THE fact that arts and culture has the lowest priority in government planning was borne out by Budget 2019.
Except for the RM30mil allocation for the National Film Development Corporation (Finas) under the Communications and Multimedia Ministry, there is no specific allocation for the creative industries of arts and culture to revitalise traditional arts and crafts and to expand the modern art forms of music, dance and theatre.
Even the allocation for the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry only details tourism projects and activities and completely ignores arts and culture.
Perhaps the authorities’ stand is that arts and culture do not generate revenue and are only good as entertainment. This would be a rather trite and short-sighted reasoning that betrays ignorance and cultural illiteracy.
The creative industries can generate revenue directly or indirectly through economic turnovers. For example, in staging a theatre or dance performance, one would have to buy performance paraphernalia such as costumes, props, scenery and lights, thus creating employment opportunities and generating income for others.
Likewise, attending performances also generate economic activities such as in the use of public transport, buying food and tickets and other related activities.
This is why New York City and the East End, London have allocations for performing and visual arts activities because they generate revenue and provide employment opportunities. The planners realise the importance of a vibrant art scene in the life of the city.
Our government is rather short-sighted by consigning the arts to the lowest priority, thereby indicating that it is of minimal consequence to national development. The arts and culture may not be the focal point of economic development, such as developing physical infrastructure, enterprises, health or housing, but it has the larger spectrum of being our national heritage as well as an economic activity that could generate income and employment.
One wonders whether the significance of the arts in national development was ever considered by the budget committee and impressed upon the Cabinet. The Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister should have shouldered the responsibility of highlighting the importance of arts and culture as an integral part of tourism, besides being a significant part of our heritage.
We are jeopardising our cultural heritage, and if nothing concrete is done we will soon lose our cultural identity as well as our norms and values, which would be supplanted by Western ones. We would be that much poorer as a result.
Let us hope that the Cabinet will reconsider its nonchalant stance and provide a financial allocation for the development of arts and culture.
MOHAMED GHOUSE NASURUDDIN
Centre for Policy Research and International Studies
Universiti Sains Malaysia Penang