Artfully making dreams come true

There is a future, and even money, in creative arts in Malaysia with MyCreative Ventures.

WITH her edgy minimalist designs, Pearly Wong dazzled at the recent Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week, making her mark as one of the new Malaysian designers to watch. It seemed as if the New York fashion graduate appeared out of nowhere, but Wong had actually started a label called Sara and Pearly with a friend in the US a few years ago, before deciding to return to Malaysia in 2012 to try her luck here. 

Early this year, Wong got a boost in her fashion endeavour when she received a loan from the Government’s creative arts investment arm MyCreative Ventures Sdn Bhd.
MyCreative was set up after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak allocated some RM200mil in Budget 2012 as a fund to provide finance to the local creative industry, comprising the different arts from fashion, film, theatre, music, visual arts to traditional crafts. 

Najib believes that with some help, the Malaysian creative industry can grow and add to the country’s GDP, as is happening in countries like the United States, South Korea and Japan, where up to 8% of their respective GDPs is from creative industry.

This capital fund will allow private limited companies incorporated in Malaysia, like Wong, to get a loan based on the potential of their creative ideas and projected returns on investments.

In February, 15 out of 100 applicants – including Wong and three other fashion designers – managed to get loans worth RM21mil in total to spur their creative arts businesses.

This month, MyCreative is holding another Fashion Pitch session for budding fashion designers to pitch their design ideas and get a loan of up to RM2mil each to kick-start or grow their own labels. 

To unearth new Malaysian writers and spark the local literary scene, MyCreative is holding a “Writers Unleashed” contest where the best manuscripts will win a RM2,000 cash prize and a chance to be published.

Initiatives like these will definitely help aspiring talents out there, but there are still many who are not convinced that taking a “business” approach will be able to boost the local creative arts industry. 

This, though, does not bother MyCreative CEO, former chartered accountant Johan Ishak, 38, who is confident that it will not be long before Malaysia’s creative arts industry can rival the world’s best. Sunday Star picks his mind on our creative future. 
> Some people in the creative arts fraternity are sceptical that MyCreative Ventures can really help artists and spur the creative industry here because your background is accountancy. Do you understand creative arts?

Artists can’t say they hate accountants. They need to work with accountants.

The mindset that creativity cannot make money needs to go away. They need to start thinking “I want to make money with my creativity.” 

You cannot and don’t need to work alone. You need to combine the left brain with the right brain. There are many business people out there who want to partner with creative people.

> Are you interested in the creative arts?

I’ve been interested in music since I was young and I started playing guitar when I was in Form Two. I was in my school band and when I went to Australia for university, I formed a Malaysian band with friends. I stopped playing music when I started work but when I joined Media Prima, I joined its in-house band called D-Kechewas as a bassist.

It was led by CEO of Media Prima TV Ahmad Izham Omar and we used to play at the events held by the company. We played pop rock, Beatles and some grunge. I have also been writing since young - I started writing poems when I was in school. My other interest is painting but I never got the chance to pursue it.

> Ok, can you tell us a little bit about MyCreative Ventures?

With the RM200mil from the Government under our management, MyCreative is a financing scheme for the creative businesses in the country. 

> Why do we need an outfit like MyCreative? 

Creative businesses have been neglected, or unfortunately not able to get their financing needs met, by the banking fraternity. 

Of course, we can’t blame the banking fraternity - they have to do certain risk assessments when they assess applications for loans and creative businesses are categorised as high risk due to their high uncertainties. You cannot get a loan from the bank unless you have a retailing angle- you have to show that you can get at least a 30% return.

Creative businesses also normally do not have enough tangible assets behind to be taken as collateral by the banks. They have intangible assets in the form of their intellectual property (IP), which means the rights to their works - movies, music, design and others.

The banking sector in Malaysia is not ready yet to accept IP as collateral. Our Government and MyIPO are working with banks to develop an IP valuation framework, but it will take time.

Enter MyCreative. We don’t offer grants. Instead, we offer strategic and innovative funding in the forms of equity, debt investments or a hybrid of both.

Our main objective is to boost the creative industry as a secondary source of wealth for the country by firstly, creating jobs and increasing gross income from this market. We also hope to elevate the status of our industry both locally and on a global platform.

Most practitioners now rely on personal funds, family loans and government grants to pursue their arts. Many have had to do other work to sustain their art while some have had to abandon their dreams and are forced to take up another career to survive.

When this happens, it also stunts the growth of our creative industry. This is apparent in how much Malaysia’s creative industry contributes to our GDP - in 2008, it only contributed 1.27% towards our GDP. I don’t have the latest figures because the contribution of the creative industry to Malaysia’s GDP is so small that it is difficult for the authorities to gauge it. 

When you compare that to our neighbouring countries like Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia which record between 5% and 7% in their GDP, it is sad. In developed countries like US, UK, Japan and South Korea, it is above 7%.

It is sad because Malaysia has years of culture, and with it comes art and creativity. We are not able to monetise it or convert it into wealth. The creative industry has the potential to be our Plan B for the economy.

Lucky break: Wong, seen here with her model, got a headstart in her fashion business with a
loan from MyCreative Ventures. 

> Who is eligible? What is considered as a “creative business”?

Many people think creative business means animation and video games development. No, there is so much more to it. They are Malaysian-owned businesses operating under companies incorporated in Malaysia and majority owned by Malaysians, both start-ups and established companies. 

Their ‘business’ must fall within the creative industry categories as defined by the (previously) Information, Communication and Culture Ministry’s National Creative Industry Policy (DKIN, namely visual arts (such as paintings and sculptures); performing arts (theatre and dance); music (recording studios, music academies); literature (book publishers); content creation (cinematic and TV content); fashion and design (couture, fashion academies) and traditional and cultural arts (batik, songket and crafts).

> How can the creative business players qualify for the loans?

At MyCreative, we offer business loans revolving around the base lending rate. Where we are different from the banks is that we will sit down with our applicants to analyse their businesses and determine the best structure for financial aid, be it in the form of equity investment, a loan or a combination of both. 

Then we look at their cash-flow for the next five years and decide when they should start paying (gestation period for repayment of the principal amount) to reduce the burden on the creative companies.

But the interest you need to pay from the start and we try to get them to pay up in five years, because if not it will go on forever and ever. We also closely monitor the recipient company’s progress to ensure that it can operate viably and grow as planned. Our aim is to ensure that the arrangement is sustainable so that the allocated funds can be returned to MyCreative within a prescribed period and reinvested to assist other creative art ventures.

> Has Malaysia got talent?

Yes, we have plenty of creative talent. I have seen a lot of creative people across the different ages and areas. They are not blossoming because of the lack of focus given to it as a potential economic engine.

> Of all the art strands, which one have the most potential to grow?

All have potential, They are all equally strong in their own way.

> Some think that the word “productivity” is contradictory to “creativity” - focusing on productivity will only hamper one’s creativity? No, I don’t think “productivity” is a negative work. It just means: with the resources that you are putting in, are you producing a reasonable output?

You can’t be pouring and pouring money into something and not get revenue that does not even cover half the cost out of it. That is killing yourself, because you will not be able to sustain yourself.

> Some say the reason why our creative arts cannot grow is because we still haven’t got the infrastructure in place. For example, our films are not growing because we don not have an industry yet. Do you agree? 

Now it boils down to the individual artists on how to develop the industry. 
We also need to look beyond the Malaysian market. Malaysia is a small market and will be easily saturated, so we need to produce something that can go overseas.

Why is it that K-pop can go outside Korea and sell in other markets around the world? Why can’t we do something that goes beyond boundaries? 

If P.Ramlee could do it last time - his movies even sold in Egypt, why can’t we do it today? We need to think outside the box and produce something that can sell globally.
Artists need to say - I want to produce something that can be appreciated by audience both in Malaysia and outside. If you limit your scope, then you are limiting your potential and being myopic.

At the end of the day, it is up to the artists’ mindset and attitude - the government can provide them with the right infrastructure and lots of help from incentives to financial support but if they don’t try to do something to improve themselves, things will not change.

> One of the issues said to be hampering the growth of Malaysian arts is said to be the lack of art appreciation and knowledge of the arts among audience in Malaysia. How can we address this?

That is a cultural perspective. Malaysians apparently don’t appreciate local arts but appreciate other people’s art. They don’t go to theatre here, but when they go to London, they will happily go to the theatre there. The arts practitioners need to ask the question why.

> Is it because they are not nationalistic or are snobbish and will not support local arts. Or are they not supportive because they are not getting what they want or interested in from the local artists?

As an artist, are you blaming the 29million people in the country for not liking your work? Or do you need to ask why you are not producing something that can appeal to 29 million people. 

> What is your advice to Malaysian artists who want to start-up a creative business? 

You can’t just depend on your creative minds, you need to combine creativity with business acumen. You don’t need to have the knowledge. Partner with someone who has business acumen or hire someone with management skills who can help grow your creative business endeavour. 

> Did you want to take up arts when you were young? 

I love visual arts and I wanted to become an artist when I was in school, but my dad discouraged me. Those days, parents were not supportive if their children wanted to become an artist. They want their children to become professionals like accountants and lawyers.

Later, as I got older, I wanted to become an architect, but still my father did not support it. My parents were very conventional about the jobs they wanted their children to go into.

> In the end I took up accountancy and became a chartered accountant.
Would you have done things differently?

I worked in various accounting firms for 12-13 years. across four different countries. After that I joined Media Prima as the head of finance, and that took me back to my first love- creative arts - and expanded my creative involvement.
My long lost creative passion now combined with my education and work experience is what I’m using in MyCreative - looking at money matters and assessing businesses of creative nature. 

> What if one day your children tell you that they want to become artists? 

To be fair, it’s not a negative point of my dad. Like any parents, they wanted the best for me. And you need to look at where Malaysia was at that time. Malaysia is still a developing country and the creative industry is not as high a priority as the other industries and professions for development.

We are supposed to be a developed country by 2020, and when your economy is developed, you will be looking at developing your culture and identity. The creative industry will start to bloom. In fact, it’s started already. 

The fact that the Government have put aside RM200mil for MyCreative to manage and give as loans to creative businesses and boost the creative industry in the country is an indicator that the creative industry will grow significant to the country’s economy and the people. It will give people the confidence that you can make a living out of it and this will help boost the creative industry further.

If either one of my sons has got the talent in any of the creative strands and wants to pursue it, I will try to support him, so that his talent can be nurtured. 

> How do you de-stress from your high-flying job and relax?

I play music, paint and write.I also run - I try to run 5km at least once a week. When I can, I’ll enter any runs or half-marathons held. On weekends I also like to swim and watch DVD with my family. My wife works at a bank and I have two sons aged nine and three.

> What is an ideal Sunday for you?

My ideal Sunday is while my son is at swimming class, I’ll do 10 laps in the pool, followed by our weekly ritual Roti Canai breakfast. 

At home, we will potter around and do whatever household chores that need to be done. Then my wife and I will look through the Internet for a good movie that we can watch with our sons.

Ideally on Sundays we will sleep early because the next day will be the first day of the schoolweek. Sometimes, I will take my son to my studio - it’s really just a room at our family house - and we will do some painting together.

Now everyone is football mad with the World Cup on in Brazil. What about you, what team are you supporting?

To be honest, I am more of a rugby and cricket fan, so I don’t really follow any of the football leagues, but I make an exception for World Cup. For World Cup, I’ve always been a Germany fan, even from when they were still divided and was known as West Germany. My wife is a strong supporter of Spain, so we always fight on that...

> What is your ultimate dream?

For music, I had wanted to perform in front of general public and I did it in Hard Rock Café Penang with D-Kechewa a few years ago. So, in the future, I hope to finish my book and get it published. I also hope that when I retire, I’d have built enough skills to be a professional painter and can sell my art.

To find out more about MyCreative, go to

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Business , Government , creative arts


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