THIS year, more than ever, we have seen the need for a more cohesive and cooperative creative environment here in Malaysia. With Covid-19 dominating the year and paralysing many sectors of the creative economy, it has become clear that we cannot just sit around and wait for a vaccine to be found in order for things to start looking up again.

Indeed, the goal posts in this new normal seem to be changing so often that for us to keep up, we have to step out of our comfort zones, innovate, cross collaborate and do whatever is necessary. So, on Oct 6, MyCreative Ventures, CENDANA and Riuh organised an online forum, The Creative Economy 2021 Forum in conjunction with Budget 2021, in an effort to unite local creative individuals, businesses, corporations and stakeholder agencies and pave a way forward. Titled The Creative, Arts and Cultural Industries Reimagined, the full- day forum featured a number of interesting conversations with local and foreign experts.

Open discourse about support for the arts has long been ongoing. Having thrashed out these issues in the past, many in the arts and culture sector feel that there is still a lot that can be done. Diehard theatre practitioners, dance exponents and artists have all had to struggle to maintain sustainable careers. The pandemic just exacerbated the situation by packing a long, hard punch.

Nonetheless, the forum brought to light that the ideal end game would be one that benefits not just producers, artistes and behind-the-scenes players, but also corporations and private funders, who could stand to gain from positive government policies. And it is hoped that these new discussions will create fresh impetus, inspire deeper conviction from all parties involved and will be the precursor to the building of a sturdier framework. The forum was specially timed to announce and anticipate the year 2021 as United Nation’s International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, also to provide input for Budget 2021 and further guidance for the upcoming 12th Malaysia Plan. So it was a delight to have Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Aziz, the Minister of Finance, present the keynote address.

Defining the creative economy is a challenge – just what does it include? Sectors such as design, music, publishing, film and video, visuals arts, fashion, TV and radio, literature, performing arts and gaming are a given. But what about advertising, gastronomy and architecture?Then comes the next question, which agency or ministry should govern this sector? The need for one body with a clear goal and strategy for the economy and industry was highlighted by panellists and online participants present at the forum.

It is clear that the creative economy in Malaysia, whilst only accounting for 1.9% of the 2015 national gross domestic product, can potentially consider models by neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Indonesia.

Part of the highlight of the forum included Ed Vaizey, who served as Britain’s Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries from 2010 to 2016, who spoke on how much the creative industry has contributed to the British economy and how culture is a powerful marketing tool for every country, sharing the “GREAT Britain campaign” as the British government’s most ambitious international marketing campaign ever (Innovation is GREAT Britain, Film is GREAT Britain and so on), launched in 2012 to stimulate jobs and growth.

He reminded everyone that tech is upending everything and that it was high time we had a symbiotic relationship with it, in order to progress, venturing so far as to joke that if Mozart were alive today, he would most probably be making music on his Apple Mac Pro.

Vaizey also mentioned the National Academy of Social Prescribing in the United Kingdom, which creates partnerships, across the arts, health, sports, leisure, and the natural environment, alongside other aspects of peoples’ lives, to promote health and wellbeing at a national and local level, noting how important it is to cross collaborate.

The panel discussion featuring artists and workers from the creative industry moderated by Affendy Ali, a CENDANA exco member, emphasised four key areas for the Malaysian government to strengthen, including tax incentives, inter-disciplinary collaborations with the arts, transparency on public key performance indicators and non-monetary aspects of government support, which include effective policies and the alignment of agencies/ministries related to arts and culture.

In the keynote address, Tengku Zafrul talked about how there needs to be a synergistic relationship between the private and public sector to buoy the creative industry. He said that his ministry would look at tax incentives in 2021 to attract corporations to play a bigger role in the creative ecosystem, instead of just thinking of their participation as corporate social responsibility (CSR). He also spoke about how education plays a vital role in transforming mindsets, which is key at this time.A number of UK tax incentives allow art amassed during one’s lifetime to pass on to future generations in a way that is tax-efficient, whilst also providing scope for the nation to enjoy important works of art and cultural property. The schemes either allow public access to privately owned works of art or provides the opportunity for museums, galleries and archives as well as charities, to acquire important works of art that they may otherwise not be in a position to acquire.

Here, the incentives to the private sector come in the form of a tax deduction limit for companies sponsoring local arts, cultural and heritage activities approved by Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (Motac) at a limit of RM1mil per year. Year-on-year, the number of corporations applying for the tax deduction has been increasing, but not at a sufficient enough rate. In 2018, there were more than 1.2 million registered companies in Malaysia, but only less than 100 registered companies contribute to the arts using this incentive.

The Bursa Malaysia CSR Framework looks at four main focal areas for CSR practice – environment, workplace, community and marketplace. Certainly arts and culture is relevant to some of these focal areas.

Likewise, in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in September 2015 by the United Nations, the international development agenda refers to culture for the first time. It was recognised that culture contributes to many of the SDGs – safe and sustainable cities, decent work and economic growth, reduced inequalities, the environment and more.

The rationale behind it is that these goals will in turn contribute to safeguarding cultural heritage and nurturing creativity.

If arts is indeed the soul of the nation, what are we doing to develop and promote it? How can corporate participation in the arts be increased so that the agents in the ecosystem can have a more equitable role in the bedrock of our country?

To keep the conversation going between arts and culture and business, CENDANA will, on Oct 20, host the Creative Economy Forum 2021, with a focus on arts and culture, which will see the participation of key industry players such as Think City, Maybank Kim Eng, Creador Foundation, Sime Darby Foundation, Media Prima TV Networks, Hasanah Foundation, Yoodo and more, on creating shared prosperity or creative industries and bridging the arts and culture and business for common goals.

There will also be other interesting sessions such as How to Apply for Corporate Tax Deduction facilitated by Motac and a special presentation by Malaysia’s own internationally renowned contemporary artist Red Hong Yi. The virtual forum is free for the wider arts and culture and business community. Register on www.cendana.com.my.

Izan Satrina Mohd Sallehuddin is the founding CEO of CENDANA, a unit of 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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