €350.
While the entity also offers basic catering, equipment, office supplies and other standard facilities in the case of meetings and conferences, other ancillary services for larger events are normally organised by the client, allowing for flexibility. “Every type of event has different requirements and the agency strives to offer the best possible service without intruding in terms of what the client wants and needs for the special occasion,” says Mr Zammit.
Heritage Malta has ambitious plans to ensure accessibility to these sites and museums is developed further. Indeed, while the agency already attracts over 45,000 students per year to events in its museums, the wealth of Malta’s heritage can now also be discovered digitally. The agency has already partnered with Google to launch virtual exhibitions, and the intention is to also provide alternative learning tools and online products to school children, at various levels, to develop their interest in Malta’s cultural legacy.
Moreover, the entity is also organising events to diversify the types of visitors it attracts to the sites. “We are currently working on themed dinners, during which we will offer a culinary experience. During these occasions, ingredients are cooked according to recipes of periods in history, and linked to the location where the dinner is consumed,” Mr Zammit says. Sixteenth and 18th-century menus are currently being offered at the Malta Maritime Museum, and the aim is to replicate these unique opportunities at Fort St Angelo and Fort St Elmo, serving food inspired from different eras.
“Providing such experiences means reaching our objectives of making our cultural heritage more accessible by using different approaches,” Mr Zammit points out. The past is invigorated, making us feel as if no time has passed at all.
This feature originally appeared in the August edition of The Business Observer