So, the pandemic hit… what's next for the arts in Malaysia?
Review by Hamidah Abd Rahman

The country's first MCO sent the arts sector into a long hiatus as it was forced to cease all activity because of the pandemic. Performing arts, exhibitions, filming sites were closed and events had to be postponed or cancelled, leaving many artists out of a job or seeking employment elsewhere just to ensure that there would be food on their table.

Thus, began the back and forth changes on our nation’s movement control orders and standard operating procedures that placed further impact on the livelihood of our artists. A new call for MCO in January 2021 due to increasing Covid-19 cases led to another hiatus that left many of our creatives vulnerable yet again. It felt like we were back to square one.

Now in March 2021, there are finally standard operating procedures that allow performing arts premises to resume events. Rehearsals and filming can continue and venues are able to have live audiences, so long as the audience count sticks to within the venue’s 50% attendance capacity, with social distancing measures in place.

While there are some valuable initiatives to support our artists, such as the PENJANA Plan for the Creative Industries; and PRISMA, a Malaysia Creative Industries Stimulus Package, to provide assistance for creatives in the arts and culture sector, are we doing enough to ensure a sufficient safety net for the creatives in our country? We can’t just gloss over the bigger picture here because, after all, artists and the arts are essential.

Yet, our arts sector is fragile, and there needs to be greater fundamental support from public institutions for the arts. It’s the same old story again of how the science stream is perceived more necessary, or how the arts are deemed only as “entertainment”, or how there are more pressing matters that need to be addressed first, before the arts.

What would happen if there were another closure? We need to realise that our artists are full of value and should be deemed as a great benefit to our society.

For that to happen, I think that we really do need to actively provide solutions that could help cultivate a greater appreciation for the arts amongst the masses, as well incentives to make our artists excel further in our homeland.

We may not understand when we witness these art performances and exhibitions first-hand, but when it comes to personal, heart-breaking or joyful moments that the human mind cannot comprehend, it is the arts that we look towards. We find the meaning of our emotions and our hearts in the vibrant colours of a painting, lyrics from a song, the line uttered from a spoken-word poem or the soliloquy of a stage play.

It is in the arts that we try to find a connection, a solidarity and understanding for emotional events in our lives. And I guarantee that in post-Covid times, this nation may need the arts more than ever (heck, I’d say that the public needs the arts right now too).

Perhaps we need to look into amending our cultural and arts policy into a more holistic approach that focuses on nurture. Instead of just providing highlights on our cultural arts, we need to actively foster an appreciation of the arts from the ground up, starting with education of the young. Let our children live, breathe and express through art, whether through singing, performing, painting, or dancing. Give them a space to be inquisitive.

For our artists, allow them to do what they do best – be creative. Give them the proper infrastructure, community and support to nurture their talents. Trust that their art will create an impact and build the minds of our people. Have visual artists beautify our cities. Allow performing artists to not only provide comfort, but rattle those who are settled. Let the public acknowledge the importance of our creatives.

We can certainly do better than what we are doing now to support them. What is there to fear? Artists are important when it comes to promoting social discourse, to provoke, to probe and to showcase various perspectives. In this way we can truly progress socially as a society.

So… what’s next for the arts in Malaysia? I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. I just hope that we’ll be able to see the artists in this country thrive, if only we choose to nurture and value them as assets.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the author's own and do not reflect those of CENDANA. CENDANA reserves the right to be excluded from any liabilities, losses, damages, defaults, and/or intellectual property infringements caused by the views and opinions expressed by the author in this article at all times, during or after publication, whether on this website or any other platforms hosted by CENDANA or if said opinions/views are republished on third party platforms.

Hamidah Abd Rahman is a writer under the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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