Making full use of a creative economy


Penang’s explosion in the arts scene couldn’t have come at a better time.

The importance of a creative economy is undeniable – it generates income, jobs and export earnings based on the practical ingenuity of individuals and groups. According to Unesco’s 2013 Creative Economy report, a total of US$624bil in world trade was generated by creative goods and services in 2011, which has more than doubled since 2002. Likewise, the export of creative goods and services saw a strong growth in developing countries, registering an average growth of 12.1% annually over the same period1.

Malaysia’s Creative Multimedia Cluster has significantly contributed towards economic growth in recent years. With the support of the Malaysian Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), it produced RM7.1bil of revenue by 436 companies in 2014. While this cluster makes up only four per cent of MSC’s export sales, its increase was 18% in 2014. The news media sub-sector performed particularly well with a growth rate of 44.6%, bringing an average revenue growth of 28% in each company in 2014 compared to in 2013. Creative multimedia content (CMC) accounted for the largest revenue at 90%; it comprises TV, film and visual effects, and an example of the creative multimedia cluster’s success is Astro Shaw’s movie, The Journey – the highest grossing film in 20142.

Penang’s foray in the creative industry
Seeing potential in shared services and outsourcing (SSO), Penang has horizontally expanded its economic activities to include CMC, attracting over 10 CMC companies that produce mobile games, digital art design and animation, including Akeetoons, Game Pro and LandArt. Penang also attracted other local studios that have been producing for international clients such as Nelvana, EA, Microsoft and Bandai Namco to set up operations in Penang3.

Although high impact creative content development programmes have been laid out as a priority growth sector in Iskandar Malaysia in Johor and the Sabah Development Corridor4, the Penang state government uses its limited resources to develop the creative industry – a fairly young but promising economic activity in Penang.

Following the launching of Malaysia’s first Business Process Outsourcing- Information Technology Outsourcing (BPO-ITO) hub, a total of 100,000sqft of building space within the Unesco World Heritage Site is being set up to develop the Creative Animation Triggers (CAT), as announced last year. CAT seeks to enhance local capacity and capability to produce world-class content by inviting local and international studios to set up in George Town’s heritage buildings, including Wisma Yeap Chor Ee on Gat Lebuh China, and the Lebuh Victoria and Jalan Magazine areas. The creative animation services comprise post-production, animation, game development, e-learning and interactive content-based services5.

A total of nine higher learning institutions (IHLs) in Penang offer creative multimedia courses; an IHL and Penang Skills Development Centre (PSDC) also plan to provide training on Adobe Photoshop skills, industry standards and game production in the future6. Coupled with the expansion of 3D animation, Penang is confident that local game developers, particularly in computer animation and game engineering, can bring the growth of the creative industry to the next level7. This initiative is also in line with the knowledge-based clusters in the 11th Malaysia Plan, where physical hubs within the city agglomerate industryspecific firms and talent, particularly for the creative content, ICT and professional services industries. To kick off Penang’s creative multimedia industry, the approximately 36,400sqft Wisma Yeap Chor Ee, a majestic colonial heritage building, has been leased for a 30-year period from property owner Wawasan Open University to spearhead CAT. The building will be used as office space to house creative and technology companies by offering accelerator, incubation and co-working space. Set to be completed in the third quarter of the year, it intends to promote the interactive connection between science and CMC industries among students and new start-ups8.

Current plans aside, who can Penang emulate when it comes to setting the right pace and policies?

Nightmarket at the Police Married Quarters, Hong Kong. The former quarters now houses a not-for-profit social enterprise supporting Hong Kong brands and innovation.

Asian examples
Hong Kong: Asia’s leading creative city
Hong Kong’s creative industries focus on key areas such as film, television, music, design, architecture, comics, animation, games and digital entertainment. According to the Hong Kong 2014 Economic Background and 2015 Prospects, cultural and creative industries contributed HK$106.1bil to its GDP in 2013 with a growth rate of 8.4%, representing about 5.1% of its total9. It had a total of 37,000 cultural and creative industry-related establishments, with over 200,000 practitioners involved10.

To increase the innovation capacity of the economy, a number of centres for financial assistance has been developed to support creative industries. “Create Hong Kong” was established to promote the development of creative industries and oversees the infrastructure for promoting design, i.e. the Hong Kong Design Centre (HKDC), providing funding support for the Design Incubation Programme. It acts as a one-stop centre for location filming for both local and overseas films, and is also responsible for the regulatory control of special effects materials for film shooting and theatrical performances.

The Creative Smart Initiatives provides financial support to projects with strategic direction to drive creative industries. As of May 2013, a total of about HK$600mil was made available to encourage small and medium-sized entrepreneurs to carry out designrelated projects. In addition, some HK$300mil was injected into the Film Development Fund in July 2007 to offer financial support for the longterm and healthy progress of the local film industry. The objectives are to encourage more commercial investment in film productions, as well as create a larger mass of film activity and more employment opportunities.

Design-wise, the Design Incubation Programme administered by HKDC began to offer financial funding in 2006 and aims to nurture design start-ups at the InnoCentre. It helps new start-ups to enhance their competitiveness through the provision of office space, training programmes, consultancy services, mentorship and financial support over a two-year incubation period.

Facade of the ArtScience Museum, Singapore. The country's creative sector contributed 4.4% of its total GDP and 4.6% of its total employment.

Singapore: creating an Asia creative hub
As Singapore seeks to move towards a knowledge-based and culturally vibrant economy, a Creative Industries Working Group (CIWG) was formed under the Economic Review Committee in December 2001 to look into how arts, business and technology can boost Singapore’s competitive advantage in the creative economy. The Creative Industries Development strategy prepared by CIWG in 2002 underlined that Singapore should harness its greatest resource: the creative capacity of its people.

A number of strategies have been undertaken to foster this. First, Singapore capitalises on its people by providing education and training to improve creative skills as well as by importing talent and expertise; for example, Singapore attracts top foreign arts schools such as New York’s Tisch School of the Arts and Milan’s Domus Academy. Second, Singapore also develops creative spaces to ensure arts and culture activities are everywhere, as can be seen from the upgrade of old cultural facilities and colonial buildings to provide sufficient spaces for creative clusters. Third, creative products are also made available in terms of policies to promote and manage the cultural and creative industries11.

According to CIWG’s Creative Industrial Development Studies, three major interlocking industry-specific plans have been implemented to propel the growth of creative industries. Renaissance City 2.0 aims to turn Singapore into a highly innovative and multi-talented global city for arts and culture, with features which include a new museum of modern and contemporary art and the promotion of arts and cultural entrepreneurship. Design Singapore aims to turn Singapore into a global cultural and business hub for the design of products, content and services, and showcases the works of Singaporean designers on international platforms. Media 21, on the other hand, aims to turn Singapore into a global media city with a thriving media ecosystem and strong international extensions12.

Its effects have been remarkable: based on the latest statistics, Singapore’s creative sector contributed 4.4% of its total GDP and 4.6% of its total employment13.

Penang can learn from Singapore by building up creative multimedia activities here to attract talents from top-notch arts institutions. The availability of creative spaces and people is imperative; thus, the Penang state government believes that an important prerequisite for creative souls to prosper is an environment where ideas can flow freely.

Hong Kong’s vibrancy should be taken note of; Penang should create an ecosystem where practitioners can easily leverage on business opportunities in the creative industries. A one-stop creative centre for the CMC industry is necessary for the convenience of interested parties to look for comprehensive information regarding creative multimedia activities.

A creative cluster adds to the attractiveness of Penang; it raises quality of life and brings cultural and creative economic values by creating jobs and income. It will not only stimulate the economy; it will also raise the international profile of Penang.

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