GEORGE TOWN, Oct 24 — The art industry was among those hit hardest by the 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic and needed urgent support for survival, according to Penang Art Society president Ch’ng Huck Theng.
He said art has not only been seen as non-essential during the pandemic, it was also neglected and forgotten when the government was allocating aid and incentives to revive the economy.
“The spending on art has dropped dramatically and these past 18 months have been devastating for artists and those in the industry,” he said.
Art and artists were already viewed as “unimportant” even from before, but Ch’ng said this was made worse by the pandemic.
He said the only way to bring back some life to the industry was for the government to provide some form of incentive to individuals and corporations to support the local artists.
“The government should consider providing tax incentives for organisations and individuals who buy local art, this will benefit not only the local artists but also art galleries and other art-related industries,” he said.
Ch'ng said art and culture represented the heart and soul of a country that made it unique and different from others.
“It contributes to not only the art industry but also the tourism and business world,” he said.
He pointed out that art was also the new branding partner for international marques such as Rolls Royce, Cartier and BMW, which meant the government should realise that it was a vital industry that must be preserved.
Since the pandemic first struck Malaysia, several small art galleries in Penang have closed down while many struggling local artists have had to find side work to make ends meet.
According to The Art Gallery owner, Tan Ee Lene, some of the artists took to teaching art online to students.
“Some of them have received commissioned jobs to paint murals but due to the lockdown, they were unable to even start the jobs,” she said.
Ch'ng said one positive outcome was that some artists were forced to look beyond exhibiting in local galleries and to reach out to collectors overseas through digital and social media platforms.
“The online platforms allow artists to gain a wider audience and market that they themselves can go direct to the collectors or buyers,” he said.
However, he said that art galleries were still important as not all artists were proficient at promoting their own work.
Some collectors prefer to feel the unique experience of visiting an exhibition physically and choosing the art they like, just like those who buy expensive jewellery and watches, Ch'ng said.
Due to the changing times, however, he said art galleries will need to adapt and change the way of conducting exhibitions now, especially with strict SOPs to comply with.
“They should look into creating hybrid exhibitions and sales so that they can reach out to clientele who visit the gallery physically while at the same time, create a presence online too,” he said.
With the reopening of interstate travelling and Penang transitioning to Phase Three of the National Recovery Plan, some of the galleries in Penang have also reopened with new exhibitions.
The Art Gallery reopened on October 15 with a group exhibition featuring 28 artworks from 10 local artists titled “Back to Nature”.
Tan said she has continued to organise hybrid shows where the exhibition is open to customers who had to book an appointment first before visiting the exhibition and she has also sent e-catalogues of the exhibition to her list of art collectors.
“We have been getting quite a number of appointments over the weekend and we hope that things will slowly pick up again,” she said.
The Hin Bus Depot art gallery is also expected to showcase a group exhibition in December while there are plans for it to restart its weekend bazaar next month.
The Penang State Art Gallery (PSAG) also reopened on October 18 with an exhibition featuring the endangered dusky leaf monkey.
According to state exco for tourism and creative economy, Yeoh Soon Hin, visitors will need to book appointments online before attending the exhibition and it is only open to fully vaccinated individuals.
Yeoh, who is also the Penang state museum board and Penang State Art Gallery chairman, said the art gallery has imposed strict SOPs to ensure the safety of its visitors.
“Apart from requiring visitors to pre-book their appointments online, all staff on duty at PSAG are fully vaccinated against Covid-19,” he said.