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Prestigious art prize awarded from one government agency to another

The Valletta Cultural Agency, chaired by Jason Micallef, took home the ‘Best Artistic Programme’ prize.

Jason Micallef Owen Bonnici
Jason Micallef with then-Culture Minister Owen Bonnici

One of the Malta Art Council’s annual Premju għall-Arti prizes was awarded to the Valletta Design Cluster – a project by Valletta Cultural Agency, of which government official Jason Micallef is chairman.

Both The Malta Arts Council and the Valletta Cultural Agency are government-funded bodies, falling under the Culture Ministry’s remit.

Yesterday, the Council awarded the ‘Best Artistic Programme’ prize of the year to the Valletta Design Cluster, a project by the Valletta Cultural Agency, which was set up as a “legacy” project following Valletta 2018, and is led by Micallef.  The agency receives €3.5 million from the government annually, according to media reports.

There’s even a video of Micallef’s acceptance speech, in which he expressed his gratitude saying the Valletta Design Cluster will be ‘gifted’ to the Maltese population later this year – something taxpayers actually funded.

In 2019, a “dismayed” PEN International had called on the Maltese government to review the decision to promote Micallef as chairman of the Valletta Cultural Agency in order to “hold him accountable for his vilification of Daphne Caruana Galizia”.

PEN was referring to Micallef’s repeated attempts to mock the assassinated journalist while he held the position of chairman of V18 European Capital of Culture. He also regularly called for the removal of banners demanding for justice for Caruana Galizia, calling them “another act of provocation”.

Over 300 writers had signed the letter calling for his removal, including Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, and a number of world-renowned journalists. National and international artists had joined calls for his removal, including the European Parliament.

In a post on social media while he was still V18 chairman, Micallef had shared a photo of revellers on St Patrick’s Day in St Julian’s, mocking the slain journalist’s last words “the situation is desperate”.

In January, Micallef caused another stir after mocking singer and X Factor judge Alexandra Alden “Malta’s Lady Gaga wannabe” after she had announced that she would be performing at an anti-corruption protest.

Other awardees include Teatru Malta, which is also a government-funded body under Arts Council Malta, artists Julian Mallia, Andre Agius and Charles is-City Gatt, Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, L-Għaqda Każini tal-Banda, Moveo Dance Company, Mizzi Studio, Gabriel Caruana Foundation, and Bank of Valletta (who took home the Honorary award for promoting culture).

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