What will a pandemic-proof arts festival look like? George Town Festival leads the way


Even with a reduced programme, the George Town Festival 2021 aims to liven the streets in Penang with a series pandemic-proof live events. Photo: The Star/Lim Beng Tatt

Can an on-site arts festival be held in Malaysia during the pandemic? Think dance performances and Insta-worthy art and mapping installations right to musical theatre concerts and a chamber music concert in a century-old chapel. And much more.

The George Town Festival (GTF) might hold the answers. It is slated to return to Penang in July with a week-long programme packed with art, film screenings, theatre and comedy.

This annual arts and culture festival, which took a digital form last year, is set to run from July 10-18. This year’s GTF marks its 12th edition and the festival is gearing up for a series of pandemic-proof events.

“The festival continues its commitment to making arts accessible to everyone – from the festival-goers to the art communities, the general public and the underprivileged, regardless of age, ethnicity or background – all while providing a platform for creative talents to showcase their works, ” says Jack Wong, GTF festival director, adding the theme for this year is "A Festival For Everyone".

In light of the spike Covid-19 cases across the nation, the festival will take on a hybrid form this year with both virtual and on-site events.

Crowd control is paramount

“There will be no massive outdoor programmes this year. We will only utilise venues that can allow us to control the crowd to make certain that the SOPs can be strictly adhered to.

“Festival-goers can experience the arts programmes in settings such as indoor performing arts spaces to hidden spots and unique (historical) venues as well as virtual platforms, ” says Wong.

The reality is the upcoming festival might only feature a Penang-only audience, especially if the interstate travel ban is not lifted in July.

“However, with the recent escalating number of cases, there is also uncertainty looming over the festival. If the situation turns out to be unfeasible for the existing plan to be executed in July 2021, the audience capacity for each programme will be further reduced, and all activities will be conducted on a smaller scale, ” he adds.

At press time, this hybrid festival will feature 15 programmes, including a series of art exhibitions, a stand up comedy show, film screenings, book launches and more.

As a pre-festival programme, Tanjong Life: The New Norm, a comic book by Penang-born cartoonist Azmi Hussin, and Penang At A Glance, a photobook showcasing Penang's landscapes, festivals, celebrations, arts, culture, heritage, people and lifestyles through the lenses of four local photographers (Govindarajoo Selvathurai, Oh Chin Eng, Sherwynd Rylan Kessler and Thum Chia Chieh) will be launched this month.

The publication of both books will be followed by photo exhibitions, scheduled to be held alongside GTF 2021.

More details: georgetownfestival.com/2021

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