The Magnificent Memories Machine. Image (C) Elisa von Brockdorff.

Valletta has been European Capital of Culture for almost a year. In this series of articles we look at the impact has it had on the people involved – the artists, the visitors, and the people of Malta. 

In this interview, Francesca Attard speaks to Nicole Blackman, project manager on The Magnificent Memories Machine. Run by the Maltese artistic movement, Magna Żmien, The Magnificent Memories Machine collects people’s recordings, pictures and memories, digitise them, and shares them through a series of events and exhibitions. 

“The European Capital of Culture has opened new portals…international artists and curators have got to know local artists, and this will bring more opportunities for local artists abroad.”

Nicole Blackman, project manager on The Magnificent Memories Machine.

What were your expectations for Valletta 2018 at the start of the year? 

I felt the varied cultural programme would give us the chance to reach new audiences from different walks of life who wanted to experience arts and culture. I was excited about being part of Magna Żmien as a collective memory project. We started from the idea that there would be things hidden in people’s houses, and we wanted to preserve these memories, digitise them, and make them accessible for future generations. 

Do you think you achieved your aims?

I feel Magna Żmien achieved a lot throughout the year. We have digitised around 2,000 items from over 50 contributors and these will be all passed to the National Archives for preservation.

What benefit do you think the European Capital of Culture had for Magna Żmien?

It would never have been possible to start any of our projects without the funding from Valletta 2018 – so in that sense, it was essential. The help of the production team at Valletta 2018 was also beneficial. They worked very hard to make sure that projects kept going. 

Overall, do you think that the European Capital of Culture was a good thing for arts in Malta?

I believe that some projects opened new portals. International artists and curators got to know local artists, and this will bring more opportunities for local artists abroad. Many of Valletta’s buildings were renovated to accommodate and exhibit works. I think this was a good way to both revive the city and connect with its history. 

My hope is that there will be efforts to ensure a legacy of the year, not just a year full of events. I hope that post-2018 there will be more opportunities, and important projects will still find funding. I hear that plans are in progress for this to happen, but I’m not sure what those are. My hope is that alongside the renovations that have taken place, such as building new museums, there will also be funds for new productions, as well as to continue those that started this year.

Is there one moment that you will always remember from Valletta 2018?

We held a week-long exhibition in Kalkara of pictures by the photographer Emanuel Borġ taken between the 1940s and 1980s. 

I spotted one woman peering at each photo very carefully. On her way out, she looked at me and tearfully thanked Magna Żmien for bringing this collection to this remote place. She had recognised most of the people in the photos – and left in happy tears. 

That is what Magna Żmien is all about: making Maltese memories accessible to the community. I think we achieved that.