Across the world, cultural and heritage-related industries are worth millions, with countless people visiting museums, historic homes and other sites on a daily basis. Malta is no different, and it is the sterling work of Heritage Malta that ensures many of our most important gems – including the Hypogeum and the prehistoric temples – are consistently open to the public and kept in the best condition possible.
At the helm of all this is Noel Zammit, who took over as CEO of the organisation in October 2017. Mr Zammit explains that people often describe Heritage Malta as the ‘national agency for museums, conservation practice and cultural heritage’. “And that’s fine,” he says, “but I like to describe Heritage Malta as a bunch of teams made up of committed people ready to do what it takes to ensure our cultural heritage is protected, made accessible, enhanced, improved, conserved, interpreted, researched, marketed and enjoyed by the public in the most sustainable and effective way possible.”
Looking back on his 14 years with Heritage Malta, Mr Zammit explains that he started out as an ICT executive before working his way up to ICT manager and then head of ICT and knowledge management. “It was at that point that I realised I could give more to the agency, especially after I was entrusted with the departments of finance, business development, marketing and communications, stores and security, as well as ICT, digitisation and knowledge management. That was in 2012, and I have never looked back since.”
Several successes have led Mr Zammit to this point. Over the years, the agency always suffered a deficit. In fact, the commercial arm, Heritage Malta Services Ltd, registered a structural deficit as well, and it was his intention to change this. “In 2013, we registered the first surplus – a mere €20,000 – ‘mere’ when compared to the €12 million turnover! The commercial arm today boasts a profit of over €100,000 a year and, again, my intention is to improve and increase those numbers.” 2017 was a record year for Heritage Malta with over 1.3 million paying visitors, with over €7 million generated through entrance fees and an unprecedented surplus.
“But these numbers are not the sole performance indicators,” Mr Zammit stresses. “They are only part of a bigger picture. Important acquisitions such as the (infamous) Preti painting (Daniel Interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream), improving the product and service, organising international exhibitions and moving from old, traditional methods to enhanced, engaging, interactive communication and interpretation methods such as audio-visuals, immersive experiences such as Hagar Qim’s 3D theatre, the Hypogeum immersive show, Fort St Elmo’s Cavalier experience and so on, have given us, in my opinion, that extra impetus.”
Daniel Interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's Dream by Mattia Preti
Now looking firmly towards his first full year as CEO, Mr Zammit says he will quickly attempt to address internal issues that have been left on the back burner for years. These include improving internal communication, creating boundaries for decision-making across all expert areas, empowering people and museums to take decisions that are (as yet) bottlenecked somewhere, and instilling a culture of self-sustainability and resource-sharing in the best way possible.
“For starters, we intend to change the 2002 Cultural Heritage Act to reflect today’s needs and demands, and then work on a four-to-five year strategic plan,” the CEO continues. “This will involve changing the organisation’s structure and, possibly, moving away from a one-size-fits-all solution for our museums. What works at the Maritime Museum does not work for Fort St Angelo, for instance. Therefore, we must analyse the needs and requirements of each museum or site separately, and then react and create the structure to meet the site’s requirements accordingly.
“We must also invest in our best asset – not the artefacts or museums, but our people. This will be done through an extensive HR management exercise as we profile each of the 319 people working with Heritage Malta and determine their training needs, so that we can equip them to best meet their respective objectives. And speaking of objectives, we have already embarked on an exercise to create department key performance indicators, which then cascade to individual objectives so that everyone will be appraised at the end of the year.”
Mr Zammit firmly believes in management by objectives, especially for knowledge workers and knowledge-generating firms, such as Heritage Malta. Plus, as he explains, communication will be addressed using IT tools, while a reorganisation will also help to set decision-making boundaries. “New policies and procedures are in the making to ensure that empowerment, especially financial, does not get out of control. We need to be ambitious and to aim high to achieve and excel. Some may say it’s easier said than done, and I would say: definitely! But our longer-term objectives will be clearer once we draft the strategic plan, all of which has to be created in line with national and international policies and strategies.”
In the meantime, though, Mr Zammit and his team will be enjoying what is going to be a very special year for the agency. “We will launch MUZA, ‘MUZew tal-Arti’ – a flagship Valletta 2018 project and a €10 million ERDF-funded project completely led by Heritage Malta. It is our best link to Valletta 2018 – but we do actually have more. The end of March will see us launch the Schranz exhibition at Fort St Elmo, where we will display prominent works of art by the Schranz family, and this will even be visited by a member of the British Royal family! We look forward to sharing more news about that soon.”
And other key plans are in the pipeline. Heritage Malta will be launching the Fort St Elmo hall dedicated to Maltese regiments this year, as well as starting work on the €10 million ERDF-funded project restoration of the Grandmaster’s Palace and regeneration in Valletta. Plus, there’s the restoration of Tal-Pilar church in Valletta, restoration works of the Gran Salon at the Auberge de Provence hosting the National Museum of Archaeology, the launch of an augmented reality mobile app at the Inquisitor’s Palace in Birgu, and the regeneration and restoration of the Old Royal Bakery hosting the Malta Maritime Museum in Birgu through an EEA Norwegian fund of around €2 million. “And more and more,” the CEO continues with a smile.
And even though Heritage Malta already has so much to cover in its remit now, there could be even more in its future. “Few appreciate the fact that we open 24 museums and sites daily, but effectively manage over 40. Some are completely cordoned off and inaccessible to the public, some are open only by appointment, while others are just ruins scattered around the island but which are under our responsibility. Looking to the future, I would say it’s definitely our intention to continue investing in and to open other sites. It is our mission to make our cultural heritage as accessible as possible in the most wise, effective and sustainable manner possible,” Mr Zammit concludes.