The Resilience of Malaysia’s Art Scene During a Pandemic

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Image credit: Al Ibrahim | Flickr
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For an industry that has been relegated to afterthoughts in most major budget allocation plans, dealing with under-funding is not an unfamiliar situation for anyone in the creative arts scene.

But with the economical effects of a global pandemic bringing all industries relying on crowds to a crash, these already unsupported acts are forced to go on in the negative.

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Image credit: Sticker Mule | Unsplash

Even entertainment giants such as the Cirque du Soleil company had filled for bankruptcy earlier this month, threatening to put 4,700 people out of work, from performers to post-recording audio mixers, marketing staff, and even venue caretakers out of jobs.

The Quebec government however, recognises the monumental contributions the Montreal-based company has made to the global entertainment industry in addition to the job opportunities and cultural growth Cirque du Soleil has brought, pledging US$ 200 million to support the brand and other entertainment businesses during the industry standstill.

While encouraging, the same unfortunately cannot be said for other entertainment sectors across the world.

In Malaysia, a survey conducted by CENDANA (the Cultural Economy Development Agency) has revealed that over 93% of Malaysia’s art industry players are have and are still facing negative impacts since the MCO was implemented.

According to this article from Eksentrika, a popular online website dedicated to Malaysian creatives, over 70% full-time creatives have completely lost their source of incomes, with 46% coming from indefinitely postponed events, and 30% of cancelled bookings. A majority of participants are self-employed, disqualified for EPF savings. Some are even identified as dependents, having no stable income.

Options, The Edge reports that the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac), Malaysia’s non-profit lifeline for modern theater has faced losses amounting to over half a million Malaysian Ringgit in April from cancelled and postponed performances and exhibitions. While a trickle of corporate donations have managed to keep this important establishment afloat so far, it is feared that this institution of arts and culture will not survive the lack of audiences for much longer.

klpac kuala lumpur performance arts centre
Image credit: Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac)

Calls have been made by those affected to the Ministry of Arts and Tourism, as well as to CENDANA in efforts to consolidate efforts to keep Malaysia’s arts and cultural scene alive, but real support has yet to be enacted apart from a notice from the Communications and Multimedia Ministry promising to gear up and ensure welfare of creative practitioners.

But while official support is few and far between, the artistic community is historically known to be an everlasting presence, keeping creativity going regardless of the circumstances.


Indie and established artists across Malaysia have come together on Facebook to form the Unrestricted Stage platform, encouraging and featuring performers to continue sharing their craft with the masses in the form of scheduled livestreams.

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The Little Art House (LAH) of Penang has produced a digital colouring book in support of charity, with 100% of proceeds going to Tenaganita, a human and labour rights initiative, as well as SAMA – dedicated to animal rights.

As the age of “New Normal” begins to take hold, visual arts and culture has already made moves to assimilate a big digital shift. Notable museums are offering virtual tours, while theatre production companies are uploading timed screenings of previous plays. Monetisation of these features to make up for ticket sales have yet to come into action as of now.

While performers, creators, and all others involved remained determined to keep their crafts alive, we the audience play the biggest part.

As people who find ourselves constantly turning to entertainment to help us cope and distract from the bleak landscape that is reality now, our support as audience is needed more than ever. All we have to do is watch the show! Donating is a great way to contribute, but with other monetary concerns at bay, even just a virtual footprint is good enough at times. Share your favourite artist’s work, tune in to their streams, or attend classes and workshops being held to gain new skills at discounted prices.

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Image credit: Annie Spratt | Unsplash

To the many established and budding artists out there, thank you for filling our quarantine periods with many fun and artistic things to listen to, watch, look at, and play along with! And for those who have yet to release anything, keep being inspired and know that there is an audience waiting for you.

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