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About the Malta Society of Arts

The Malta Society of Arts was established in 1852 and is Malta’s oldest institution for the promotion of the arts and crafts.

The Malta Society of Arts is based at Palazzo de La Salle, 219 Republic Street, Valletta. It is currently under the presidency of Perit (Architect) Adrian Mamo.

About

As the nation’s oldest institution for the promotion of the arts and crafts, the Malta Society of Arts (MSA) is considered by many to be an educational and cultural catalyst on the Island. Its 164-year history, in fact, is intertwined with that of many great Maltese and Gozitan artists who were sponsored through exhibitions or grants to further their artistic studies both locally and abroad. Throughout the years, its work has been given the official recognition and patronage of governors, presidents and archbishops of Malta.

Originally known as the Malta Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, the MSA’s founding in 1852 was the direct result of a letter sent out by the British Secretary of State to the respective administrations in the Imperial Colonies to solicit the founding of an association similar to the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, which was based in London.

Throughout the following 170 years, the MSA held various competitions and exhibitions, participated in overseas expositions, and awarded medals to many local and foreign artists. The MSA was also the first institution in Malta to set up a School of Lace; while it pioneered apprenticeship schemes. Meanwhile, in 1933, the Society became the official representative in Malta of the London College of Music, a status which it still holds as its premises are the Malta Centre for the College’s examinations.

Through the help of the Maltese Government, contributions, patrons and various other financial sources, the MSA is one of the Island’s leading educational and cultural centres. Within the historic Palazzo de La Salle in Valletta, which has been the official seat of the Society since 1924, the MSA holds various exhibitions by up-and-coming, as well as renowned, artists; stages various cultural events (including concertos and recitals); and offers classes in a large number of visual, applied and performing arts, from lace-making to Spanish guitar, and from crib-building to wood sculpture.

Mission Statement

To be a centre aimed at promoting the Visual, Applied, Performative and Literary Arts, and also for promoting any industrial branch. With this aim in view the MSA provides space and education whilst it also encourages a high level of achievement in the production of artistic work.

The MSA is a not-for-profit organisation.

Historical Outline

In 1851 Sir William Reid (1791-1858) was appointed Governor of Malta. Reid had been the president of the organising committee of the Great Exhibition of London held in Hyde Park under the patronage of Albert, Prince Consort that year. In April 1852 the British Secretary of State wrote to administrations in the British colonies to solicit the founding of an association which would develop connections with the Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in London. The aim of the Malta branch would be to promote crafts manufactured in Malta, as well as agricultural and industrial goods.

Governor Reid set up the Malta Society of Arts, manufactures and commerce on 4th November 1852. The official announcement took place through a notification published in the Malta Government Gazette. Baron Calcedonio Azzopardi was nominated as the society’s first president and other distinguished Maltese to serve on the board included Professor Ferdinando Caruana Dingli, specialist in international law, Canon Paolo Pullicino, Director of Education, ornithologist Antonio Schembri, Mr John Grant esq, President of the Chamber of Commerce and James Apinall esq. as Hon. Secretary. William M Thornton, Acting Chief Secretary to the colonial government, submitted and signed the government notice on 4th November 1852.

Palazzo Xara served as the first premises of the Society. In 1894 the industrial exhibition held there attracted a good number of exhibits although attendance did not exceed expectations. In 1906 the Society moved to new premises which were located at 76 Theatre Street. By 1908 lace classes under the technical directorship of Rev. Giuseppe Diacono were being organised. In 1914 a further move from Strada Mezzodi to Strada San Cristoforo took place.

In 1922 the MSA was appointed the Malta representative of the London College of Music. In 1923 Palazzo de la Salle was transferred by government deed to the Society on the 11th June and has served as its base ever since. Since 1880 the Malta Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce has awarded medals of excellence to local craftsmen and artists. During the last 160 years, the MSA has participated in overseas exhibitions, organised competitions and exhibitions and has assisted Maltese artists and craftsmen to pursue their studies abroad.

Palazzo de La Salle

Little documentation exists about the Palazzo. Its date of construction remains unclear, however, taking into account its architectural style, it was probably built in the 1570s and was certainly a residence of great distinction but its owners and occupants during its early history are unknown.

In the late 17th Century it was the residence of the Prior of England and Venice, Fra Stefano Maria Lomellini, subsequently inherited by his nephew, an Italian knight. There is indication that it became the property of the Prior of Barletta, Fra Camillo Albertini in 1711. After he died in 1712, the property was handed over to the Treasury and bequeathed to the Order.

The Palazzo became the residence of the family of Grand Master Raymond Perellos Roccafull in 1713 until 1720, when it was donated to his nephews. Sometime around 1730 the building passed into the hands of the De La Salle brothers, two French noblemen appointed as bailiffs by the Order, and whose name remains associated with the Palazzo to this day. When the last of the brothers died in 1739, the Palazzo was inherited by Fra Tommaso Sammut. The ownership during the late 18th Century remains unclear.

A British merchant and subsequently a wealthy Maltese widow occupied the property during the 1800s. The Palazzo suffered various changes throughout this period, indicating that its guardians were more concerned with functionality rather than the preservation of its historical and artistic value.

In 1992 the Malta Environment and Planning Authority listed Palazzo de la Salle as a Grade 1 Scheduled Property.