A lot of talk has been going on recently about positioning Malaysia as a central urban hub for the arts. After all, Malaysia do have thriving and extremely vibrant arts scene that ranges from fine art exhibitions to the performing arts, culture and traditions to historical plays and manymore.
Whichever way it is seen or positioned, Malaysia do have a very interesting landscape when it comes to the arts and this is widely contributed by the likes of its rich history and culture. So much so that there was a recent panel discussion under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) on ‘Arts and the City’ which involved prominent members of the arts community of Malaysia and to deliberate how to move forward into achieving this plan.
To understand how it works, one must look at the bigger picture and this can be done by understanding that arts and culture will play an integral role if KL is to be turned into a more vibrant city than it is today in terms of social and economy.
Among those who were involved in the discussion was Low Ngai Yuen of KakiSeni, Bilqis Hijjas of MyDance Alliance, Lee Weng Choy of Substation Arts Centre of Singapore, Dr Zulkifli Mohamad and Nor Asmah Mohd Nor of Pemandu (the Performance Management and Delivery Unit) which speaks on behalf of the government.
Essentially, there is a need to develop spaces for various types of performances and visual arts. Platforms important but there should also be transparency when it comes to funding and this should be prioritized. If KL is to become a central hub for the arts, it would take a lot of efforts and no better party is suited to take this responsibility except the government, whom the panel felt should be leading the way. In this context, it is easy to perceive that the government should fund more projects and have more courage in doing so instead of just the ‘sure win’ solutions.
Countries and cities like Singapore, Melbourne and Berlin are considered as major players in the world to have a focus on the arts and for them to achieve this milestone started with putting in place enabling policies. One of the major issues that Malaysia needs to contend with would be on censorship, often a topic that is blurred with no specific indication. One of the examples would be the ban on a performance by SDT (Singapore Dance Theatre) here which claimed that it was because the dancers had to wear tutus, which have since been denied by the Information, Communication and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim.
Censorship could be a driving factor to promote the arts because artists are not sure where the line should be drawn. With clear indication, there could be better promotion and easier to carry out any applications for such exhibitions and performances. Typically, the government should play an important role to be the supporter of such programmes and to seek the arts scene’s opinions and feedback if they are to manage such a mammoth task. The rest will fall into place.