The arts, which contribute to the cultural vibrancy of our society, deserve the attention and assistance from the government as well as charities, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
Like most Malaysians in various productive sectors of the economy, people in the arts ecosystem are struggling to make ends meet in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing movement control order.
Theatre companies, such as the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, have reportedly amassed heavy losses arising from cancelled or postponed shows to the extent that they are seeking donations as well as financial help from the government and corporations to keep their heads above water.
Similarly, full-time artistes, many of whom struggle financially even under normal circumstances, are stretched to the limit as they dip into their scarce savings to survive.
Financial hardships also inflict other theatre people, such as producers, stage managers, lighting designers, sound and technical crew and costume designers. Joblessness in this sector is no longer a figment of imagination.
Such is the dire situation they are in that financial help, particularly from the government, becomes an urgent necessity.
This proposition may sound extravagant, if not frivolous, to some Malaysians, especially those who consider the arts as playthings or hobbies and at a time when resources have been stripped dry.
Contrary to such an ill-judged perception, the arts are as essential as food, healthcare and commerce as they nourish the people’s culture, identities and intellectual sustenance.
While it is important for the nation to have industries and technologies that meet the needs of the people and businesses, shopping malls, offices, airports and highways to connect people and places, it is also crucial that the arts, in the wider sense of the word, are kept alive and further developed.
The actors on stage, for example, must be sustained so that they can continue to act out the lives of many people who harbour hopes, anxieties and despair, and encounter conflicts and dilemmas. Plays are as instructive as they are entertaining for the audience.
What would life be without the professional singers and the bands to express love, heartbreak and the joys of life? No, we are not talking of singing competitions here.
Equally important are the paintings and sketches that capture human emotions and natural objects, which contribute to the enrichment of our culture and knowledge. Indeed, artists and their creativity, especially the fledgling ones, are worthy of government help of various sorts.
Museums store our collective memories, the access to which is crucial to present and future generations if they are to understand and appreciate our past and present. These museums are institutions that deserve sustainability, especially when they supposedly include and celebrate the diversity that life has to offer in our culture and society.
In other words, the arts, which contribute to the cultural vibrancy of our society, deserve the attention and assistance from the government as well as charities.
This pandemic may also offer a golden opportunity for the government to reset its policy towards the arts and the people associated with them so that there would be more concerted effort and determination to further develop the arts in the country for the reasons mentioned above and more.
It is perhaps unfortunate that the arts and culture is housed under the same roof as tourism in the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture so that the arts play second fiddle to tourism.
The arts should develop for the benefit of locals first, while tourism should subsequently tap on the consequent vibrancy of the arts.
Subsidies accorded to the local arts would help in some ways to make them more accessible to ordinary Malaysians so that they would not be reduced to being the playground of only the rich and the elite.
Apart from money issues, for local arts to flourish, particularly plays, literature and visual expressions, there must be freedom of expression that allows for a fair stretch of imagination and creativity even if it irritates the powers that be.
We can hardly emphasise more that the arts are a crucial component of our society, without which our society would, to paraphrase Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, only know the price of everything and the value of nothing.