How to bring people together and change the city – Interview with Valletta Design Cluster

A community food night hosted and organized by Kurt Mifsud at the Mediterranean Culinary Academy.

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As part of the Transformer project, we have had the opportunity to consider a range of organisational models and what they offer to the arts organisations making use of them. The broad scope of the Valletta 2018 Capital of Culture framework also includes other disciplines including design, which with a strong focus on embedding collaborative processes and developing user-driven interventions gives a different perspective to that of the arts. We took this opportunity to talk with Caldon Mercieca and Rafael Pascual-Leone of the Valletta Design Cluster (VDC), an infrastructure project of Valletta 2018, and ongoing exploration in the sustainability and implementation of design Malta.

In this discussion we focused on design as methodology for world making — that is through empowering designers and users to take control of their local environment. As we discuss, embedding design thinking, balancing business, and entrepreneurship, into a local context defined by transformation is central here — but for the VDC this cannot be achieved without meeting the need for supported connection and collaboration after education, and in a currently fragmented sector.

Crucially, the VDC offers fabrication labs and studios to be used as a recourse for cross-discipline collaborations, something which is currently not easy in Malta; this also providing what they imagine as a sort of neutral ground for these interactions to happen. In their own words, this is not to impose that people come together as a sector, but make sure that there is a point of contact and meeting.

Here the organisational model — the cluster — allows VDC to act as an interface between various interests and projects, and the regulatory and governmental environment, adjusting itself to meet the needs of each case.

Like this, the VDC is able tread a line between being a neutral, publically-funded platform for working together, and set an agenda in which design processes can intervene in the urban fabric and broader economy, allow community members to see that local change is possible, and work with local authorities to alter ingrained habits and expectations about how the city should look an work.

Of course, as an organisation focusing on developing and implementing design practice, and one which is to soon be housed in a newly renovated building in Valletta, the question of gentrification and the rapid transformations gripping Malta are particularly present. In this sense, VDC faces tensions not dissimilar to the arts; however how VDC seek to fix those existing communities and practices into the physical spaces and projects it undertakes, through a sort of design activism and offering of resources gives a fresh perspective on some of those debates familiar to the arts.

Also discussed: