Creative industry fears govt’s green light for ‘live’ events, while welcomed, could be no more than just a band-aid

A visitor admiring the art pieces at Zhan Art Space. ― Picture courtesy of Zhan Art Space
A visitor admiring the art pieces at Zhan Art Space. ― Picture courtesy of Zhan Art Space

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KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 — After a long hiatus for many in the creative industry, there is a glimmer of hope following the government’s green light for events involving ‘live’ audiences.

There are limitations, however, as to the audience size, and for some, the type of venue involved.

Theatre manager of Petaling Jaya Performing Arts Centre (PJPAC) Brian Kwan said regardless of the strict SOPs, this is a start.

“It’s a start because now we can start planning activities by following the SOPs announced.

“With support from the government through Cendana (Cultural Economy Development Agency), I am hopeful that it will help the industry rebuild,” Kwan told Malay Mail when contacted.

“We are much more than just entertainment, and in fact, we are even considered an education centre for some and a voice of the current society. We are a platform for people to express themselves, exchange ideas, experiences and explore creativity with others. We are an essential part of society.”

Long wait is over

During the entire shutdown period, Kwan said many had to resort to other industries to make ends meet.

Some were forced to find other means of income through the food and beverage industry or delivery industry.

Others even had to sell their equipment in order to survive. A few tried to pivot to doing online shows to stay engaged with their audience and continue to make a living, with varying results.

“We are glad the government has heard the pleas of the industry. We hope the government will continue to work with the industry to fine-tune the SOP for the creative industry and ‘live’ events,” he said.

“We will work with what we have for now. But perhaps we should continue to have open dialogues with the government on how to improve and nurture the creative industry.

“Following the new SOP announcement, we can now work on our full-run test shows for April and May along with our Opening Gala at the end of May before we open for bookings from June 2021 onwards.”

PJPAC initially planned to officially open its doors in March, but was unable to do so when the movement control order (MCO) was announced on January 13.

On Tuesday, the government announced that events with ‘live’ audiences under the creative industries could resume on March 10.

Events with ‘live’ audiences include official government programmes, television programmes, musicals, dances, theatrical performances, comedies, cultural and heritage showcases and livestreams.

For the SOPs, up to 50 per cent attendance capacity of event space is allowed inclusive of physical distancing aspects for conditional MCO areas; and attendance capacity according to the premises’ size inclusive of physical distancing aspects for  recovery MCO areas.

Events are however restricted to specific locations and licensed event spaces such as convention centres, galleries, exhibition centres and other licensed meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) premises.

Among the adjustments that PJPAC has to make is recalculating audience capacity to accommodate physical distancing.

For Zhan Art Space, its co-founder Tong Gin Chee said it is thrilled the government has taken a step forward to opening up physical spaces after a long time.

“Over the past few months, we were trying to transition to digital experiences and were looking for ways to find more visibility during a short turnaround time making it hard to model or replace in-person experiential events.

“People’s livelihoods depend on the art industry, and similarly, people want to be able to attend art exhibitions to learn, discuss and exchange ideas, and show their appreciation,” Tong said when contacted by Malay Mail.

Similar to all galleries, Zhan Art Space closed during the MCO and postponed all planned events.

Taking on new ventures

The government’s announcement came as good news for Petaling Jaya Live Arts (PJLA) as well, especially when it was forced to temporarily shut last year due to an underwhelming response to its shows.

According to its marketing department, this announcement means that PJLA can think about reopening for shows although not immediately.

“At PJLA, we are known for kids’ shows, so when the pandemic hit, there was no way that parents would allow their children to be in a confined space for two hours.

“That was our setback,” said its marketing department.

PJLA however ventured into renting out its space for events and has decided to retain this business model for the long run, starting this year.

“We will continue renting out our space for events, apart from using it for shows because we foresee that it will be very hard to bring the show spirit back in the next few years.

“Apart from kids’ shows, PJLA is known for its stand-up comedy shows. But even for this, there is nothing happy to joke about now, no happy mode,” the marketing department added.

Azmyl Yunor & Orkes Padu seen here at an event at Gaslight. — File picture courtesy of Darshen Chelliah
Azmyl Yunor & Orkes Padu seen here at an event at Gaslight. — File picture courtesy of Darshen Chelliah

The bigger picture

On the other hand, while it is a relief that the creative industry is allowed to resume post-MCO, singer-songwriter and academic Azmyl Yunor said in the long run, one of the issues that should be addressed is sustainability of the creative industry.

To date, Azmyl said in order to have ‘live’ performances at a venue, the host of a show, regardless of whether they are the owner of a venue, is required to obtain a public performance licence.

According to Public Performance Malaysia Sdn Bhd (PPM), if recorded or ‘live’ music is played at business premises and/or events in public through any means such as by radio, television, broadcast services and/or ‘live’ performances, the host of venue has to apply for a public performance licence.

The PPM was established in 1988 and is a licensing body recognised under the Copyright Act 1987 (Act 332).

“Of course, this has been an issue even pre-Covid-19. But since Covid-19 hit the country, it brought these issues to the fore and how they need to be addressed more so now,” he said.

Azmyl, who is also Cendana’s Independent Music Industry Advisory Panel member, was referring to the survivability of venues.

Apart from venue rental, additional budget must be set aside for the application of a performance licence that could cost thousands of ringgit.

The licence cost according to PPM depends on business type or category, size of business area that the music can be heard, premises capacity and how recorded music is used in a business.

At the same time, he added that the government has to start looking at the creative industry as not just “a form of entertainment” as it is able to offer so much more.

“We teach performing arts. There are bachelor’s degrees offered at universities.

“Performing arts offers a platform for expression, a medium for critique and satire, and education.

“As compared to ‘entertainment’ (hiburan), the arts are much more than that,” he said.

Grey areas

Echoing these sentiments is fellow musician and ethnomusicologist Adil Johan who said the initiative to allow ‘live’ events is good but there are still some grey areas that require immediate attention.

Right now, Adil said many musicians are still unsure if they can resume performing at pubs or clubs.

“There is no mention whether this extends to include ‘live’ performances at pubs and clubs.

“For many musicians, this is their bread and butter and they have not been able do anything for one year,” he said.

Adil, who is also a research fellow at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s (UKM) Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA), said there needs to be a deeper understanding of how the industry actually works.

“Until now, they (government) have not proven or shown in-depth research on how the pandemic has affected the welfare of the music and entertainment industry.

“There has not been any proper government report released by ministries like the Communications and Multimedia Ministry.

“There has to be more public engagement, but so far, there are only quick-fix approaches.

“I don’t see any long-term commitment shown by the government when it comes to this industry,” he said.

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