Enough lip service: show up for our arts, culture and creative sectors before it’s too late

Enough lip service: show up for our arts, culture and creative sectors before it’s too late

Malaysia is suffering through a bureaucratic battle, with the arts and culture sector that represents the nation’s distinct identity at the greatest risk

AS the nation goes through another rush ahead of the coming general elections, let’s remind ourselves of who we are and what we represent.

To recap, the manic last weekend was predominantly focused on fund allocations following the tabling of Budget 2023.

Those tuning in – be it for coverage, analysis, scrutinisation or even entertainment – were understandably high-spirited to learn who got the biggest and smallest slice of the pie or who was ignored.

This frenzy was of course cut short after Monday’s announcement by Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob of Parliament dissolution. A clear strategic decision by one ruling party to capture the hearts and minds of Malaysians, in which the tabling has acted as a convenient platform for campaigning for votes.

Memorable performances of Seni Reog and Manora at RexKL, downtown Kuala Lumpur in September garnered wide public support. – AZIM RAHMAN/The Vibes pic

Irrespective of this new development in our nation’s state of current affairs, thoughts and considerations expressed by players of each social and economic sector still carry individual importance.

Deliberations from practitioners and stewards of the arts, culture as well as entertainment industries were not left out. The Vibes Culture & Lifestyle speaks to several notable figures.

Crux of a cultural policy

The creative economy can bring tremendous returns not just in monetary value.

If an artist’s work is to illuminate the margins and influence societal change towards the idea of a progressed nation, imagine the lengths of what Malaysia can achieve given the advantages of our multiculturalism.

This potential could even bypass Thailand and Singapore based on how well these two nations’ arts and cultural landscapes are seen as attractive for foreign investments on a regional scale from food, fashion and entertainment to heritage, history, travel, education and more.

“The predicament today is that many artists have lost confidence towards formal agencies established to help the arts because nobody tells you that about 70% of the budgeting (over the last three prime ministership) goes into the pockets of the deadwoods of the industry,” said Datuk Ramli Ibrahim.

“A lot of the money goes to the administrative aspect and very little goes towards the subject in question. If I can just simplify, literally ⅓ is left towards the arts and artists.”

The goal here is of course to reach a position where an ecosystem is resilient enough to sustain pressures on a domestic level when another economic lockdown happens.

Our population (or in this case policymakers) may not necessarily understand how a strong cultural identity, with our diversity at play, can make us uniquely stronger and healthier.

A comprehensive cultural policy must be inclusive of the many layers within the spectrum of the arts and should not be reduced to one understanding or concept. – NOOREEZA HASHIM/The Vibes pic

“An important thing to note is that when the arts are not handled by the master/artist themselves, that is when there is a disconnect which is already happening between the artist, scholar and corporate bureaucracy,” shared Ramli further.

“I think that it’s also crucial for those up top to understand the difference first between community arts and arts for excellence.”

“Intensifying grassroots community-based programmes is certainly welcome. However, I hope that these are not simply ‘entertainment events’ like concerts and ‘pesta’,” said Pusaka creative director Pauline Fan.

The entertainment industry is not short of having to deal with perilous welfare assistance and the recent proposed budget did pledge on having those contributing to the field an 80% contribution value by the government in Socso aid. However, only Finas and those affiliated with the body were singled out to enjoy the benefit. – SADIQ ASYRAF/The Vibes pic

“The engagements should also encompass truly impactful and sustainable programmes with a long-term vision such as training, research and documentation.”

Her response was in relation to the budget’s promise to intensify community-based art, culture and heritage programmes on a grassroots level with allocations worth RM25 million.

Rework our understanding of the arts

The incentives for hoteliers who buy from local craftsmen to sell Malaysian-made products at their properties as promised in the budget seem like an attractive method of encouragement, “but it [the incentives] would be more effective if they are paired with comprehensive programmes of knowledge transmission from Master Craftsmen to apprentices, or upskilling and marketing training,” added Fan.

Pusaka creative director Pauline Fan highlighted that any grassroots community-based programmes should encompass training, research and documentation for better industry sustainability. – SYEDA IMRAN/The Vibes pic

“It would be better if hotel and public spaces are given incentives (on a larger scale) to incorporate the work of local craftsmen/artists for all their interior design(s),” said Cult founder and managing director Suryani Senja Alias.

“I believe there should be a requirement for all – public and private – developers to put aside a certain percentage in the development of local public art. In fact, we need more visibility on it which includes having more local crafts and designs in public spaces,” she added.

Arts and culture certainly has yet to see an all-inclusive strategy that addresses the needs of the many layers and types constituting the sector, “such as performing arts (theatre, dance), visual arts (a huge category in itself), music, film and literature.”

Downtown KL has seen a facelift with more community-based projects centred to uphold culture and heritage against an uproar of modern development. One area that is given a breath of new life is the area surrounding Chinatown. – SYEDA IMRAN/The Vibes pic

“We have yet to see sufficient framework or a clear overarching policy being crafted let alone follow through,” said politician Fahmi Fadzil.

“Film for instance, is not under the same ministry as the rest of the arts (that we have come to understand on an administrative decree) when we know that the field is indeed an art form.

“So that in principle is a major error and a fundamental problem in need of correcting,” he stressed, highlighting the conundrum to be an argument he emphasised a lot when elected as a member of parliament back in 2018.

“The arts is more than just things that are tangible with traits that we view as commodities.”

In need of a retrospect

The entertainment industry is not short of having to deal with perilous welfare assistance.

That said, the recent proposed budget did pledge on having those contributing to the field an 80% contribution value by the government in Socso aid.

Kuman Pictures founder and writer Amir Muhamad highlighted that, “the bigger the budget, the less charming a movie tends to be.”

“When talking of patriotism, I would invite readers to watch the following music video instead…”

While pushing for incentives seems to be an approach to win the hearts of many, the general notion is that it does look like throwing a bunch of goodies.

“The usual problem is in the implementation and ensuring the right people get the grants. For example, what is the follow-up action on the call for Finas to list all companies that receive grants or allocation funds over claims of malpractice among film industry players?”

The lack of auditing or revisiting past strategies is a concern among many. If prolonged, we are at risk of losing the integrity and credibility of the industry as a whole, no thanks to short-term gains.

Given the opinions and arguments shared, Malaysia’s foothold in pushing for its creative industries to be robust is not entirely lost.

A robust arts and cultural landscape is attractive for foreign investments on a regional scale which can translate into food, fashion and entertainment to heritage, history, travel, education and more. – ALIF OMAR/The Vibes pic

There is still a strong potential in fostering appreciation towards both traditional and contemporary arts and arts culture because there are people that care enough to have a say.

Truthfully, we do not have to look hard or go as far as to import unique works whenever we crave creative ingenuity.

All it takes is to reposition our priorities before another country with a higher GDP comes in to rape us of our own treasures.

After all, great art elicits powerful sentiments that are able to help us tap into a higher order of thinking. It help tells meaningful stories that are more than just practice, but a way of life.

source – The Vibes


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