I first got involved in the arts as an actor for my high school English drama team back when I was 14 – but the experience was dampened with long hours of practice. I know, I shouldn’t complain and this is how it is for everyone else. but I was 14 and I had better things to do than to be stuck in school until late in the evening. Also, I couldn’t really get my British pronunciation right.

The first time I got involved in arts was also the first time I stayed away from it.

I sometimes reminisce being in school and not being able to enjoy literature. Not because it was something compulsory but because for as long as I could remember, we never really got to enjoy literature in schools as is. We’re always reading to extract something from it: literary devices, characters, and of course, the moral of the story. It wasn’t about the story so much anymore, or about how we feel about the people in the story.

I remember wanting to just write “the story made me very angry” because I was overwhelmed but sheer anger by this boy in the story who carved his initial onto a pencil to deceive his teacher into thinking that it’s his pencil which in reality, he stole.

I am still angry.

I didn’t have time or the medium to express all that, though. It went on and on, until eventually I found the home for my expression: writing.

What started out as blogging sprees quickly became something more serious. The arts started to become interesting and exciting. I made friends online, exchanged stories and ideas with people far far away. That’s when I felt all this may have meaning. Maybe all along, art isn’t always about being artistic?

One day I packed my bags to go study in KL and I was exposed to more and more of these things; I started going to theaters, gigs, and festivals. There, I found people with like minds about enjoying arts, which was a great experience. However, the deeper I go into these things, the more I see the same people.

The problem remains that there is somewhat of a niche with arts, especially when it comes to the people who enjoy it.

I dread trying to answer the question “What is art?” But let’s make it a little bit easier: How close is arts to the public? How do the public access art in Malaysia?

It makes economic sense art or music festivals are held in the more urban areas. I get that. But there are smaller clusters and communities that might not have resources and access. I think an essential part of keeping arts alive is connecting people with people, and people with art.

When I was 18 I started a website called Awefullywritten. The idea was to collect and organize writings from youngsters to be published and create a little community of our own to share ideas, critique, and whatever else we can do to open up spaces for new writers. People would e-mail us their stories and see them up i the site within a couple of days.

I’ll admit that maybe at the time Internet access  and usage didn’t allow that far of a reach for Awefullywritten but we kept at it and collected about 650 stories in those short years. Now it operates under tulis.co. The technology and interface is better but essentially the idea and philosophy remains the same. Tulis now has about 2000 members.

I think that’s what it’s all about for me – my small contribution for the scene is creating the space the way I know best, to connect people with people and hope magic happens. I suppose if art is about people, then working for people is also working for art.

All in all, I believe art should be more accessible – and really it should, with all the technology that makes this world a smaller place. I understand, however, that appreciation cannot just suddenly come with ease of access. There must be a holistic acceptance towards arts in our homes, in our communities. Society must move together in realization of this. Schools, teachers, parents, we all can create safe spaces of your own for the people we influence.

This is piece from Seni on Sunday, a weekly column where we invite guest writers to share their two sens about art. As an art advocate, we believe the public must be empowered to appreciate and express the arts. This is a safe space for sharing, in hopes that it would encourage and initiate arts discourse within contemporary Malaysia. The views and opinions expressed does not necessarily reflect Daily Seni’s stand on the matter.
This week we feature Qayyum Jumadi – writer and media consultant who thinks of creative ways to get people together for education and arts. He is one of the recipients of the 2016 Augustman Man of the Year award for his work with English Jer. When he takes a break from trying to change the world around him, he watches wrestling and Archer. Think out loud with him on twitter @qayzr.

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