Chow: Penang’s partnership with Arles will help us build up our culture

PENANG is going to learn from a French city where famous painter Vincent van Gogh once lived.

The state is partnering with the city of Arles, also a Unesco World Heritage Site, to build a new economy based on culture, according to Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow.

“Culture is a renewable asset and we need to build up our existing cultural institutions to make them more resilient.

“We want to learn from France, a nation that has a creative economy estimated to be worth 104.5bil euros (RM485bil) in 2011,” Chow said after the MOU signing between George Town Conservation and Development Corporation Sdn Bhd -- a state-owned entity -- and the French Embassy in Malaysia in Bangunan UAB in China Street Ghaut recently.

Chow said the partnership with the French would eventually lead to George Town becoming a sister city with Arles, which was founded in 800BC.

In 1888, van Gogh moved to Arles from Paris and spent more than a year there.

Laplanche (fourth left) exchanging MoU documents with Chow (fourth right) at Bangunan UAB in China Street Ghaut, George Town. With them is Lim (next to Laplanche).
Laplanche (fourth left) exchanging MoU documents with Chow (fourth right) at Bangunan UAB in China Street Ghaut, George Town. With them is Lim (next to Laplanche). 

Historians noted that he evidently found new inspiration in Arles because he produced over 300 paintings and drawings in his time there.

‘The Starry Night’, regarded by many art lovers as van Gogh’s best and easily his most popular painting, was painted just a month after he left the city in June 1889.

It is estimated to be worth over USD$100mil (RM398mil).

Chow said that under the partnership, one of the things Penang hopes to learn from Arles is how it sets up artists-in-residence programmes.

According to, artist-in-residence programmes give artists the chance to live and work within the premises of cultural institutions.

It lets them go outside their usual environments and explore new locations and cultures to produce new artwork.

Such programmes have grown so popular that even the International Olympic Committee had artists-in-residence programmes during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for them to offer their own artistic interpretations of the games.

The American National Parks Arts Foundation also offers such a residency on a deserted island off the coast of Florida.

French ambassador to Malaysia Frédéric Laplanche said the agreement would have a positive impact on Malaysia and France.

“We want to cooperate with Malaysia in all aspects and also do much more in the field of education, culture and arts.

“It has to go both ways. It’s not about having bigger French festivals here in Malaysia.

“We are trying to have more of Malaysian culture and arts in France as well,” he said at the signing ceremony.

The ceremony was witnessed by Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, who expressed the need to make the Malaysian economy more resilient.

“The culture sector is one segment of the economy that needs further investments,” he said.

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