Heritage Malta is currently in the process of launching new exhibitions, events and audience development strategies, to consolidate the gains achieved over recent years. As a result, attendance at Heritage Malta’s attractions is expected to increase, surpassing last year’s record number of 1.6 million tourists, which gave the entity a profit margin of €459,758, Noel Zammit, the acting CEO of the entity, said. To this end, and amongst the new initiatives, the entity is in the process of launching campaigns involving events and exhibitions which showcase local cultural traditions. The aim, Mr Zammit explained, was to reach out “to the public by using every asset at our disposal.
We have trained and dedicated people running our social media accounts. There are also assigned individuals at each site who run social media specifically from their location.” One such social media campaign focuses on Fort St Angelo in Birgu in which the public is being given insight to what happened in this military building during its occupation by the Royal Navy through an intriguing temporary exhibition entitled ‘Behind Closed Doors: Fort St Angelo & the Royal Navy 1906-1979’.
Spread over five different areas in Fort St Angelo, the exhibition unfolds around the history and use of this military building and the architectural modifications to address the necessities of the time. Yet its core focuses on the personal memories of those who worked at the fort during its occupation by the Royal Navy. At the time, this military site was strictly prohibited to civilians (except on the 7th and 8th September), and had clearly defined spaces where Maltese and British servicemen were allowed to enter according to their work and rank. Indeed, during the Royal Navy occupation, only a few individuals had ever visited all the areas of the fort.
“Right from its opening, on 31st March 2019, this exhibition was very well received by the public, especially by those Maltese and British servicemen who used to work at this fort. This is evident by the spike in visitor figures and by the number of donations which are coming in, mostly consisting of uniforms and other memorabilia,” explained Mr Zammit. Heritage Malta has also managed to increase visitor figures through its Passport programme for students attending primary and secondary schools in Malta and Gozo, giving them free and unlimited access to the agency’s attractions. This scheme also covers two accompanying adults to enter all
sites (excluding the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum and the Closed Sites), free of charge.
“We received a very enthusiastic response for the Heritage Malta student Passport,” continued Mr Zammit. “Till now, we had around 60,000 users and the feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive.” The initiative has been such a success that Heritage Malta has now extended the programme to include senior citizens. “People who are over 60 years can go to their Local Council to apply for their Heritage Malta Passport which will then be posted to them by the agency. Our hope is that, just like the students who brought their parents with them to Heritage Malta’s attractions, the seniors will now bring their children and grandchildren with them to
enjoy our interesting museums and sites.”
Before Heritage Malta rolled out the passport programme last year, some were sceptical about whether it would work or not, Mr Zammit stated. “We questioned its feasibility. But, while tickets sales at the door decrease, the revenue in our shops and cafés increases, especially when children come along.” Moreover, attention is being given to constantly innovate and augment the experienced across its sites, the acting CEO said. Indeed, to keep abreast with what other heritage organisations overseas are doing, and, thus, gaining inspiration for what can be done locally, Heritage Malta visits, museums and participates regularly in exhibitions abroad. “Every year, we visit the Museums and Heritage Shows in London and elsewhere, so that we can stay up-to-date on the latest global technologies, methodologies and trends. Lately, we have also visited the Van Gogh Exhibition at the Tate in London,” Mr Zammit noted.
Mr Zammit has also recently visited the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth, as well as the HMS Victory, and has plans to travel to Istanbul to promote Heritage Malta’s History brand, with the aim of boosting incoming cultural tourism on the island. Indeed, this is in line with the entity’s upcoming investment of €2 million in the renovation of the Malta Maritime Museum in Birgu. “We received funding from the European Union for this project: we plan to allocate around €1.2 million to the restoration of some of the parts of the museum which were never open to the public, the rest will be used to digitise exhibits and create digital experiences, and that will start this year.”
This year has also seen the launch of Heritage Malta’s Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit (UCHU), set up to manage and protect underwater cultural assets. “Our islands are very rich in underwater cultural heritage. That is why Heritage Malta is also dedicating resources to focus on what lies beneath the sea. The main aim of UCHU is to identify several underwater sites so that these may be accessed by divers in a controlled and managed manner. These include, among others, a 2,700-year-old Phoenician shipwreck which is the oldest in the central Mediterranean, dozens of aircraft crash sites, modern shipwrecks, as well as wrecks of battleships from World Wars I and II,” he revealed.
There are numerous shipwrecks which are well-known to the public, Mr Zammit continued.
However, Heritage Malta is aware of much more. “We are working towards improving the Maltese Islands as a prime deep-water historical wreck diving destination. The setting up of underwater archaeological parks will bring several benefits, primarily the protection of Malta’s unequalled and precious underwater cultural resource. This is in line with local heritage legislation and with international conventions.”
Heritage Malta is also promoting several other cultural events and exhibitions around the country related to the island’s history. “On 7th June, we are launching the exhibition ‘Culhat al Belt: Sette Giugno 1919-2019’ in commemoration of the centenary from the events of the Sette Giugno. This commemoration is very meaningful to locals.
The exhibition aims to investigate the circumstances which led to the Maltese uprising against the British colonial government, and its consequences. Up to 31st August 2019, the exhibition will be held at the Parliament House in Valletta. Then, it will move to the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta,” Mr Zammit explained. Furthermore, last year saw the introduction of a medieval section at the National Museum of Archaeology, the opening of the prehistoric site of Borġ in-Nadur, and the grand launch of the national-community art museum MUŻA. “Heritage Malta is committed to ensuring that the cultural sites which are entrusted to it are protected and made accessible to the public.
This year, we are working on several new sites, including the Main Guard Building and the underground cisterns in Valletta, to enhance the added value experience of our visitors,” Mr Zammit concluded. For more information about Heritage Malta’s exhibitions and events, visit www.heritagemalta.org.
This interview appeared in the May edition of The Malta Business Observer.