Pemulih: performing arts sector in the dark about how rescue package will help them


A live stream event being recorded at PenangPac last December. The Penang arts venue is facing serious financial difficulties as the nationwide lockdown continues, leaving theatre venues shuttered. Photo: Filepic/The Star

The arrival of the National People's Well-Being and Economic Recovery Package (Pemulih) might sound like good news for the Malaysian arts and creative industry which is close to a Covid-induced meltdown, but most performing arts practitioners are in the dark about how this rescue package will help them.

The Government announced yesterday that it has allocated RM100mil in the form of funding facilities and financial assistance to help the more than 8, 000 people in the local arts and creative industry affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This recent RM100mil worth of support does not give us any reason to celebrate. It is merely yet another package announced by the government without clear indication of how it can help resuscitate the industry," expresses Fa Abdul, general manager at the Performing Arts Centre of Penang (PenangPac).

“Incentives for productions, digital content, career opportunities? How can we benefit from all these ‘kind’ incentives from the government when we are not allowed to operate? How do we produce any content at all in order to get these funding if we remain in the dark?” she adds.

“PenangPac's survival now is on a month-to-month basis. We do not think we can even last until the end of 2021. If help does not come fast in a way we can directly benefit from it, that is it for us. If we are expected to wait until Phase 4 to resume operation, we would be long dead, ” she adds.

Perak-based Nur Hanim Khairuddin, arts space PORT general manager, and director of the Ipoh International Art Festival, welcomes the Pemulih initiative to help arts and creative communities, especially those struggling to survive outside the Klang Valley.

"It's a big announcement when you have RM100mil to assist the arts and culture industry. It's a big boost in spirits for the arts communities. But we have often seen this sort of hope fizzle out very fast in the past year when the Government cannot differentiate between the creative industries, and the (Government) agencies are overlapping each other, while ordinary people in the performing arts, traditional arts, crafts people and other cultural fields are being left out," says Hanim.

"Let's get things right this time. The Pemulih list has to be a fair and wider one for the arts and creative scene. How the funds will be divided must be clarified and the message sent out clearly.

"It's also important that the Government starts trusting the creative community ... arts people can help themselves if you let them get back to work. Find positive solutions with long term benefits. It's time to set out a solid recovery plan in the arts scene... discuss things like more vaccinations (for the arts community), how performing arts events, venues and festivals can be safe spaces again and let arts organisations and theatre groups find their feet again with proper guidelines, don't trip them up, lift them," she adds.

A need for better communication

“As usual, the PM’s announcement is done without details. You think they would’ve learned by now since it’s been more than a year since the first MCO.

“What are the financing facilities and financial assistance offered? Who are the 8, 000 arts practitioners eligible for this? Big logos and lots of numbers mean nothing without any details, ” offers Jo Kukathas, Instant Cafe Theatre’s co-founder.

“The idea of Pemulih or recovery for the arts is odd when we are still under a lockdown without signs or a road map for the arts," she adds.

Ang Yue May, KLPac's head of marketing communications, agrees.

“Though we welcome the announcement, we are unsure if it will help us as there are no further details. Who are the 8, 000 people? We hope that venues will not be left out.

“Most of the grants are tied to programmes and productions which does not help when we cannot even reopen. The programmes will follow but first, ensuring our survival is key, ” says Ang.

“Above all, grants and assistance should take into consideration our needs. We can’t even pay salaries and cover overheads for June and July let alone think about programmes and productions, scaling up, new initiatives and more, ” she adds.

Earlier this month, KLPac launched a donation drive to raise RM130, 000 to cover salaries and utilities for June and July.

The general feeling in the performing arts scene is that the Pemulih rescue package might not reach the affected individuals or arts spaces in time.

“We appreciate the financial package of RM100mil to the creative sector during this pandemic, when in the past we hardly had any.

“Without further details on which sector is included in the allocation, it is difficult for the performing arts to look ahead, ” says June Tan, a producer at Five Arts Centre.

“We believe the government and the sectors that have been forced to shut need to work out a plan that includes living with Covid-19.

“We have been in this situation for the past 16 months and still have not figured out strategic arrangements to operate whilst managing the rate of infectivity, and incorporating the rate of vaccination, ” she adds.

Arts company Theatresauce founder Kelvin Wong questions why the creative sector has been in the dark for a long time, more so than other industries deemed "non-essential".

“Another one-off assistance only manages the tiny little tip of the iceberg. We’ve been living with the pandemic for more than a year now – policies on how we’re handling and dealing with the crisis need to change," says Wong.

“Many have moved on to other things just to put food on the table. How much longer will we wait for the different recovery phases to roll out? Can we even afford to wait any longer?” he concludes.

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