THERE is a new government agency with a big assignment – have a hand in selling Malaysia to the world, and at the same time, help ensure that the country has a soul.
This is essentially what the Cultural Economy Development Agency (Cendana) is expected to achieve by building “a sustainable, vibrant and ambitious cultural economy for Malaysia”.
First, we could do with a quick definition of cultural economy.
It is helpful if we start with the digital economy, something we understand fairly well as the economic activity made possible by online connections.
Replace online connections with cultural products and activities (such as visual and performing arts, literature and heritage) and that is the cultural economy in a nutshell.
Related to that is the creative economy, which the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development describes as “an emerging concept dealing with the interface between creativity, culture, economics and technology in a contemporary world dominated by images, sounds, texts and symbols”.
It is a fast-growing sector of the global economy that can potentially accelerate a country’s development.
There is no doubt that we are a culturally rich nation.
The challenge is to find ways to turn that wealth into everlasting fuel for economic growth.
This requires a well-organised approach to encouraging a blooming of ideas and projects in the local creative landscape.
One of Cendana’s priorities is to come up with a five-year plan to grow the cultural economy, support artists and communities, and increase access to art for everyone.
Ultimately, success is when our arts and culture become among our key exports, and Malaysia is widely recognised as a leading cultural destination.
Think of the economic impact of so many people around the world responding to Hallyu (the Korean Wave that popularised Korean culture) and Bollywood, and identifying these phenomena with South Korea and India.
But Cendana’s role is not only to boost the national income.
When launching the agency on Wednesday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak pointed out that Malaysia should not only be about tall buildings and infrastructure.
“Arts and culture are important components in a civilisation. Without it, there is no soul,” he said.
Cendana’s work includes engaging with an array of stakeholders such as creators, regulators, businesses, investors and consumers.
There is indeed much at stake, and there is no reason to withhold our support for efforts to bring our arts and culture to the next level.
Malaysia’s cultural economy is unique because it is enriched by our diversity.
And yet, it will not thrive without unity and moderation.
This is yet another reason not to take for granted the soul of our nation.