The Key to Happiness | Notes From a Cultural Symposium

Cultural Participation Symposium. Arts Council Malta Image ID 877481618423906304

Cultural Participation in Malta: A Symposium on the findings of the 2016 National Survey


21st June 2017, Valletta Campus Theatre, Malta


An Áit Eile members, Conor and Louise, attended ‘Cultural Participation in Malta, A Symposium on the Findings of the 2016 National Survey’ at the Valletta Campus Theatre. As new residents in Malta, the symposium was a great introduction to some of the big movers and shakers in the arts world, and a valuable insight into cultural life on the islands. Notes from the symposium including the key to happiness are below.

Key Findings from the Cultural Participation Survey 2016

Mr Etienne Caruauana, Director, Social and Regional Statistics Directorate, National Statistics Office

The Cultural Participation Survey (CPS) carried out in 2016 was designed to provide statistics on the people of Malta and Gozo’s involvement in Culture. The team used a gross sample of 1500 households to represent the population of 360,335. The surveys were conducted face to face over a period of three weeks, by trained, experienced interviewers and took approximately 15-20 minutes to complete. The survey was developed through consultation with organisations and reviewed and tested by experts. Interviewers were monitored and audited to ensure high quality standards. Out of the 1500 completed surveys, 1225 successful responses included in the data, and others were deemed ineligible. 10% of the participants were contacted again after completion to verify data. This process was meticulously planned and the National Statistics Office are confident in the accuracy of their results.

Findings on the Maltese and Gozitan people’s involvement in Culture in the past year, were divided into sections and some notable statistics are below:

Social Activities

  • 25.4% of Men do sports on a daily basis, and 20.9% of women.
  • 12% Regularly do voluntary work
  • 83% meet socially with family on a regular basis


  • 78% accessed internet on a regular basis (up from 72% in 2011)
  • 70% use the internet for music
  • 61% use the internet for finding out about cultural events


  • 31% had read one book in the last year, 9% more than one book, and 51% read no books at all.
  • The preferred genre for books was Romance (19%) followed by Mystery,Thriller, Horror (15%).


  • 85% listen to music on a regular basis
  • 67% prefer listening to to music by radio
  • 25% prefer using mp3’s or listening to music online
  • Pop music is the most popular genre.

Attendance at local events

  • 42% went to the cinema at least once in the last year
  • 32% attended live theatre
  • 31% attended an Art Exhibition or Museum (up from 25% in 2011)
  • 12% attended a Dance performance
  • 25% spent less than 50 on cultural events


  • 91% Participated in some form of cultural event
  • 31% Crafts
  • 19% Parish festas
  • 18% Painting/Drawing/Sculpture


  • 73% Prefer to speak Maltese
  • 65% Prefer to listen to Music in English


  • 62% Support Using taxpayers money to fund cultural activities
  • 32% Say ‘Arts and Culture are essential to my life’
  • 80% Are aware of Valletta2018, of these most people heard about it through TV and Social Media.
  • 85% Are aware of Ghanafest (Malta’s folk singing festival).
  • 98% are aware of Notta Bianca (the annual nocturnal festival that lights up the city), and 71.2% attended.


I didn’t catch his name but the statistics were followed by a brief reaction from a Minister, who congratulated the CPS team, their hard work, and the beautiful results. He said in the last four years over 80 historical sites have been restored, made accessible, and renovated, and that MUZA, Malta’s new Museum of Art and the flagship project for Valletta European Capital of Culture 2018, is well underway. He was really happy that the work of culture and heritage are being brought forward together and talked about the success of initiatives such as Culture Bus, Free open days, and Family days with Heritage Malta (where kids go free and it is 50% off for adults), stating that in facilities and museums Interaction is key. He also said that now all secondary school students are given the opportunity to attend a cultural event during the scholastic year, that 6% of all jobs now relate to culture, and that money from fines collected for traffic offenses go towards culture in the communities (something that could be replicated in Ireland too?).

It is clear from these comments that there has been a significant government investment in Arts, Culture and Heritage in the run up to Valletta 2018, and that this investment is supported by the taxpayers, 32% of whom view Arts and Culture as essential to their lives. Attendance at local cultural events is high, and a whopping 91% actually participated in some form of cultural event. Culture is obviously extremely important to the Maltese people, and it is great to hear such positive statistics.Interesting to note, 73% of the population prefer to speak in Maltese. In Malta, Maltese and English are the co-official languages, however all official business is conducted through English and Maltese is generally only spoken socially between friends and family.

Culture is truly in the hearts of the Maltese people

-Albert Marshall, Arts Council Malta

The Minister was followed by Mr Albert Marshall, from the Arts Council Malta. Mr Marshall opened by saying that he is very much in favour of locally grown products, and as the National Statistics Office (NSO) have created this study on home grown soil he can comfortably accept these results as a beacon, commenting that Culture is truly in the hearts of the Maltese people. He stated that the study is an important tool for the cultural sector and it provides statistical data and an an excellent framework for creative businesses that need this data for developing marketing strategies. He said that culture is a human right and it is our duty to protect it, and pointed out that Education institutions must equally provide arts education, covering memorable, enjoyable and at times challenging work.

Culture is a human right and it is our duty to protect it

– Albert Marshall, Arts Council Malta

Introducing Malta Culture Segments | Ms. Jo Taylor, Senior Consultant, Morris Hargreaves McIntyre

Following the reactions to the Survey results there was a presentation by Ms. Jo Taylor, from Morris Hargreaves McIntyre, the organisation many of my fellow MA Arts Policy and Practice alumni might recall for their ‘Culture Segments’ publications. Culture Segments is an international segmentation system for Arts, Culture, and Heritage organisations. They divide arts audiences into different categories and identify particular audience development strategies that organisations can use to target them by key interests and aspirations. So far Culture Segments have completed 17 studies into different geographic areas including Australia, New Zealand, and the UK (we studied the UK one during the MA). During her presentation, Ms Taylor explained their findings on the cultural segment breakdown in Malta.

Culture Segments, Stimulation Pen Portrait. Morris Hargreaves McIntyre

The Culture Segment team have identified 8 key segments within the Arts, Culture and Heritage audience, with each segment having its own set of defined characteristics.   These segments, their defining traits and ways to appeal to them are listed below.

  1. Enrichment – This group are mature (in taste not necessarily age), they enjoy traditional culture, heritage and nostalgia. Value for money is important to them, highlight good value and established track record when targeting them.
  2. Entertainment – These are mainstream consumers, seeking escapism, fun, and leisure. Appeal to them by promoting ‘Must See’ events.
  3. Expression – These guys are confident, and community driven, they prize inclusivity so watch out to avoid elitist language when targeting them.
  4. Perspective – Independent, late adopters, happy to do their own thing. Hard to market to.
  5. Stimulation – Keen arts attenders, sociable, risk taking, can be reached by promoting the sociable element and marketing to them by supporting their desire to try something new. Good design is important in appealing to them.
  6. Affirmation – Careful, conscientious,aspirational, see the arts as a ‘good’ thing to
  7. Release – Ambitious, busy, look to the arts to relax and unwind.
  8. Essence – Art Centric, leaders, confident, recognise quality, looking for a deep connection. This group just need to be informed about events, not sold to.

Interestingly, in Malta, they found very few people who fit into the Release category: those who take part in cultural activities as a means of relaxation. Maybe this says something about the relaxed Maltese way of life!

Taylor noted that in all art forms there is a significant number of people who are interested in attending an event but haven’t yet done so, with numbers particularly high in artforms that are poorly attended. The potential for audience growth among these groups is two or three times higher than other areas, for example, in the past year 6% of those surveyed had attended the Opera, but a further 19% indicated that they would be interested in going. This shows a huge potential audience for Opera if the sector’s marketing and audience development can find the right strategy to appeal to them.

You can find out which category you fall into on their website I checked it out and found out I was placed in the Stimulation segment myself, meaning that I like to consume lots of different types of culture and attend a wide variety of events, often while boasting about being the first to discover whatever the cool new thing is. Like most surveys one completes online, I found that it hit the nail on the head in some ways, and misses the mark in others (Stimulation segment likes: Sport/Exercise, Er, no thanks!). However, I have no doubt that it is a valuable tool, and the tips for how to target the groups are particularly useful for any cultural organisation hoping to create or build on an audience development strategy.

Cultural Participation and Wellbeing | Dr Marie Briguglio, Economist, University of Malta

Dr Marie Briguglio, followed Taylor with a presentation on her research into the question – Does cultural participation enhance wellbeing? Briguglio and her team were consulted by the National Statistics Office in the development process of the Cultural Participation Survey. This provided the researchers with the opportunity for the first time to develop questions that would help discover not just how people participate in culture but how it affects their wellbeing. It was the first time ever modelling life satisfaction in Malta, and I would love to see a similar study conducted in Ireland.

Firstly Briguglio stated that while incomes may rise, it does not mean that people are happier. She said that a nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is used as a measure of the health of a country’s economy, should not be seen as a measure of the people’s happiness. GDP increases are not a proxy for wellbeing, and should not be used as such (as politicians may tend to do in an election year). Briguglio asked questions such as – Do happier people participate in Culture, or does participation in culture make you happier, what’s the causality? Does being an artist make you happy? If artists are happier, is it because they are also healthy, rich etc? The survey was able to assess and eliminate these other factors. She found that income does in fact make you happier, but only to a certain point, in the EU, this number is €25,000p/a, after that there is no significant increase in happiness, and it can actually lead to more stress (how to divide it up, avoid taxes etc!). Health is actually the biggest indicator of happiness. Briguglio demonstrated a very complicated looking mathematical and scientific formula that they had used to calculate the overall happiness of people in Malta and Gozo. The findings boiled down to a simple recipe for happiness: Make money (but not too much), be employed, be healthy, do sports, be part of a community, go to church reasonably regularly, and if possible live on the smaller island of Gozo (automatic +1 points there)! The study found that the majority of Maltese people reported an overall life satisfaction rating of 8/10. It seems like they have it pretty sussed!

Participants were asked the question: ‘Are you an Artist?’ and had to answer with a simple yes or no. Self-identification as an artist was enough, they were not asked to specify what type of artist or justify any credentials. Briguglio found that Artists do more across a broad spectrum in the cultural field, go to more events, try more activities, produce more culture (it would have been a bit weird if they found otherwise) but that attending stuff does not lead to higher happiness, engagement does.The study asked whether artists were happier than non artists. The answer? YES. They concluded that artists were indeed happier than non-artists. Artists generally reported the same levels of health and many other factors, as the rest of the population (with a slight increase in education), but as researchers were able to assess and eliminate these other factors Briguglio could confidently say that just being an artist correlated with a higher happiness rating. The key findings are:  Cultural Participation improves wellbeing, and Artists are happier.

Study on Audience Development: How to place audiences at the centre of cultural organisations | Mrs Christina da Milano, President, ECCOM – European Centre for Cultural Organisation and Management

The final presentation of the day by Christina da Milano covered her work on how to place audiences at the centre of cultural organisations. Her research looked into institutions, not events, and specifically focussed on Audience Development strategy among Maltese residents, not tourists. Da Milano stated that Audience development is a strategic dynamic and interactive process of making the arts widely accessible. The aim is to energise individuals and communities. Institutions perceive that people are engaging in three ways: by habit (regulars, the usual suspects), by choice, or by surprise. Da Milano stated that audience development is about increasing audiences, deepening relationships and importantly – diversifying audiences, it is not about ‘bums on seats’, and organisations need to stop considering Audience Development as Marketing and Communication. Da Milano outlined the key considerations needed in an Audience Development Strategy, these are: a place/venue, programming, co-creation, building capacity, partnership and networking, use of data, digital, and organisational change. Organisational change is particularly important as it is no use to have one person or department focusing on audience development, it needs to be embedded in the organisation in order to be effective.

Round Table Discussion

Last item on the agenda was a round table discussion on Cultural Participation perspectives moderated by Mr Toni Attard, Director of Strategy, Arts Council Malta. Questions were raised about Volunteering – What motivates volunteers in the arts? Do geographic factors affect volunteering in arts and culture? Motivations were listed as Altruism, Egoism, and Personal Development, and it was stated that in less dense populations there are higher rates of volunteerism. Two of the main determinants for people choosing to volunteer is the locality, and the management of the organisation.

Dr Toni Sant, Artistic Director, Spazju Kreattiv, made some interesting comments on the use of digital, stating that the term ‘Digital’ itself is outdated, as TV’s and Cinemas are digital rather than analogue, what we’re really talking about is often online.  Sant referred to online events as cultural activities and activities as cultural events. He stated that audiences are no longer mere consumers but are also producers, mentioning broadcasting sites such as Youtube and online gaming such as World of Warcraft and Minecraft. Museums and Galleries may be creating 360° virtual tours of their institution but that is still just a representation of the physical space. Sant stated that many things are digital, but there are things that are born digital. It is interesting to look at the possibilities of online culture and creative computing as a cultural activity in its own right.

Dr Maria Pisani, talked about her work with the voluntary organisation Intergra Foundation, running a drop in cultural centre, and their research into how policies have destroyed the agency and humanity of refugees. She asked where is the mention of Food in the Cultural Participation Survey? Food culture has been excluded but it is both artistic and performative and an important element of culture for many.

There were some slightly heated debates about Festas, the religious celebrations organised by local parishes featuring fireworks, bands, and processions, and more fireworks. Festa’s are in every village, in every town, every year. There are 60 festas held across Malta and Gozo in the summer. People feel part of their festa, and that their parish Saint is a common totem that says a lot about who they are. The key word for festas is ‘Participation’, those that take part love them, but those that don’t can find them very frustrating as it’s nearly impossible to avoid, as it comes to you. There is a strong divide between those that are involved and those that wish to avoid them.

Mr Michael Deguara, Anthropologist, discussed Accessibility. When questioned in 2011, people with disabilities had a low engagement with their capital city of Valletta, but by 2016 there was a noted increase in engagement, and Valletta European Capital of Culture 2018 is seen as a potential to make Valletta more accessible. Most respondents were positive about Valletta’s immediate future but there were concerns over the long term future. Prices have been increasing, and the Maltese are concerned that they won’t be able to live in the capital, and that Valletta will become too much like other capitals, catering mostly to tourists. There is a duality of optimism and fatalism, and many people feel a lack of control. This is something we have seen in Galway too. Galway 2020 should bring a much needed investment in the city’s artists and organisations, and it’s an exciting time for people in the city but with rents already skyrocketing, it is hard to imagine how the city is going to cope with the added influx of people.

Despite these valid reservations, it seems that Malta is currently booming, investment in arts and culture is widespread and supported, and the people are happy. This is great to hear when so often cultural symposiums talk of funding cuts, poverty lines and survival. A welcome change!


N.B. This article was written based on notes, hastily jotted down during the symposium, so I apologise for any mistakes that may have occurred. I would encourage anyone interested in more information to download a copy of the Cultural Participation Survey report when it will be listed on the Arts Council Malta Website shortly.