IN a space within an unassuming old block of flats in Section 17, Petaling Jaya, exciting things are happening as young minds bubble with creativity.
Once upon a time, it was a supermarket. But two years ago, Dram Projects took over the space, much to the curiosity of the people living in the surrounding flats. Many dropped in to ask what Dram Projects was all about.
Founder Jenifer Kuah had a simple answer: “It’s a place where the arts are accessible to children,” she explains.
The idea for Dram Projects came to her after she had spent years as an entrepreneur interviewing people for various job positions. She found candidate after candidate inarticulate and unable to express himself or herself.
“I think, in a large way, that’s because our society has never emphasised the importance of arts and creativity in the development of children,” she says. “I decided that I have to do something about it as an individual.”
For 10 years, Kuah watched and observed the arts scene, wondering how she could help.
“Giving money to an arts programme would be everyone’s first thought, because that would be the easiest. But then again there aren’t many arts programmes aimed at children,” points out Kuah.
“Two years ago, I came to the conclusion that the one thing lacking that will set everything in motion is a space,” she said.
Kuah then began looking around for a place to “set up shop”, so to speak. After scouting around, she found that the flats were an ideal place for Dram Projects’ home.
“The foremost concern I had was that it must be in the community, that’s in a safe place where children are able to come over easily. And that it’ll be stress-free for people to come here, meaning it’s easy to drop off the kids and there will be no hassle finding parking,” she says.
Dram Projects is located on two floors: on the ground floor, where the supermarket used to be located, is an open space where plays, workshops and rehearsals are conducted. Upstairs, where the supermarket owner’s family lived, is where the office is as well as shelves of donated children’s books – Kuah hopes to build a children’s library one day.
There is also a cafe called Food Foundry downstairs, which was also started by Kuah. Not only do people gather there to eat good food (if you’re ever there, check out the cafe’s popular Mille Crepe), sometimes there are events such as poetry readings there, too. For instance, on Nov 24, when British poet Malika Booker conducted a workshop at Dram Projects, she and the participants read some poetry at the Food Foundry.
Dram Projects also “houses” the theatre group, The Oral Stage (they have a blog at theoralstage.blogspot.com). Before they had a home, the group – which formed in 2004 and recently staged a play called Rojak! last April at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre – had to rehearse, and even discuss, their work in public places like playgrounds or fields. Then Oral Stage member Kelvin Wong met Kuah.
“It’s a really, really good thing that Jen offered us a place,” says the psychology student. “This is where we hold meetings, workshops, rehearse for our shows and hold small showings of our work.”
Wong is now an intern at Dram where he facilitates workshops for adults as well as children.
Kuah emphasises how important it is for children to be involved in the arts.
“A lot of parents fail to see that the qualities you develop when you’re in the arts will make you a success in whatever industry you choose,” she says. “The arts require discipline, dedication and, on top of that, the arts require creativity.”
Wong agrees. “If a person is an accountant it doesn’t mean that they can’t be an artist. In fact, I think it’s very, very good if they can be both at the same time.”