Dear Minister, Have the Arts been Forgotten?


With the urge from the Minister, YB Dato’ Sri Hajah Nancy Shukri, Tarinao took a peek into the websites of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Arts (MoTAC) and its various departments, units, and agencies. The formation of MoTAC is quite a straightforward one—out of the need to act swiftly in response to optimising the management and promotion of the tourism industry that has a direct impact on the economic growth of Malaysia. A study[1] in 2018 showed that in the past 20 years, every 1% increase in tourist expenditure or spending contributes to a 0.2% increase in real GDP. In 2019 alone, total tourist receipt[2] at RM 86.1 billion, or 2.4% increase from the previous year, contributed to 0.48% of the overall GDP valued at of RM 1.42 trillion[3] or, RM 681.6 billion. In short, tourism industry showed a significant observable impact on the economy.

In short, tourism industry showed a significant observable impact on the economy.

Figuratively speaking, it made complete sense that the MoTAC should focus on tourism over the arts and culture sector. Well, figuratively speaking. However, if we were to look more closely into what drives tourism, what exactly attracts the attention and curiosity of the people? Enough to make the decision to make the trip of a lifetime to a country? It has to be more complex than just numbers. We are talking, after all, about people, flesh and blood, thinking human beings that are so complex and ever-changing that was described as the microcosm of life. The complexity of human and its behaviour is so intense that, one small change within one’s environment can make a big transformation overnight. Take a look around us now, all our lives without discrimination have been practically changed overnight by one tiny non-life virus named COVID-19.

The point is, one small factor, can indirectly affect the direct consequences of the world system that we know; one seemingly small sector of the arts can indirectly affect the direct consequences of the tourism industry that are the most directly hit industry during this difficult period. The arts give birth to culture, give birth to tradition, give birth to our sense of identity, sense of belonging, and sense of self that dictate much of our decision making, if not all. The heart of tourism is the culture of the people; the heart of culture is the arts that are born out of the expression of life packed with emotions and nostalgia of the people and the time. The heart of tourism is the arts. In this article, we are looking into the heart of MoTAC, the departments and agencies of arts and culture.

This is the department in charge of the competition that the minister shared enthusiastically on the interview with Astro Awani’s Consider This as a way to support the arts sector. The online art competition opened for participation on 14-22 April, has been extended until 30 April:

Istana Budaya initiated online learning by the members of the Malaysian Traditional Orchestra on Facebook from 15-28 April at 3 pm.

Most activities have been suspended until further notice including the ASWARA Open Day, and all short-term courses.

Temporary closure had caused the cancellation of KL Biennale 2020. However, the board has initiated a website (GoNAG) to support digitalised exhibitions, with a total of 59 curated on-site. However, the digital gallery is not exactly on the site itself. Visitors have to contact the exhibition organisers individually for more information about each of the exhibitions. There are also 73 artists featured on-site, unfortunately, the social links (Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Google+) does not work. There is no guarantee for visitors to access to the works of the artists and in turn, support or buy their artworks.

A survey[4] by MCMC [Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission] in 2018, showed 28.7 million internet users in Malaysia, of which 93% used their smartphones for internet access. Top five online activities are texting, social media networking, information search, online TV streaming, and work. In the interview, the minister was under the impression that with the existing smartphone penetration, artists will be able to keep the arts economy afloat. The arts economy involves not only the artists but also a huge segment of service workers and the gig economy. The arts generally gain revenue from public or private funding and earned revenues (typically from ticket sales, merchandise sales, services, commissions, events, and festivals). Most independent or freelance artists live from gig-to-gig. The minister was right about artists’ resiliency, resourcefulness, and endless creativity to get through tough times. However, the persistent situation of the COVID-19 is getting real, and tough times are becoming a norm, and the norm cannot be tagged along by a persistent loss of income. “The show must go on”, and when the show just cannot go on anymore, all eyes will be on the ministry’s plans that were mentioned in the interview to address the needs of the arts and culture sector.

The truth is the powerhouse of culture—the arts, which drives tourism cannot go under.

However, the persistent situation of the COVID-19 is getting real, and tough times are becoming a norm, and the norm cannot be tagged along by a persistent loss of income.

According to the minister, the competition held by JKKN is an effort in addition to the care package (Bantuan Prihatin Nasional) for those in the arts and culture sector. However, it seemed that the competition is opened for all Malaysians including amateur with no clear indication of targeting those dependent solely on the arts for a living. It was also inclined to mostly traditional art forms. Traditional art forms reflect the glorious heritage and culture from the times past; contemporary arts, manifest relevancy of the past into the now, reflecting the continuous creative and innovative abilities of the people, which in turn can entice interests and investments into the future. What about the contemporary artists who are creating works based on the rich culture and heritage of Malaysia?

Have they been forgotten?

With 160 units of prizes worth RM57,000 up for grabs by all the talents in the country, how much of that prize money will reach the artists and auxiliary staff of the arts to put food on the table?

Based on the statistics[5] updated in 2017, there are 236 registered arts and cultural workers under the JKKN. With 160 units of prizes worth RM57,000 up for grabs by all the talents in the country, how much of that prize money will reach the artists and auxiliary staff of the arts to put food on the table? Of the 236 registered full-time workers in the arts and culture sector how many more who are not registered and accounted for? And how many are jobless right now? The minister expressed agreement and sympathy on the insufficiency of support through the planned programs and believed that it can, however, act as a stimulant to the arts economy, and provide opportunities. What exactly are the needs of the arts sector at this point in time? The global pandemic has brought a novel situation, and a future, hard to predict. The arts and culture sector depend on the gathering of the people, the union of the community. With the obvious restrictions of movement and logistics, how can the arts be presented efficiently through the digital platform in competition with the rest of the world as we enter the world wide web? Would the emphasis on traditional Malaysian arts and culture be sufficient to interest the internet communities worldwide and allow artists to compete with the amazing international online contents made freely available to all Malaysians? Are our artists equipped with the skills necessary for the digital stage?

Would the emphasis on traditional Malaysian arts and culture be sufficient to interest the internet communities worldwide and allow artists to compete with the amazing international online contents made freely available to all Malaysians? Are our artists equipped with the skills necessary for the digital stage?

Tommy Noonan, co-director of Culture Mill, a US-based performing arts NGO recently wrote on Indy Week[6] about the urgency for restructuring funding for the arts to address “the unsustainable state of our artistic models, habits, and structures”. The COVID-19 is indeed a blessing in disguise, as it revealed the need for a systemic change towards a future of sustainability and leadership in the arts sector. Moving forward, both short and long term aids are important to rebuild and restructure the arts economy. The short-term aid as suggested by Noonan to struggling artists is the redirection of existing resources such as direct giving, online performances, and crowdfunding. The longer-term strategy is more complicated and would require the united efforts of leaders from multiple fields including “economics, sociology, literature, history, ecology, and sustainability” to synthesise new sustainable operating models for the arts.

The COVID-19 is indeed a blessing in disguise, as it revealed the need for a systemic change towards a future of sustainability and leadership in the arts sector.

Tarinao has collected international resources and models that artists can refer to and learn from to build one that works for local markets through the LOCKDOWN Community Dance Project. Whether it is by offering paid packages for existing students to participate in online classes or performances, sellable #stayhome outreach programs and activities to individuals of all ages, the list goes on. For more resources for dance practitioners, check into https://www.tarinao.com/resources. If you have any questions related to the expansion of revenue in dance practice, Tarinao is offering a 40-min consultation online with an option for a professional detailed report on suggested plans moving forward. Visit us here.

References

  1. Puah, C. H., Jong, M. C., Ayob, N., & Ismail, S. (2018). The impact of tourism on the local economy in Malaysia. International Journal of Business and Management, 13(12), 7.

  2. Tourist Receipts. (2020). Retrieved 27 April 2020, from http://mytourismdata.tourism.gov.my/?page_id=242#!from=2018&to=2019

  3. Mahidin, M. (2020). Malaysia Economic Performance Fourth Quarter 2019. Retrieved 27 April 2020, from https://www.dosm.gov.my/v1/index.php?r=column/cthemeByCat&cat=100&bul_id=WWk2MDA3R1k1SlVsTjlzU3FZcjVlUT09&menu_id=TE5CRUZCblh4ZTZMODZIbmk2aWRRQT09

  4. Statistics Department MCMC. (2018). Internet users survey 2018 [Pdf]. Retrieved from https://www.mcmc.gov.my/skmmgovmy/media/General/pdf/Internet-Users-Survey-2018-(Infographic).pdf

  5. Pemurnian Data Penggiat Seni Budaya Yang Berdaftar Di Bawah Jabatan Kebudayaan Dan Kesenian Negara. (2018). Retrieved 27 April 2020, from http://www.data.gov.my/data/ms_MY/dataset/pemurnian-data-penggiat-seni-budaya-yang-berdaftar-di-bawah-jabatan-kebudayaan-dan-kesenian-negara/resource/bc5f1a81-ecbf-4c17-af1d-e19a7dbd5b7a

  6. Noonan, T. (2020). COVID-19 Reveals the Urgency of Rethinking Revenue-Based Arts Funding. Retrieved 28 April 2020, from https://indyweek.com/culture/stage/rethinking-revenue-based-arts-Culture-Mill/

  7. Tarinao. (2020). Unofficial transcript of Consider This: Part 2-Have the Arts been Forgotten? Download http://tiny.cc/drgxnz

  8. Tarinao. (2020). Tabulated Online Arts Competition by JKKN. Download http://tiny.cc/n2gxnz

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