文化有根 創意是伴 Bridging Creativity
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Rekan Library— Muar design community
Rekan Library is a community library space that promotes collaboration and actively engages the community with reading, design and learning.
Working with the Chinese community of Muar, Johor, their network includes a collective publication Muar River Times; creating a co-working subscription model with an event venue Ngam Hall; collaborating with children’s toy designers; and many more. The design and art community in Muar works on cultivating a small town spirit, creating publica tions, podcasts, hosting musical performances and creating community spaces collectively. Key Takeaways:
Understand your network, your niche
To think beyond the national boundaries and to find ties internationally as a way to grow one’s practice.
Creative Hubs can find networks based on medium, types of practice, or type of spaces.
SeaShorts Film Festival connects with other filmmakers, international arts and cultural organisations and encourages exchange programmes.
Participating in or housing such programmes can enable Hubs to grow a network specifically tied to the arts.
For this report, tracing artist-collectives in the past to the present was an incredibly enriching exercise and at the same time, demanding. Creative Hubs emerged not only as models for adoption, but also are a constant source of curiosity for us to deepen our imagination and experimentation. 8.1 Knowledge Gaps
As per any report, there will be limitations in either the process, method, or time range of data collection. Although the ‘Hubs For Good’ research project identified over 100 hubs, there is a lack of representation of different language groups. The workshops of the programme are organised in English. Groups using other languages may not feel inclined to participate. There is also a tendency for the professional and entrepreneurial programmes to be expressed in English and situated in urban areas. As the teams worked in English for this project, many other hubs were not identified and located due to language barriers.
Other groups may also be situated in suburban or rural communities, and due to the restricted movement due to the COVID-19 pandemic the research team were unable to travel to discover the outlying art and cultural collective work con ducted in smaller communities. Grassroots and community associations that may not be recognised as being artistic or cultural also often carry out art and cultural work. These associations often engage with local neighbour hoods and are aligned with cultural festivals such as Mid-Autumn or Thaipusam to name a few. Such groups are entrepreneurial by nature, trading cultural and traditional craft, products, and artwork during the cultural events. Modes of production often run alongside their community building work. Would these be also considered Creative Hubs? This is a question perhaps to be considered in future research.
(pg. 39) Another gap is the underground movement within the art and cultural ecology of Malaysia. There are collectives engaging in work situated in the legal/grey areas of the law. To name them openly in a report may have a negative impact on such collectives. Lastly, some collectives may also be involved in experimental work that is activated and disappears quickly. Such work may also be considered failures by the conventional parameters of sustainability, but their transient nature should not stop them from being considered as a Creative Hub.
8.2 Malaysian Art and Cultural Ecology—What Next?
This report aims to build awareness of the history of art and cultural collectives, to consider the policies that affect the art and cultural ecology, and to draw out certain patterns and characteris tics of current Creative Hubs in Malaysia. So, what should we be doing next? The work of Creative Hubs is often social, organising creative work for, or with, a specific community. The work can be conducted through the many examples in 5.2 Alternative Arts Education, fulfilling a gap and need beyond informal education systems. Support and awareness are needed to ensure possible education routes can be encouraged. All hubs will have cultural impact by the creative processes of art and cultural work.
The art forms emerging from hubs add to the cultural landscape of Malaysia, through the different categories of Creative Hubs described in section 2.3. These categories can infer how hubs can have multiple categories of cultural impact, often intertwining more than one medium of art and cultural work.
Another cultural impact is the notion of networking and archiving the work. Creative hubs should offer open access to knowledge. To learn about our own art and cultural history is imperative to ensure the growth and continuation of our art and cultural ecology. To work on digitally archiving and creating repositories either in the form of reports, or catalogues can help newcomers under stand Creative Hubs, and by extension the art and cultural ecology better.
One of the biggest cultural impacts is connecting to online and offline networks. Hubs are a resource for gathering. These gatherings can be centred around openings, festivals, events, or even just reflective moments of sharing. To embrace the growth and continual nourishment of networks is imperative to ensure a sustained cultural impact. Hubs should continue to have a bottom-up network of sharing—from knowledge to space to resources.
Creative Hubs create communities for those participating in art and cultural work. They grow camaraderie through open dialogue, conversation, and discussions. The action of creating safe spaces enables solidarity amongst art and cultural workers while allowing them to investigate their own art and cultural work. Economic impact is less immediate. Creative Hubs often coordinate sharing resources to support the ecology, creating an open-ended input and output cycle. The support can range from sharing subscription accounts for streaming and online conferences to creating community-led spaces for all to contribute to.
(Con't from above) Economic impact can also be found in the use of branding exercises. It is the methodology of inviting potential patrons, participants, and artists to connect to a hub’s work. Creative Hubs that do design exercises to write, document and archive their work online and offline provide clarity for the public to understand their initiatives. To give thought to how art and cultural work is advertised, audiences can easily access, understand, and par ticipate in the art and cultural work through clear and careful design on social media campaigns. Creative Hubs such as Cult Creative are founded on the belief that such effort and work is important to ensure the longevity of a creative practice. The report suggests alternative methods of interpreting impact—through the work in com munities and collectivism and building networks and audiences. These two impact areas integrate social, cultural, and economic aspects by creating spaces of care, experimentation, continual learning and sharing. This we believe comes from a shared network that continues to develop the community via an entangled art and cultural ecology. The stories explore ideas of sustainable impact, where the changes will permeate long after the project is complete. 8.3 Creative Hubs—A Proposition for Collectivism Creative Hubs create sustainable forms of impact by encouraging collectivism and community wellbeing. Collectivism is qualitative, explored through short accounts in Part III of the report. Research can document how many participants were part of a programme, or how many working hours each workshop ran for, but what is fascinating about art and cultural work are the specific details of creating programmes, design, and collaboration. Creative Hubs put energy into creating programming for communities to gather, to share and experience art forms collectively. Such experiences are immeasurable, often advocating for social development of healthy and liveable communities. 46 46 HAUS KCH 47 Urbanscapes Other than categorising and organising the Creative Hubs into categories, this report also adds complexity by acknowledging Creative Hubs using stories of Communities and Collectivism (online and physical), Building Networks, and striving for Alternative Arts Education. This consideration of collectivism can shift away from the neoliberal agenda to a more communal ideology—a sharing economy. In a time where mutual aid and care is important, Creative Hubs and collectives in Malaysia have activated the role of organising around community issues, informal arts education, giving voice to communities. An interdisciplinary lens of the arts and human ities, sociology or ethnographic lens should be adopted when researching further about Creative Hubs in the context of Malaysia. Different methods of collaboration can also be explored in extended research of Creative Hubs. This report is only the beginning, to draw attention to the art and cultural work of a lively ecology. All Creative Hubs are inherently cultural, advo cating various forms of art and cultural work to the public. It is my hope this report gives a snapshot during a difficult time of our history, the COVID-19 pandemic. (pg 73)(British Council, 2017, UNDERSTANDING CREATIVE HUBS IN MALAYSIA -- Collectives, Entanglements & Ecologies; AUTHOR: Clarissa Lim Kye Lee, Roslina Ismail , Poon Chiew Hwa , Florence Lambert, EDITOR: June Tan; RESEARCH PROJECT LEADER: Roslina Ismail, Florence Lambert)
Many creative hubs have grown out of organic beginnings, and so sometimes the founders (often doubling as hub managers) may not be trained in management skills or financial planning.
As we’ve seen, the creative hubs that have a clear business model are more confident about their future.
Providing workshops on arts management would help be an intermediary step to help hub managers manage finances and future plans, although ideally the role of running the hub could be divided between full-time employees.
Connecting & Networking
While many creative hubs are clustered in Kuala Lumpur, those outside the capital are also having a huge impact in their communities – sometimes even more so, as a result of being the first of their kind. While some of these hubs are already connected through informal friendships and partnerships, it could be worth having a networking platform that allows for the exchange of skills and approaches: in particular, connecting hubs in East Malaysia to West Malaysia and vice versa. Similarly, if hub managers can be supported to make contacts and network on a regional and international level, the exchange of knowledge and skills will offer new ideas and approaches to running a hub. Creative hubs need advocates beyond their own members. A more formalised network of creative hubs might help to give a collective voice in situations where one creative hub needs legal or public support. On an international level, several established creative hub managers are already being invited to speak at international conferences. Often, this is sponsored by an international partner. It would be useful if emerging hub managers are also given an opportunity to participate as audience members, perhaps sponsored by a Malaysian travel grant Making Space
Malaysia’s creative hubs are diverse in their approaches and in their needs. But many of them share the common thread of struggling for financing, as grassroots groups which were started by individuals.
While creative hubs often run independently through the passion and dedication of their founders, they have an impact that is far beyond their membership:
they create new economic opportunities, they nurture and educate emerging creatives, and they engage the public through placemaking, public art and free resources. However, all these services (and more) are often threatened by the risk of a creative hub shutting down when the money runs dry or the founders move on.
While the government is starting to recognise the value of creative hubs in the context of the creative industries, this focus on economic value neglects their many other contributions.
Malaysia’s creative hubs need long-term support as well as recognition for their efforts. Their impact may often be intangible, but it is invaluable. International partners have provided both funding and platforms for creative hubs for years. The next question is whether more Malaysian partners in the government, non government and private spheres can do the same. Related:沙巴海丝馆韵文化：我求Creative and Cultural Districts in Thailand(Source: APRIL 2017, WWW.BRITISHCOUNCIL.MY)
A more deep-seated challenge mentioned by some of the creative hubs is that the Malaysian public at large does not care about their work.
“I think we’re still a long way from building an audience for the arts in Malaysia. I don’t think anyone in Malaysia can say hey, we’ve got a brilliant, ripe fruit audience,” says Joe Sidek. “It is shocking. Students who study arts don’t go and see exhibitions. Dance students don’t go and see dance programmes. Isn’t that shocking? That is Malaysia.”
Although several creative hubs are working to make the arts more accessible, they sometimes feel as though they are shouting into empty rooms. This then compounds their issues of sponsorship and sustainability.
“It’s not a simple thing that can be solved overnight, because it requires the participation of all different levels of people and agencies” says Ian Chow of The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat, who adds that the education system in Malaysia is “very geared toward the science stream”. In Malaysian schools, students must select either the science stream or arts stream at age 15. Those with the better grades are often encouraged to go to the science stream.18
This mindset is not just apparent in audiences, but also in the higher echelons. While there are forms of federal and local government support for some creative hubs, these tend to be selective and sporadic. Creative hubs are rarely assured of receiving funding to cover a block of a few years.
Returning to the example of the London Book Fair mentioned earlier by the Malaysian Writers Society, it’s apparent that many creative hubs are taking steps where the government has not ventured. Malaysian publishers and booksellers resorted to bundling together their own money in order to attend the London Book Fair, in contrast to other nations which are supported by government funds to attend.
In recent years, there have been some new opportunities for funding from the federal government. MyCreativeVentures, for example, gives low-interest loans to businesses with a creative element, but these loans still need to be repaid. Creative hubs with an urban transformation angle have also been supported by Think City, as shown earlier, because of the incentives brought to cities.
Yet, government initiatives often move much slower than grassroots organisations. Johan Ropi of Kilang Bateri gives an example: “Now Iskandar Malaysia is working on something called Youth Hub, which we were involved in in the early days, to come up with a concept paper. The thing about government initiatives is that it takes some time. So because we as a movement we have the buy-in from our stakeholders, so they keep on pressuring us, ‘So where’s the project?’ So we couldn’t tahan [stand it] already, so we come up with our own thing. That hub is still under development, and is expected to be up by next year, if I’m not mistaken.”
At the same time, some creative hubs will always be deemed high risk and so will not receive funds. These are the hubs that include activism and socio-political engagement in their work.
Censorship in Malaysia is an issue across the arts and media, and it has a direct impact on creative hubs.
Sustainability Issues of money, management and mindsets have a cumulative impact that threatens the sustainability of creative hubs. Lisa Case, festival manager of George Town Festival describes the scenario that faces the team “In Singapore they definitely plan two years ahead because they have the money, they know the money is coming or the money is already there. Whereas we have to work one step at a time, and that has actually been a bit of a problem for us. We want to confirm, we want to go to sponsors with programmes but we cannot yet because we don’t have the money or the permit so we’re working from year to year to year.”– Lisa CaseMany creative hubs are in a position where they must simply try to survive. Without a regular patron or the assurance of long-term funding, they simply cannot see far enough in the future to make plans. Without these plans, they cannot seek further support, and without this support, they cannot continue to do their work effectively.
While most of the creative hubs we spoke to were confident that they would still be here in one year’s time, they were less certain about being here in five years’ time. “We honestly don’t know how long we can carry on,” say Gina and Tina of Malaysian Writers Society.
Even Johan, who rated Kilang Bateri’s financial health as very good, spoke about the hub’s lifespan with pragmatism: “As an architect and as someone who is involved in retail, a normal mall’s lifespan is about eight years. I’m not sure where we will be after eight years, but we have exit strategies. Looking at the growth rate that is three times faster, our lifespan may be three times shorter.” Of course, even if hubs are not sustained, their contribution still makes an impact in the long term.
To use an example of a past creative hub, many in the Kuala Lumpur arts scene still talk about the Annexe Gallery fondly. Part of Central Market, the Annexe Gallery was a place for creative people to meet, hang out and exchange ideas at talks, music events and more. In talking about her mission with Kampung Attap, Liza Ho explicitly mentioned Annexe Gallery as a point of reference.
According to Pang Khee Teik, formerly Programme Director of the Annexe Gallery, the Annexe could not be sustained because the developer of the property expected the space to be able to generate profit. Given that the space could be rented out at a higher value by sacrificing the arts community, something had to give.
“Some things are better not sustained. You do as much as you can. Then it evolves into ideas for other people to create other things,” says Pang.Pang’s insight touches on one aspect of the creative scene in Malaysia: even as some spaces and hubs have died out, others have sprung up. Because so many individuals have connected through their artistic interests, they are also able to take forward new challenges, crossing over to other hubs or starting something new. In other words, those underground roots continue to spread, and may pop up with shoots elsewhere.
However, this resilience does not mean that the uncertain situation facing many creative hubs should be accepted. Indeed, given that so many individuals have invested their time, energy and money into these hubs – often providing public services for free – we need to ask how they can be supported to continue.
In every creative discipline, people’s talents develop over time. When hubs can sustain themselves not just for years but for decades, they can support and push these talents more fully. They will not only give young creatives a launch platform, but continue to work with them throughout an entire career.
Creative hubs also accrue more credibility over time, allowing them to raise their national and international profile. Their cumulative experience enables them to play a bigger cultural role and even advise on policy.
Since many of them are embedded in communities, they also have a wealth of local knowledge of and for different groups in society. We can look to the experimental theatre group Five Arts Centre as an example of a creative hub which has managed to survive and thrive. Five Arts Centre celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2015. Although its work would not be considered mainstream, it now holds an important role in the arts scene.
For 11 years, Five Arts Centre has been awarding grants to artists from different fields through a sponsorship partnership with the broadcaster ASTRO. It has also been invited to festivals around the world to tour with its performances.
The Japan Art Association awarded Five Arts Centre the prestigious Praemium Imperiale Grant for Young Artists in 2016.19 But more importantly still, Five Arts Centre has helped to sustain the work of a group of writers, directors, producers and performers for over three decades.
Yeoh of Lostgens puts it like this: “It’s important to continue. In Malaysia, you have to continue. If you can continue to do it for several years, you’ll have something to show for it. We [Malaysians] have a problem with stopping and starting.”
Based on the challenges outlined in the previous section, here are some suggestions for how creative hubs can be supported:
While many hubs have benefited from short term funding or project-based funding, more long-term sponsorship from both government bodies and private companies would allow creative hubs to plan ahead. Currently, many creative hubs have a “survival” mentality which means they are only able to plan for the short-term.
Long-term funding would also allow creative hubs to hire full-time employees. This would lessen the burden on a small group of people to manage the hub in their spare time, which in turn would make the creative hubs less dependent on a few individuals. As a result, creative hubs would be more sustainable.
However, funding also needs to be given with consideration. Many creative hubs want to maintain independence in their programming and curation, and their managers are wary of funding that comes with conditions or restrictions.
At the same time, some sponsors have been fearful of the creative output of hubs they support. A long-term partnership would help both parties to understand each other’s needs, hopefully increasing trust between the two parties over the years. (Con’t below)
When creative hubs become dependent on just a few individuals, it also means the sustainability of operations will be at risk. “At any time we are aware that if something happens to Tina, if something happens to Gina, then it just dies off,” says Gina of the Malaysian Writers Society. That is why they decided to set up a more formal society, with paying members and a committee.
Money problems are part of a vicious cycle within creative hubs. Because many of them do not have a lot of money, they cannot hire more people. As a result, management of the hubs can be strained, with just a few people running things. This means that they then cannot take on ambitious projects that might bring in more money.
“Maybe people don’t dare to join us as members, seeing us struggle,” comments Yeoh from Lostgens. He’s partly joking, but the struggle is real.
Similar feelings were expressed by Dato’ Faridah of The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat. “We’re very confident that we’ll be there in a year. Our worry for Joe [Hasham] and me is what happens when we’re gone? That’s what we worry about.
Because it has to be taken over and it has to be run better than the fate that we are facing now.” With core managers spreading themselves thin, it makes it harder for creative hubs to plan for the future. Another related issue is that sometimes the founders themselves are not well equipped to manage the administration of hubs.
Yeoh from Lostgens cites this as one of his problems. The collective started out quite organically, and so he has spent several years realising that he needs to plan ahead more. He doesn’t really like or enjoy engaging with the business side of things, or with administration. He says that he would ideally like to hire a full-time employee.
Syar from Rimbun Dahan tells us that the residency and exhibitions have increased in recent years, which means they are now faced with questions of how they can operate in the future: “Because if you’re running from a model that’s small-scale, and you expand it even just a little bit, and from that expansion it keeps expanding, you’re running something that much bigger on the same amount of fuel.”
The creative hubs that are thriving in their operations (and more confident of their future) have multiple people in different roles. At Projek Rabak, for example, Jayzuan is no longer running day to day operations:“We are a collective, but we are still run like a professional company. Maybe in certain ways, in terms of profit, we don’t really follow the corporate or capitalist style. But in terms of discipline, we still work like a corporate company. We still have meetings, we have minutes. All that usual office stuff.”
Meanwhile, Kilang Bateri leveraged on the various skills of its five founders. For Johan, his experience with government from his previous job on the local council has helped enormously: “So with regard to any policy, licensing, and so on, I’m dealing with it, because I can speak their language.”
When creative hubs have smooth, organised operations, it allows them to reap further benefits: strengthening their marketing for example, and capturing data on their impact.
These steps will lead to further opportunities, growing their audience base and finding new kinds of support.
But when creative hubs need to keep costs down and are run by teams who need to also find their main income elsewhere, some of these details become lost. Many of the hubs that we spoke to have not kept detailed data records, although most of them have general numbers on their growth of participants.
In turn, this means that many creative hubs cannot compete for public attention, and cannot advocate effectively, which once again feeds into a cycle. Instead, they must rely on low-cost marketing.
Joe Sidek of George Town Festival points out that arts management training is lacking in Malaysia: “Most of the schools give you event management and they think an idea of an event is weddings or concerts.
So arts management per se has never been an easy task, to get people with the right sort of background.”
Among Malaysian creative hubs, the most common challenge is money. Even creative hubs which have been running for over a decade feel uncertain of their future.
Malaysian Writers Society, Lostgens, Rimbun Dahan and The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat are all being sustained – in whole or in part – by the personal funds of the founders, or with profits from another part of the founders’ business.
“It’s very painful because we need to be looking for the money. Sometimes I don’t really know how to do it anymore. How to go out there and get some people to open their doors for us,” says Dato’ Faridah Merican of The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat.
She mentions that many arts organisations are competing for the same sponsors: “Everybody goes to Sime Darby, Khazanah – everybody goes to Khazanah, you know? I mean they also cannot survive by helping everybody so we have to find other resources.”
At the end of the day, “Joe [Hasham, co-founder of The Actors Studio] and I will dig deep into our pockets and assist if the company needed funding, that’s how it has to be, because if we don’t do that, then the company could collapse.”
Rimbun Dahan is supported through the other businesses owned by the same founders, Hijjas and Angela Kasturi. It has also received some project-based funding from partners such as Goethe-Institut. However, in recent years, Rimbun Dahan has started seeking its own revenue through venue rental for events such as weddings and film locations. It also charges an accommodation fee for resident artists from outside Southeast Asia.
Malaysian Writers Society runs mostly on social media, in order to keep its costs low. Many of the ad hoc expenses are covered by Gina and Tina. This means that they lose out on certain opportunities, as Tina explains:“For example, we were invited to take part in the London Book Fair in the [Malaysian] booth.
The idea was to collaborate and rent the booth together at £12,000, we were gonna be one of six [independent Malaysian bookselling groups], so £2,000. We were hoping to go, couldn’t come up with the money, so we just had to let it go.”
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