The local arts scene saw an exciting 2017 with a surge of art festivals and independent art venues, bringing in a new year that is hopeful yet worrying for artists.
From musicians to painters and actors to poets, art players are concerned about the sustainability of their craft and say it’s high time the different art groups unite as one supportive ecosystem.
According to founder of spoken word poetry platform If Walls Could Talk, Melizarani T. Selva, if the surge of festivals continues without coordination between the different arts groups, it could lead to a saturation of events as well as audience fatigue.
“If every festival is trying to govern the same weekend, it’s going to get very tiring for both the audience and artists as there is only a finite number of audiences and artists,” the 27-year-old poet said.
There is also the long-time issue of a lack of funding, which continues to inhibit development in the arts.
More importantly, Melizarani said the industry needs a union to which artists can turn when seeking support in fighting for their rights in issues ranging from government censorship to labour abuse and sexual harassment.
She said there is currently no active body or labour union that serves to protect artists and their rights.
Melizarani said she hopes that in 2018, a body would be created to facilitate conversations among the different arts groups with the aim of creating a vibrant and cohesive ecosystem.
She highlighted the newly-launched Cultural Economy Development Agency (Cendana), which she believes can bridge the industry and “look after” artists.
“I hope Cendana will be a patron to us in making sure that artists receive a sustainable livelihood so they can focus on creating art and not constantly worry about looking for funding,” she said.
“The arts industry in Malaysia is very old, it is time we start looking at each other as part of a community and help each other,” she added.
Cendana, a new arts and culture agency, was set up in June to scale up the quality of the works produced by Malaysian artists and increase the demand for arts.
McFeddy Simon, 28, from the Sabah-based art collective Pangrok Sulap, sees 2018 as the year where the line between art and activism blurs.
“I foresee many talented artists who have been keeping silent will rise to voice out on current issues through their art, because the local art community is becoming more aware and vocal,” the painter and woodcarver said.
Simon hopes the arts will be given independence and not be subjected to censorship, adding that as citizens of the country, local artists have the right to comment on national issues through their chosen medium.
In the performing arts scene, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) resident director Tung Jit Yang, 28, has high hopes that theatre will explore more experimental and daring shows.
“There is a new generation of performers who went to London and New York to train, and are now returning to build the local theatre scene – hopefully this movement continues to grow,” Tung said.
With the public interest in arts picking up, Tung looks forward to a year where arts events become a mainstream entertainment choice for the masses.
“Instead of paying for the cinema, I hope people will go to the theatre, attend poetry gigs or visit art galleries, and make a Friday night of it,” he said.
The speech and drama teacher at the Theatre For Young People said for this to happen, the public must learn to appreciate the non-monetary value that art brings to the community.
“Parents send their children to arts training because their children lack confidence, it is never because their children love acting,” Tung said.
He hopes this negative mindset will change in 2018, starting with more funding for arts education from the Education Ministry.
“Public schools lack funding for arts education, but we need to give our kids a holistic education, as arts exposure develops individuality, soft skills, and critical thinking skills,” he said.
“In this tough world today, we need the arts more than ever,” award-winning stand-up comic Hannan Azlan concurred.
The 23-year-old performer wants 2018 to be the year when the arts become more accessible to the masses.
“You have to have a certain amount of (financial) privilege to be exposed to the arts in Malaysia – it is sad that it is not accessible to everyone,” she said of art lovers who can’t afford to attend shows, and talented artists who can’t afford to pursue their craft.
Hannan, who has performed around the world, said Malaysia has one of the most diverse talent pools she has seen but at the same time the industry is segregated by vernacular.
“I really hope to see more diversity in the Malaysia comedy scene and across the industry, and I hope to see talent in Malaysia continue to bloom,” she said.
The second half of 2018 will be especially exciting with Malaysia’s biggest international festivals happening back-to-back, kicking off with the award-winning Rainforest World Music Festival scheduled from July 13-15 in Kuching.
August gets busy with the month-long George Town Festival happening from Aug 4 to Sept 2 in Penang.
Meanwhile in Kuala Lumpur, Cooler Lumpur, a festival of ideas and literature, will take place in the second week of August, and the Yayasan Sime Darby Arts Festival will be back at the KLPac on Aug 18 and Aug 19.