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Comment by OVEPI on February 13, 2024 at 7:50pm

Human Resources

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.

Comment by OVEPI on February 13, 2024 at 7:49pm

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.”

Comment by OVEPI on February 12, 2024 at 8:43pm


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.”

Comment by OVEPI on February 12, 2024 at 8:41pm

George Town Festival has run for seven years.

Most of those years, it has broken even, but its managers note that each year presents a different scenario. As a state government funded festival, it can depend on a measure of financial security for the majority of its budget. But it still needs to look for additional private sponsors.

Last year’s George Town Festival made a loss, due to the implementation of the federal government’s Goods and Services Tax (GST), which led them to restructure some of their finances.

“We also realised that it is very hard,” says Joe
Sidek. “Nobody owes the arts any money, why
should anyone give you money? Why should
anyone want to sponsor? So the last two years we’ve been working on an idea of partnerships.
What we can give you if you partner us, because we have mileage, we have eyeballs, we have footfalls.”

Among those we interviewed, the creative hubs that are the most confident of their financial future are Projek Rabak, Kilang Bateri and the
Zhongshan Building at Kampung Attap. One commonality of these hubs is that they benefit from holding a physical space.

Projek Rabak has bed and breakfast accommodation, as well as venue space, a streetwear label and a publishing imprint. They also earn money by organising events. The Zhongshan Building at Kampung Attap’s business model is based on renting out its units.

Kilang Bateri, which started with some private investment, broke even after a year. Having been started by five individuals with entrepreneurial
backgrounds, it was in a strong position to plan its business model, while also starting with low overheads. It’s also notable that Kilang Bateri had
done several case studies before its launch, in order to develop its business models.

After two months, the team pitched for a Bumiputera competition (open only to Malay and indigenous entrepreneurs), Skim Usahawan
Permulaan Bumiputera (Superb) by Unit Peneraju Agenda Bumiputera (Teraju). This won them RM500,000, used for upgrading the space.

Johan Ropi emphasises that Kilang Bateri operates like a business. When vendors are not up to scratch, their contract is not renewed. There are 184 vendors operating as part of Kilang Bateri, with various personalities: “That is a major challenge. I would add that this business does not bring in crazy profits, and it is actually very fragile.

Because we rely on rent, and we have to work hard to make sure people come to our place.” Whether run as profit or non-profit, money is often a challenge for creative hubs. For many, the search for sponsors is continuous and can only be relied upon in the short term.

Comment by OVEPI on February 11, 2024 at 3:13pm

Catalysing Cities

The impact of creative hubs on city regeneration has been documented across the world. In the report “Creative Hubs: Understanding the New
Economy”, Dovey and Pratt describe how the project of “Creative Industries” was closely tied to urban regeneration of abandoned buildings and neighbourhoods in decline in the UK.

In the 2000s, New Labour’s Creative Industries initiatives led to the growth of workspaces for culture and creative industries business. With public support, many old vacant factory buildings were redeveloped as studio spaces for creative professionals and businesses. In the last decade there has been continual flowering of ‘art factories’ and ‘cultural factories’. These are, in part, driven by public authorities’ desire to resume derelict industrial space, to regenerate and repopulate the inner city, to draw the population back, and renew tax revenues.1

Among the creative hubs we interviewed, there are several which have been self-consciously involved in a similar kind of urban transformation: in particular, Projek Rabak (Ipoh), Kilang Bateri (Johor Bahru) and George Town Festival (George Town).

Comment by OVEPI on February 11, 2024 at 3:12pm

Prior to starting Kilang Bateri, Johan Ropi had worked closely with the state government in Johor: “I was responsible for a project called Johor Bahru Transformation, to turn around the Johor Bahru old city,” he says. “When I was in Iskandar Malaysia, I had to come up with the initiative, of course, then I get a buy-in from all my friends. We started to turn around the old Johor Bahru city as a hub. Then in 2015 we decided to come up with [Kilang Bateri].”

With his close ties to local government and his experience of speaking to stakeholders, Johan managed to get an injection of funding for Kilang Bateri. He also negotiated other kinds of support: for example, the industrial land where Kilang Bateri is located was legally prohibited from being used for commercial activity. However, the local council granted an exemption, so that independent brands could set up as vendors under Kilang Bateri.

“Basically, we use ‘recharge’ as a term. We didn’t want to use ‘rehabilitation’ or ‘rejuvenation’, so we used ‘recharge’. And we keep on taking brownfield areas and turning it around.

So we got that ‘recharge’ after the Bateri thing. Now we are using the term ‘recharging the city’ for our initiative, and how do we describe ourselves? We always tell people that we are the ‘soul planters’. We find a
place, plant in soul, bring in economy, bring activities.” – Johan Ropi

Kilang Bateri has arrived at the right time: Johor Bahru is in the midst of a government-led urban transformation project as part of Iskandar, a development corridor that aims to bring investment and human capital to the state. Since its formation in 2006, Iskandar has amassed over RM200 billion in investments.14

The contribution of the arts has been recognised as part of this transformation: Iskarnival, an arts festival, was launched in 2013 as part of this catalyst project.15 Johan sees Kilang Bateri as a way to brand Johor for visitors. Whereas Johor Premium Outlets and Legoland were developed in order to bring in tourists with the lure of luxury fashion brands and a global toy brand, Kilang Bateri “addresses the gap” and “completes the ecosystem”, to use his words. It’s a one-stop centre for people to experience Johor, while also bringing more recognition for small, local businesses.

“The best thing about social impact is that some people argue that it’s about economic impact. But I would put it as a social impact.

Because of jobs. We offer 350 job opportunities directly, and to kids from around the area,” says Johan. “So our statement to the government is: ‘You see? When you get together and come in with a positive vibe, together with an arts component, it creates great economic value.’”

Comment by OVEPI on February 11, 2024 at 3:11pm

George Town Festival started as a festival to celebrate the city’s UNESCO Heritage status in 2010, an event proposed and funded by the Penang state government. It has since evolved, but continues to be a showcase for the city itself – using a range of venues, from cafés to boutique hotels and even old temples. The festival pays performers and production staff, as well as bringing in tourists that give their business to local restaurants and hotels.

“If you look at the dollar signs of the festival, the economic spin-offs of what the festival does, that means when we bring contractors, performers… really it’s a support system that brings money to [the economy],” says Joe Sidek. He estimates that “two thirds of the funding that we get, goes back into the local economy.”

The festival attracts as many as 200,000 people during its annual run. Without a doubt, it has played a key role of developing the city’s reputation as a hub for the arts and top travel destination, with coverage in the New York Times and other international media. During its 2016 edition, the PR value of the festival was estimated to be over RM20 million, versus its budget of approximately RM6 million.16

In 2015, George Town Festival started an offshoot, Butterworth Fringe Festival (BFF), to spread some interest to Butterworth. With George Town now firmly on the map as a travel destination, BFF aims to bring spillover benefits to the inland part of Penang which is often overlooked.

Ipoh is seeing its own regeneration, and is now frequently compared to Penang in the same breath. Like George Town, it boasts good local food, heritage buildings and even street art painted by Ernest Zacharevic, the
same street artist who caused a frenzy in Penang with his murals.

But as Jayzuan of Projek Rabak argues, what’s even better than an annual festival is regular arts events “Once a week, we still have events, and in between weekends, we have forums, workshops. So it’s very healthy and very happening. That’s what we see most clearly, the most visible change in Ipoh.

A few of the people that we know have come to Ipoh just for the art scene. That is one of the impacts that we can observe. They moved to Ipoh because they know Ipoh has forums, has workshops, has collectives like Projek Rabak that push people to make art.” – Mohd. Jayzuan

As local governments look for ways to transform urban spaces – especially those that are experiencing a commercial and social decline – creative hubs have proven to be valuable partners. In 2009, the government’s investment fund Khazanah Nasional started an initiative called Think City, to focus on urban regeneration.

Initially based in George Town, it has since expanded to projects in Butterworth, Kuala Lumpur and Johor. In 2014, Think City launched a grants programme with a total budget of RM30 million to support grassroots-led projects that contribute to a city’s liveability. 17

Creative hubs are a strategic investment for such funding, since partnering with one hub can create connections with a wide range of groups and individuals. Among Think City’s grant recipients is the Zhongshan Building at Kampung Attap, which received RM200,000 of funding in 2016 to restore the building for its new usage as an arts hub.

Comment by OVEPI on February 7, 2024 at 1:57pm


Collaboration is key to our definition of “creative hubs”. The hubs we interviewed demonstrate several kinds of collaboration: between individuals and organisations, between different members, and between members and the public.

If hubs can change the way people see themselves, then they can also change how people interact with each other. In many instances, the collaboration in these creative hubs takes place organically, as a result of the hubs being “convenors” of different kinds of creative people. It can also often be multi-disciplinary.

The Zhongshan Building at Kampung Attap is a privately-owned building that has become an arts hub: different units are rented out to creative tenants. These groups and small businesses span risograph printing, graphic design, music, visual art, fashion and more. The building is run by Liza Ho, her husband and Snow Ng.

In 2013, Liza and Snow started an art gallery and consultancy, OUR ArtProjects. They operated without a space for four years.

Last year, they inherited a building from within the family, and they have now invited other creative groups to take residency. “We’re hoping to create more awareness. Most of these people here have been operating for some time but they are not visible. For example, the people in the [fashion] atelier are a bit more commercial, so they’d be able to bring people to the punk rock scene. The people in the punk rock scene can bring people to the designers,” says Liza.

Liza cites another example: one of the tenants is a DJ collective, Public School. In the future, they plan to design their own T-shirts, and so they can go directly to another tenant – Bogus Merchandise – to produce these.

Indeed, the way Kampung Attap is structured also allows for hubs within hubs: some units are rented to certain groups, who might invite others to co-share the space. One of the units is a community library, Rumah Attap, which is shared by three different tenants who help to keep the library going among themselves but also have distinct projects of their own.

“With more people, things happen faster.

There are more ideas. And people from different fields can offer new perspectives,” says Penny Wong, who runs Cultura, one of the co-tenants of the Rumah Attap library.

Kilang Bateri’s space includes a skate park and a black box for performances, as well as retail and F&B units. Projek Rabak has two separate spaces, Rumah Khizanat and Khizanat, which between them host a library, bookshop, hangout space, exhibitions, live music and film screenings.

Lostgens, as well as being a gallery, residency and community art hub, also hosts a regular Philosophy class. “At Lostgens I feel we should not just do visual arts. It’s hard for art to stand alone. It needs to have support from music, philosophy, film,” explains Yeoh.

Meanwhile, George Town Festival spans the full range of arts, from exhibitions to performance and site-specific installations. Like Art For Grabs, the festival can include all kinds of people who might not be traditional artists and performers.

Comment by OVEPI on February 7, 2024 at 1:55pm

While collaboration takes place within hubs, it’s also worth noting that many Malaysian hubs are strongly supportive of one another. Recognising that the ecosystem of independent arts is fragile, individual members often help to connect various hubs through personal friendships.

Imagined as a map, these creative hubs overlap and ripple out, like concentric circles in water. For example, Tamu Tamu Collective is a Sabahan creative hub which brings together different craft groups. Tamu Tamu formed after one of the core members, Jesse Joy, was invited to take part in Art For Grabs in 2015. Jesse invited other friends to join him, and Tamu Tamu started from there. The collective then went on to collaborate with other Sabahan groups such as Cracko Art Group and Pangrok Sulap.

Meanwhile, Tandang Records is a local music shop that was previously located in the punk rock collective space Rumah Api. When the Rumah Api space was threatened with demolition due to new developments , Tandang Records moved to The Zhongshan Building at Kampung Attap, and will therefore connect the punk rock scene to the new space and its other tenants. Beyond Malaysia, creative hubs have created connections and collaborations between artists across the region and world. Often, international organisations play a key role in fostering these partnerships: British Council, Japan Foundation and Goethe-Institut are particularly active in their support.

In 2015, Lostgens hosted an arts project called TransActions in the Field, in partnership with Goethe-Institut, which brought together artists from around the region and resulted in the publication of a book of their conversations.

Art For Grabs partnered with Singapore’s Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth as part of a cross-causeway arts exchange in 2015. The exchange, titled Titian Budaya, brought Singaporean artists, musicians and artisans to Malaysia and vice versa.

George Town Festival is part of the Southeast Asian Creative Cities Network (SEACCN), which was formed in 2014 and includes Cebu in Philippines, Bandung, Chiang Mai, Hanoi and George Town.

Rimbun Dahan set up a regional meeting for Southeast Asian Arts Residencies with Res Retail unit, Kilang Bateri Syar S Alia and Liyana Dizzy from the zine distributors Biawak Gemok at Art For Grabs in March 2017. Syar is also Arts Manager at Rimbun Dahan.

Artis in 2016, which was also supported by Goethe-Institut. Rimbun Dahan also works with Asialink in Australia and the Asia New Zealand Foundation for artist exchanges.

“I do think the artists that come in, always leave with connections they didn’t have before,” says Syar S. Alia, arts manager of Rimbun Dahan. “That extends beyond Malaysia. So because of the variety of nationalities that we usually have at any one time, local artists come here then make a friend or colleague that will then go back to say, Germany, or Austria, or the Philippines, or Australia. And that then leads them to further opportunities.

Comment by OVEPI on February 5, 2024 at 8:37pm

Building A Culture

At The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat, the current motto is “Nurture, Educate and Entertain.” Seni Teater Rakyat is an arm of The Actors Studio,

a theatre company based at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac). As a registered society, Seni Teater Rakyat’s mission is to “break the barrier between the arts and the people.” The society supports traditional art forms such as Mak Yong and Cantonese Opera. It also sets out to nurture and support emerging artists.

“When we talk about ‘nurture’, if you notice, a lot of our productions do not use the star list; it’s a lot of newcomers, newbies whom you do not know. And that is a conscious decision that we have made,” says Ian Chow, group general manager.

Ian cites another example: “We actually provided Yuna with the venue for her first album launch,” he says, referring to the Malaysian musician who has since found success on a major music label in the USA. “Back then she was not as big as now, so you see for us, we never know where the people that we support may reach. For example, a case like Yuna. I’m not saying we made her famous, no, but at least she got the platform from us.”

In previous incarnations, The Actors Studio also provided early career opportunities for Harith Iskander – now Malaysia’s best known stand-up comedian – and Huzir Sulaiman, a feted playwright based in Singapore. Yet Dato’ Faridah Merican, co-founder of The Actors Studio, feels that such contributions have often been overlooked. 

“Many a time I have attended government sessions or meetings on culture, etcetera, etcetera… klpac is never ever mentioned in the same breath as Istana Budaya and other places that the government owns – which I find very wrong because this is very important for the arts of Kuala Lumpur,” she says. 

The contribution of creative hubs to education can be hard to quantify. After all, the kind of knowledge, confidence and experience gained by members through hubs is cumulative. It’s a stepping stone in a much longer career. But it is that stepping stone that can make all the difference. 

Jack Malik, a member of Projek Rabak, credits the collective and particularly Jayzuan with his development as a poet. In 2016, Jack was one of the Malaysian poets who participated in and won the Causeway Exchange Poetry Slam in Singapore.

“I’ve met so many wonderful people, I’ve gone places. If it weren’t for Projek Rabak, I think I wouldn’t expand that much as a poet, as an artist,” says Jack. The art collective Lostgens looks for emerging

contemporary artists, and then offers them the span of a year to develop an exhibition. During this time, Yeoh and other members will meet with the artist for discussions and development. “We give the space, advice, direction, curation,” says Yeoh.

愛墾網 是文化創意人的窩;自2009年7月以來,一直在挺文化創意人和他們的創作、珍藏。As home to the cultural creative community, iconada.tv supports creators since July, 2009.


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