ARTERI Chief Editor Amy de Kanter left the security of the corporate world for performing arts advocacy.
Inducted as head of Yayasan Hasanah and My Performing Arts Agency (MyPAA)‘s latest collaboration shortly before its big launch, Amy’s new job is huge: she must close gaps within the creative ecosystem using available resources.
In her arsenal? An online portal, a massive international network, and a whole lot of chutzpah. But why take such a risk in life, Amy?
“Because it’s the best job in the world?” she laughs. “Before this I had a good job, but it was also a corporate job in one of those sort of Google-ish places: free chocolates in fridge, free sodas, free coffee, foosball, a place you can go play guitar…”
“The benefits were fantabulous, but I was writing about supply chains. And even though I had great colleagues, when someone asks you, how would you like to write about the performing arts full time, you jump.”
“So I jumped, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!”
She currently leads ARTERI, the online strategic platform which serves local artists, particularly those in the performing arts industry.
The site has plenty of important information an industry participant could need to advance their careers — user-generated event listings, guidelines to funding and thought-provoking research pieces are some of its more beneficial tools.
It’s a bit of a dream for Amy; she finally gets to address her long list of issues affecting the local performing arts scene. But of all the problems concerning her beloved community, it was the bare benches which hurt the most.
“I was deeply affected by the empty seats,” Amy remembers.
“[Theatrethreesixty‘s] Angels in America for example was a beautiful, transformational story and a testament to what local actors and directors are capable of creating — I went in at least thrice. But each time there were more empty seats than the last.”
After repeatedly encountering the same dilemma across the city, Amy sought to write stage reviews in order to get the word out and tell people what they’re missing.
Digging out her critic’s hat once again — she had written performance reviews for The Star once — Amy went about knocking on doors to see if there were interest in publishing her pieces.
“I already had a job that paid the bills;l I wanted to give something back by helping publicise.”
Now with ARTERI behind her, she gets to do a lot more than publicise. Since the initiative’s launch last month, Amy and her portal has done considerable work to improve the local performing arts scene.
Giving out daily fixes
Building on MyPAA’s efforts in connecting organisations, industries, and sectors involved in live, creative content, ARTERI officially kicked off with three-days of pop-up classes at Galeri Petronas, covering many essential disciplines including as stage management and festival curation with the help of field experts.
“I hope to have more of such classes,” Amy enthused. “There was fantastic response; it was all sold out to the point sessions were packed to the sides in all of the classes; we even had to bring in more seats!”
“We had a guest from Singapore, Kenneth Kwok of the National Arts Council came in to tell us what his country was doing for their artists, and you can tell everyone was turning green — Malaysia has yet to have film policies on the arts! Marion D’Cruz and Mio Yachita too gave lessons on writing grants, as the process requires a lot of work and you don’t want to waste any effort.”
Succeeding beyond the team’s own expectations, the intimate classes proved a need for ARTERI’s fresh, new solutions.
Currently in the pipeline are more additions to the site’s next incarnation, tentatively due in June. Aside from boasting polls and surveys, Amy’s wishlist for the portal includes online courses and lessons.
Taking into account the creativity that exists outside of Kuala Lumpur, she hopes to make the website even more beneficial for practitioners — be they actors, ballerinas or even puppeteers — hoping to gain knowledge.
“We know that online classes are not the same as physically being there receiving lessons, but we want to make information accessible. You should never not have access to this sort of information!”
“We also want to give people the opportunity to reach someone they can’t normally contact via social media, and one day maybe even provide mentorships with well-versed professionals.”
At the moment however, there’s a limit to the portal’s interactivity as it is based on a customised WordPress template. But don’t let that stop you from sending in suggestions to Amy and the ARTERI team.
Because ARTERI is meant to be guided by people in the community, all ideas and suggestions will be taken seriously.
“Whatever the community needs or doesn’t need, tell me. I’m being paid to do a job, and the job is to help people.”
Crown shyness, or “the trees that don’t touch”
But the information gap is only one side of the coin. The other problem Amy hopes to tackle with ARTERI is slightly more complex.
“I’m deeply concerned by how fragmented the performing arts ecosystem appears to be,” she confesses.
“It’s a bit like the trees that don’t touch, like the ones you find in the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM). I don’t think there’s any other place in the world that does this: these trees grow very, very tall and huge but their leaves just don’t overlap with neighbouring trees.”
The phenomenon Amy’s referring to is called crown shyness, and it’s quite a sight.
Few tree species share the characteristic, but the kapur tree (known in the West as Malay camphor) is fairly popular for creating stunning “jigsaw puzzles” in the sky due to crown shyness.
But while the trees are widely suspected to exhibit the quirk for defensive purposes, it is difficult to understand the motivation behind fans and artists of the performing arts who maintain a level of separation between various genres and disciplines.
“That’s really how I feel the performing arts scene is sometimes, but it might be because we’re very new. These trees in FRIM were planted at the same time, but like them, we too grew within our own little ecosystem,” laments Amy. “We’ve become like islands.”
The sentiment grew during a trip to the opera, in which Amy noticed a rock concert happening right next door. But instead of celebrating one another’s artform, there was dismissal in the air — the opera fans in particular didn’t want any business with their neighbour, choosing to keep a safe distance.
“Both sides were creating beautiful music but some wanted to maintain the gap. But imagine if they’d given it a chance and supported one another,” she remarks wistfully.
Amy has now spent almost two months at the editor’s desk and she’s only just begun identifying a section of the Malaysian performing arts map. Generous with compliments and brimming with patience, Amy is ready, more than ever, to figure out what needs to be done.
“Among other things,” she recalls, “I also believed the performing arts needed nurturing audiences, as well as information on how to get audiences to that level.”
“In fact, when I first heard about ARTERI I had my own long list of things before I even had a peek at theirs. Now, we’re working on both.”
Summarising her goal with ARTERI, Amy will continue helping people in the performing arts to feel less lost about what they need to do. But to help her get there, don’t forget to send in your feedback.
“Don’t just ignore us or leave quietly,” she concludes, “say, hey, wheres your section on ventriloquism!”
ARTERI is a one-stop resource centre connecting you to the information, support and opportunities you need to do your part in advancing the Malaysian performing arts scene. Keep up to date with ARTERI via Facebook!