Democratisation or information cacophony: how do we communicate about the arts and culture and reach our audience?



Sandro Debono
Senior Curator at Malta’s National Museum of Fine Arts (Malta)

Robert Lynch
CEO Americans for the Arts (USA)

Robert Machin
President and Acting Secretary General of Culture Action Europe (Hungary)


Esther Anatolitis
Director Regional Arts Victoria (Australia)  


Ayeta Wangusa
Coordinator for Africa, International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA) 

Key words: 

democracy; strategy; Europe; funding; ownership.





Sandro Debono
Case study:  Muza –National Musuem of Fine Arts

Malta stand  at the centre of networks, connections and exchanges that have distinctively shaped its cultural life. From a European perspective, Malta’s periphery status is essentially political and direcltly related to the European centre. Malta’s rich artistic heritage is evidence of a strong Western European culture and a Eurocentric colonial legacy, mostly connected to culturally rich historic periods. The national art museum, known as the National Museum of Fine Arts ,now  permanently closed , as seen as a dogmatic institution to promote European centric of cultural production. There is no equvalent of the ‘fine arts’ in the Maltese language, it is just art. The key challenge is for national art museums to negotiate meanings and to rethink the purpose of curatorial practice. There is need to rethink the traditional art museum narrative based on regional schools and masterpieces. It calls for a rethinking the art museum and its relevance and significance to contemporary society. The chosen museum model is Muza – a national community art museum which happens to be the flagship project for Valleta2018 Capital of Culture…It is an acroymn for National Museum of  Art –not fine arts. The Muza project aims at rethinking a new museum narrative on what it means to the community in order to inteprete meaning and relevant to community for inspiration and renewal. Muza is considered to be a more democratic art history, bottomup rather than top-down or dictated by power wielding elites.


Robert Lynch
Arts support in America

  • 700, 000 registered arts organizations in America.  600,00 commerical, 100,000 non-commerial/non-profit.

  • Indigenous peopple in America had no word for art because it was completely integrated in their culture.

  • 1930, support for the arts, was about jobs and not arts.

  • The National Endownment of the Arts was formed 50 years ago to support the arts.

  • Democracy and information cacophony in America is always  one and the same.

  • GDP $ 704 Billion, 4.7% for arts and culture, which is bigger than tourism in America.

  • non-profit organizations struggle and that is why they need a subsidy

  • America for the Arts' focus is about promoting leadership, values and resources. Strategies and communication: use of television, radio to bring the message to decision makers to support the arts.


Robert Manchin

  • Democracy =cacophony. Europe went through a difficult year , 2016 regarding democracy. Refendum in Netherlands, looming refendum in Italy and there was also  Brexit.

  • Where do cultural organizations fit int this  big picture –the political shakeup in Europe?

  • There has been a fundamental shift. Our economies are  based on the idea of a growth-based culture, and yet we are faced with the challenge that there is no growth. This is affecting Europe, because Europe’s software is being challenged.

  • In 4 yrs  time  the cultural sector contribution to GDP will go down from 61% to 40%.

  • Culture Action Europe , is taking a leadership position on shaping a vision of Europe that is working.

  • Challenge is we don’t have shared vision of what is going on . The cultural sector are supposed to be part of the elite class, but we are seen as being at the periphary.

  • Advocacy the way we are trying to redefine it is, focus on Brussels ( EU Capital), with shrinking economy, we have to fight to keep the funding for culture.


  • Need for members to have action at local level.

  • Need for strategies to stimulate massive support. For example, we managed to get 40,000 followers on facebook. 20,000 website monthly visits.

  • How to put it in practice a campaign against the political mafia is a big challenge.

  • We are trying to tell the finance ministers that we are making money, but the artists are not happy about this. There is need for balance on measureable impact and artists who want to make sense through their art.

What is the tone of the communication for the campaign? (America)
The public needed to be educated to believe that the arts are for everyone…give art a chance ad campaign. Government should be involved in supporting combined values – cultural, social & economic values.

How people can connect with museums, what public programming is there?
Audiences may be an idea of the past, but with this new  model we talk of participants in the museum experience. For the Muza Project, 10 community participants are involved in chosing a heritage object and they explain why they chose it and how they interpret it. We ask them where they would like to see that image in the community. Suddenly the image has ownership within the community.



On Cultural Leadership in the 21st Century

Action for Europe
We are in situation where there is growth in some areas, technology, while the middle class is decreasing. Yet the cultural work, targets the middle class. The cultural workers need to fill in the gap in politics e.g. example for Nina Obuljen, being made a minister, to inform decision-making for the sector.

America for the Arts
50% of the general public are interested in doing it themselves (America). Incentive system is used to enable artists get funding from elsewhere. America will not the adopt the European grant making model.



Problems/obstacles to developing sector leadership 


  • Lack of innovative strategies by cultural leaders to engage with decision makers and artists.

  • Democracy sometimes is equals cacophony and is therefore difficult to communicate to policy makers.

  • The dwindling cultural funding provided by the EU.

  • Need to redefine the museum concept so that the connection between heritage and its public is more engaging.

  Examples of culture sector leadership on wider community issues


The Muza museum model is national community museum of historic collection which seeks to present a distinct narrative from the 1920s inspired by the social and political context of the time. It is a tool with which to script a new form of art history by the community members themselves and placing the art works in the public sphere that is selected by community members. This instils ownership of art history by the Maltese and a shift away from interpretations defined by hegemonic European culture.


  Recommendations for action to enhance sector leadership


  • Need  for cultural leaders to organize and develop local level strategies on how  to engage with decision makers and artists.

  • Need for cultural organizations  engage with the politcal class in Brussels to sustain funding for culture, due to the current social and financial crisis in Europe.

  • Need to adopt innovative approaches of raising funding e.g. private investors, crowd fundraising.

  • Need to redefine the museum concept so that the connection between heritage and its public is more engaging.
  Key quotations

'We are on the democratization side. You need to have strategy with case-making to get to the decision makers.’  - CEO Americans for the Arts (USA)

In America, we have seen freeing money for arts education through legislation’ CEO Americans for the Arts (USA)

‘On participation, there are tools for partners across Europe, to help them on how to find  cultural sustainability in cities’ -Robert Manchin, President and Acting Secretary General of Culture Action Europe (Hungary)

'We are at a stage where there cacophony is leading to democracy, through participatory museum heritage projects' - Sandro Debono, Senior Curator at Malta’s National Museum of Fine Arts (Malta)