The arts during this pandemic


  • Nation
  • Thursday, 14 May 2020

THERE appears to be a little light at the end of the tunnel for some, even though the Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc the world over. On May 1, the government relaxed its movement control order to allow businesses as well as certain social and sporting activities to resume.

Health concerns will remain rife, as will the palpable fear and anxiety over the economic well-being of the country.

One segment that will continue to be affected is the creative economy, especially smaller institutions and independent artists who have already received a cruel, unforeseen blow, since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic.

And not just here in Malaysia but across the globe – from Broadway to the Sydney Opera House, galleries and theatres have been on lockdown, art fairs and festivals are being postponed, productions and rehearsals have been suspended indefinitely. This may continue in the next year, as societies start defining what their new norms are going to be like.

In my role as the founding CEO of CENDANA, I am naturally drawn to issues pertaining to the local arts and culture sector, and now more than ever, as it is being hit hard.

CENDANA, or the Cultural Economy Development Agency, was launched in 2017 to shape a vibrant, sustainable and ambitious cultural economy for Malaysia, to further raise the profile of local arts and culture, and help form the identity of our country as an arts destination and strategically placing it on the global stage.

Thus, CENDANA works with the various arts and culture practitioners in the country, supporting their work, and contributing to advocate their cause within CENDANA’s mandate. On March 19, CENDANA worked with the respective sectors to quickly gather information that would help illustrate the impact of Covid-19 on arts and culture practitioners.

A survey was rolled out and the data collected can now be made available to the public, funders and policymakers to use as a tool to reflect, discuss and design solutions for the challenges that have cropped up alongside this widespread viral attack.

For example, based on the data, CENDANA has decided to review its existing programmes and offer new programmes amid Covid-19, to support continued artistic practice and operations of Malaysian artists, collectives and arts organisations.



From over 500 practitioners that participated in the survey, a whopping 94% are either fully or partially earning an income from the arts, and 93% of this group have already been negatively impacted.

Though the sample group is relatively small, these numbers are alarming because they suggest that unlike before, the arts have become a primary vocation for many.

You would probably have read or heard online, or in the media, about high-profile arts organisations which are in dire straits.

The truth is, however, that there are approximately 10,000 Malaysians working in theatre companies, dance outfits, music bands and art galleries – predominantly self-employed people all of whom are in need of some sort of aid as operations have come to a grinding halt, and an uncertain future makes planning ahead extremely challenging.

It is encouraging to note that in these dire times, Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah has announced that part of the Prihatin economic stimulus package as well as various funding programmes under the ministry’s agencies would benefit artistes, collectives and arts organisations to give them time to stabilise, reflect and adapt accordingly post-MCO.

After all, when compared with the other sectors, despite being vital for the nation, the arts are often overlooked. Even though everyone enjoys the arts every now and then – whether it is performing arts, visual art or music – there is not much credence given to the arts. Speak to most arts practitioners and you will find that it is still a challenge to round up an audience to come for shows and to create a supportive, sustainable ecosystem.

At CENDANA we are hoping to increase the government and society’s awareness of the challenges and changes that the creative economy is likely to face in the coming months. We want to be able to supply the sector with aid to cope, and opportunities to continue working.

On our part, with the support of the Finance Ministry and MyCreative Ventures (the government investment arm that aims to spur Malaysia’s creative industry), CENDANA has introduced a new programme called the Create Now Funding Programme which hopes to cultivate and support artistic development and the presentation of ideas in imaginative ways via immediate response grants of up to RM1,500 per individual artist/cultural worker, and RM3,500 per collective/arts organisation.

It provides an opportunity to adapt arts practices, explore new ways of working and experiment with new forms/ideas.

In addition to that, CENDANA has introduced new grant programmes: Visual Arts INSPIRE which encourages the creative exploration process and research excursion to assist in the artistic process; Visual Arts SHOWCASE which encourages and supports the contemporary expression of visual art through independent, alternative and experimental art venues, artist-run spaces and underserved neighbourhood culture activators; and the Independent Music Funding Programme which supports development and creation of new original or adapted works, live showcases and creation of digital content.

Moving forward, we will continue to support and provide opportunities for artists and cultural workers to write and promote the arts and culture scene, and we will seek to increase awareness and gain funding from various sectors to strengthen and sustain the ailing industry.

But there needs to be a greater discussion and awareness on how as an industry we can chart a positive roadmap into the unknown future.

Izan Satrina Mohd Sallehuddin is the founding CEO of CENDANA, which is supported by the government through MyCreative Ventures Sdn Bhd (a wholly-owned company of Minister of Finance Incorporated) and reports to the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia.
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