GEORGE TOWN, Aug 1 — Penang must come up with a masterplan for the next 20 years if it is to realise its potential as an arts and cultural hub, George Town Festival (GTF) director Joe Sidek said.
The driving force behind the festival since its inception in 2010 said the state has everything going for it, but currently lacked the framework for the long-term development of arts and cultural programmes.
“We don’t have the infrastructure, we don’t have any strategy for the arts, now everything is done on an ad-hoc basis, there is no master plan,” he told Malay Mail in an interview ahead of GTF’s ninth anniversary this year.
Joe stressed that he was not blaming the state government, but instead proposing that the administration work with the relevant bodies to come out with the roadmap to navigate Penang’s direction in the arts.
“It is not about planning this event or that festival. Instead of planning a series of events, they should look at what’s happening in the next 20 years,” he said.
He added that this will also help with budgeting for arts and culture.
“This is a holistic look at long term investment by the state, with a plan, you know how much you will be investing in the long term instead of the ad-hoc build this or build that,” he said.
Penang, the arts trading port
GTF’s ninth anniversary also marks the end of Joe’s contract this year, but he hopes the state will extend his contract as he believes his work there is still incomplete.
“When I was losing a lot of money in 2012, Royston Abel told me to stay on course as it takes eight years for a festival to be established and I thought, I hope he’s right, for eight years I struggled, I am still struggling but suddenly, in the last five months, I’ve been invited to New York to speak, Taiwan twice to speak, Singapore twice to speak, and it was all about placemaking,” he said.
He said Singapore is also sending 30 government officials to meet him and find out about the “magic” behind GTF.
Joe said this is evidence that Penang is in the right position to be a “trading port” for culture and arts.
“We can be a trading port for the performance arts in the Southeast Asia and the region,” he said.
With Penang’s history as a major trading port back in the 18th and 19th century, he said the state can easily become a place to “trade” shows and performances.
“Geographically, we are in the position to play this role, to be the centre of Southeast Asia, to go into collaboration where GTF is a platform for Southeast Asian companies to show, sell, to work together and then to sell the shows somewhere else,” he said.
He said there is no such platform in Southeast Asia currently, only small festivals spread out everywhere.
GTF has the potential to be the major platform for Southeast Asian performance arts, he said.
“Maybe we don’t have the best of talents, but we can be producers, we bring them in, we can package them and we sell them, we can be the best traders and producers in hope that we get inspired and we can collaborate, bring in shows and sell it to the rest of the world,” he said.
Regionally Speaking, a dialogue session formulated to gather 10 practitioners of the arts to meet and share collective narratives with people, will be held in Penang this year.
Joe said Regionally Speaking started in Malta, the second session was held in Singapore and then it was held in Brisbane before it was decided that the regional meetings be brought back to the Southeast Asia.
“We are taking over now, and I hope to position Penang as the centre for Regionally Speaking,” he said.
The initiative was commissioned to Griffith University by Asia Europe Foundation.
Joe hopes to continue working with Griffith and Asef in organising the Regionally Speaking meeting here.
“I am hoping to take over the meeting for the next few years, this programme helps us to build network as it brings delegates from all over Asean and this will enable us to play a central role in this region,” he said.
GTF this year is from August 4 until September 2. Early bird tickets are now on sale at georgetownfestival.com.