Wawasan Open University organised and hosted the “Can You Imagine? The Creative Environment in Penang” dialogue that aimed to look into retaining the creative talents in Penang to secure its future as a hub for the arts and creative industry.
The three panelists were director Chee Sek Thim, musical composer and Universiti Sains Malaysia lecturer from the School of Fine Arts, Johan Othman, and Sue Ching You, a RBS-Malihom artist from Taiwan. They shared their experiences and views in their respective field and on the creative arts scene in Penang.
Chee wanted the state government to play an active role to bring about a “supporting environment” in order to revitalise the arts scene and make Penang a happening place like Kuala Lumpur.
He called for the state to set up a production company to hold and manage productions, starting off with maybe two performances a year. This can double up as a breeding ground for future talents as training can be arranged for the technical crew on board.
He also suggested that the existing State Arts Council be activated and its role redefined to act as a funding body and resource centre. He said many arts activities are held in Penang but people are unaware, adding that the state government can be the coordinating body for information.
Chee, the director of stage productions like 'Conference of the Birds', felt that most groups are still hesitant to come to Penang due to the lack of infrastructural support. “There are not enough performance spaces for rehearsals and actual shows, and a lack of human resources.” He said a whole army of people – e.g. producers, stage managers, technical crew, trained designers and public relations - is needed to get the show going and “this is missing in Penang”.
He was responding to questions on why the creative scene is localised in Kuala Lumpur, how to improve the situation in Penang and how to make information more accessible to people.
Chee encouraged those involved in arts to create their own opportunities as well by connecting with like-minded individuals to stage shows, explaining that was how Five Arts Centre began with the collaboration and initiative of five arts practitioners.
He lamented on the lack of media support and interest for arts events in Penang. He said that even in KL, they are still fighting for media, financial and technical support for arts. “People who make art need infrastructural support as much as those who want art should lobby for greater infrastructural support.”.
He called for an appreciation for arts to be instilled from young, urging school teachers to take the children out to attend art exhibitions and plays as there is a government funding provision for such visits.
Meanwhile Johan Othman, the musical director and composer for 'Conference of the Birds', similarly felt that creativity is not much encouraged among school students nowadays, with focus of students centred on serious examination subjects.
About 50 people, including arts educators, music students and arts enthusiasts attended the talk moderated by Himanshu Bhatt, actor/director of Cape Poetics.