An Arts Agenda for Penang


As with excellence in sports, the arts develop best if a nurturing ecosystem is in place. Such conditions require passion from the people, funds from sponsors and support from the state. How these ingredients are best used is the big question.

The Beginnings

There have been many art societies in Penang throughout its history. It was as early as 1920, for example, that Penang Impressionists was formed. No doubt this society’s membership consisted mostly of English housewives (given the prevailing colonialist attitude at that time) but there were two locals who were granted admission: Abdullah Ariff, an art instructor, and the wife of Lim Cheng Kung, a member of the well-known Phuah Hin Leong family.1,2

Since then, art societies have flourished, albeit interrupted by World War II. Major associations included the Penang Chinese Art Club (formed in 1936), the Penang Art Teacher’s Group (formed after the war), the Penang Art Teachers' Council (formed in 1952) and the Penang Art Society (formed in 1953).3

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