AS DEFINED IN the National Creative Industry Policy (DIKN) 2009, the creative industry in Malaysia consists of three main categories which cover a total of 45 sub-industries. The three categories are Multimedia Creative, Culture Art Creative and Culture Heritage Creative (See Table 1 for a non-exhaustive list of sub-industries within the categories).
In 2019 the creative industry in Malaysia contributed RM29.4mil in gross domestic product (GDP) (Figure 1). Between 2015 and 2018, it suffered steep declines in its growth rate, falling from 11.8% to 4.8%, but the growth rate of output rebounded to 8.3% in 2019. The industry’s share of GDP remained constant at 1.9% throughout 2015 and 2019.
In 2015 there were a total of 19,602 establishments in the creative industry, with 216,811 persons engaged in it (Figure 2). The industry generated a total output of RM47.6bil and created a value of RM19.4bil. Of the three main categories, Culture Art Creative constituted the largest percentage of establishments and employment; about two-thirds of the establishments and 57% of employment were from this category.
But it was Multimedia Creative that had the highest productivity (Figure 3). On average, each worker in this category generated a value of RM135,265 in 2015. This was at least 2.5 times higher than the other categories in the creative industry, and 1.2 times more than the average for all economic sectors that year (RM112,583).
In contrast, Culture Heritage Creative had the fewest number of establishments and persons engaged, and a correspondingly small output. It also had the lowest value-added per employment of RM51,351.
It serves to bear in mind that the arts cannot be valued by its monetary output alone. Nonetheless, the challenges it faces does play a role in suppressing revenues and productivity. An inadequate arts education, for example, prevents the cultivation of a vibrant arts scene, directly impacting the willingness of audiences to pay for creativity.
National Support for the Creative Industries during the Pandemic
Last year, the Malaysian government announced a Short-Term Economic Recovery Plan (PENJANA) for the creative industries, worth RM150mil (Figure 4). The emergency funding was meant to sustain the livelihoods of creative workers and enable the continuation of creative activities during the pandemic. Additional value from partnerships brought this to a figure in excess of RM230mil. The fund was stewarded by MyCreative Ventures, a government investment arm for the creative arts industry, under the supervision of the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia.
A sum of RM100mil was allocated for loans (matching investment loans and soft loans), which was 67% of the total funding. The remaining RM50mil was disbursed in the form of grants.
This year, support for the creative arts industry came under the Malaysian Creative Industry Stimulus Package (PRISMA). Funding this time around is RM89.2mil (Figure 5), to be spread out across one whole year. It is considerably smaller in comparison to PENJANA’s funding of RM150mil for half of 2020. However, a much larger proportion of it is being distributed in the form of grants (76% or RM67.7mil). Loans take up 10% of the fund (RM9mil), and the rest are airtime slots worth RM12.5mil.
Challenges in the Arts Sector in Penang
The arts sector in Penang has always faced considerable challenges, even prior to the pandemic (Table 2). Society at large continues to define an object’s worth by its tangible benefits, and the fact that art lacks this challenges the notion of its utility. We struggle to see how something can have value if it does not have a price. President of the Malaysian Writers Society Anna Tan suggests that art is very much still perceived as a luxury good, because the lack of an arts education means that there is no proper judgment of the value of art.
It is a downward spiral that artists constantly fight to undo. The lack of education leads to poorer quality of art, and this in turn leads to smaller audience turnouts, poorer returns on investments, and difficulty in attaining future funding. Taken together, this reinforces the substandardising of art education. Without funding, artists are also starved of opportunities to showcase their works and increase their visibility. Penang Art District’s project executive Stephanie Kee points out that in Penang there is no main platform for audiences to discover art events through. As a result, audience size is limited to the artist’s own network and social media presence.
There also exists deep fragmentation between languages and disciplines in the arts sector. “Theatre practitioners generally promote their shows only in their respective languages – English, Malay or Chinese, thus only reaching out to their own circle of audience,” says Kee. “Whereas collaborations between traditional and modern visual arts with contemporary arts groups are few and far between.” This hinders collective and cross-promotion of arts in Penang.
The past year has taken a heavy toll on artists and the creative sector. A survey in April 2020 showed that 70% of artists had lost most, if not all, of their income.1 Physical events were completely out of the question, and this also led to client cancellations. Not only did revenues suffer, without metrics like foot traffic or number of tickets sold, it became difficult to show funders the demand and impact of an event. This would likely jeopardise funding for future events, while cash flow continues to be a serious concern.
Tan acknowledges that a digital platform is helpful, but not ideal. After all, people attend performances for the atmosphere as well as the performance itself. Underpinning this, digital events are not sufficient as a source of income for artists when audiences are still not used to paying for online events when there are a plethora of free online performances out there.
At the moment, the government is developing the creative arts sector through MyCreative Ventures, the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia and the Cultural Economy Development Agency (CENDANA), which has a host of programmes and funding options available for artists and creative workers.
In Penang a RM200,000 initiative was formed by the state government to showcase arts digitally. The project “Show Penang” has provided some relief to artists, encouraging them to continue creating, a process Kee believes is crucial to keep alive as a way to support mental health, to entertain and to promote local pride.