APRIL 28 — In these unsettling times, designing policies and plans would likely be one of the most difficult things to do.
We therefore find it speculative and highly irresponsible that YB Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, the current Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture would suggest the “new norm” for the arts sector for the whole world, would be digital in nature, citing her chosen example of “online competitions.”
This statement is dangerous and does not take into account any consideration by her ministry to consider ways for artists to migrate live performances into a digital medium — a migration which will include aspects of professional video-making, sound recording, audience development, intellectual property and payment.
These digital challenges have been identified by the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA), and also Unesco in their on-going ResiliArt series to shed light on the far-reaching impact of Covid-19 on the cultural sector.
The Cultural and Arts sector in Malaysia is sorely under-developed, as evident in the allocation of only RM5 million in the 2019 Malaysian budget.
In response to Nancy Shukri’s statement when she suggested “for those in the arts industry, the bands” things are not difficult for them, and that “it is easy for them to plan things,” we are curious in these unsettling times, one can find any sector, group or community that find planning things “easy.”
This statement is especially ignorant when referring to an industry that remains fragile, unsupported by the government and under-developed (as evidenced by arts in the education system, among other things).
Today, just like other companies and industries in Malaysia, performing arts venues and art companies are currently not operating, not generating income, while struggling to find ways to pay for operations (manpower and venue overheads).
The same can be said for the wide array of freelance artists who have found no jobs and no gigs in the last and upcoming months. In a cursory survey by Cendana, 93 per cent of respondents have stated they negatively affected by Covid-19.
Art projects in development or in progress have been cancelled since last month. This bleak situation is likely to persist post MCO. The artistic community has been vulnerable before the MCO (no stable employment, no EPF) and now with the virus, the industry’s vulnerabilities have been exposed with very little recourse to fix the structural neglect.
We also believe that this is an opportunity for the ministry to understand that the arts sector in Malaysia is divided into two sectors — commercial art and cultural art.
Commercial art itself could serve to benefit the tourism industry and other design-related functions and industries.
However, cultural art that is meant to speak to and for Malaysians, must not be relegated to a commodity transacted for tourists, as suggested by Nancy Shukri that “arts to complement” tourism.
It would be very useful for the ministry to acknowledge and provide support for the host of diverse community-building and thought-provoking art projects, that serve to develop Malaysian culture for Malaysia, and that has no bearing on the tourism industry.
* ReformARTsi Coalition comprises 114 members, 53 art groups/companies.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.