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Members of the Arts Community demand for a dedicated Ministry for Culture, Arts and Heritage

Over 3,400 members of the Malaysian arts and culture community – including public and private arts institutions, formal and independent associations, and individual practitioners, educators, activists, and art lovers have signed a statement urging the newly elected Malaysian government to reinstate a dedicated Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage in the new cabinet.

Fulfilling Pakatan Harapan’s Promise

The statement grew out of a meeting called by the Malaysian Design Archive (MDA) last week, that was attended by a small but diverse group of arts and culture practitioners.

Members of the this ground-up initiative include chi too (artist/art worker), Dennis Ong (MDA/Imagined Malaysia), Ezrena Marwan (Malaysia Design Archive/MDA), Jac sm Kee (MDA), Kathy Rowland (ArtsEquator.com), Liew Kwai Fei (visual artist),  Mark Teh (Five Arts Centre), Mei Chia (MDA), Minstrel Kuik (visual artist), Nadira Ilana (filmmaker), Rahel Joseph (ILHAM Gallery), Shaq Koyok (visual artist), Show Yin Xing (Rumah Attap Library & Collective), Simon Soon (University Malaya/MDA), Sunitha Janamohanan (arts educator/manager), Tan Chui Mui (filmmaker) and Tan Hui Koon (Balai Seni Visual Negara)

The statement was launched at 12 pm, Saturday 19 May 2018 in Dusun, English, Iban, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. Particular attention was put into acknowledging the disparity of access to federal recognition and resources suffered by the arts and culture community in in Sabah and Sarawak  as this was an issue acutely felt and discussed in the process.

Within 36 hours, over 3,400 people had endorsed it, evidence of the strong support and need for a dedicated Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage.

The statement cites Pakatan Harapan’s Manifesto promise to restore freedom of expression, thought and opinion in Malaysia.

The community has spoken and we hope that the call for a dedicated Ministry will materialise

Recalling that under the previous administration, Heritage was dropped from all ministerial portfolios in 2009, while Arts was removed in 2011, the signatories are calling for a dedicated Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, to ensure that arts, culture and heritage can fully play its unique and critical role in supporting this nation’s journey towards transformation.

The research for the statement is done by a group of practitioners namely Kathy Rowland, Jac sm Kee, Simon Soon, Nadira Ilana, Show Ying Xin, Minstrel Kuik, Sunitha Janamohanan, Mark Teh, Ezrena Marwan, chi too, Tan Hui Koon and Mei Chia.

The group behind the initiative explained:

“When the 13 new ministries were announced on Friday 19 May, we knew time was running out for the arts and culture community to have their voices heard. We co-wrote the statement in a matter of hours and uploaded it. Almost immediately, the statement took a life of its own.

The community has spoken and we hope that the call for a dedicated Ministry will materialise, allowing stakeholders across the different sectors to engage directly with the Ministry and develop arts and culture in Malaysia in the spirit of openness and common good.

We will be publishing the statement as an open letter to the PH government, as well as send it to the Prime Minister’s office within this week.”

Key signatories include an elected Member of Parliament, visual artists, theatre and film writers and directors, film and stage actors, singers, musicians, craftspeople, producers, traditional performing artists, company managers, marketing personnel and technical crew for arts venues and companies, architects, designers, multimedia artists and broadcasters, university lecturers and researchers, festival organisers, artist managers, authors, playwrights, poets, journalists, editors and many more.

They range from emerging practitioners to high profile and award-winning artists, and represent a range of voices throughout the Peninsular and Sabah and Sarawak.

Full statement from Members of the Malaysian Arts and Culture Community

We, the undersigned members of the Malaysian arts and culture community, urge the newly elected Pakatan Harapan Government to restore the standing of arts, culture and heritage in Malaysia by guaranteeing a ministerial portfolio dedicated to these sectors in the new Cabinet.

In an inclusive Malaysia, we believe that creative expressions, cultural traditions and our tangible and intangible heritage can play a vital role in fostering a sense of shared identity and social cohesion. Critical thinking, openness to diversity and participatory engagement are amongst the many documented benefits of arts and culture. These traits are sorely needed to help the country recuperate from the political and social upheaval of the past two decades.

In the Pakatan Harapan Manifesto, ‘the creative arts and industry’ is identified as an engine of growth, particularly for the youth. Indeed, arts, culture and heritage have the potential to contribute to the economic growth of the nation, given sufficient planning and support. The Pakatan Harapan Manifesto also identifies arts activities as supporting work-life balance.

Importantly, Pakatan Harapan has placed great significance in restoring our ability to exercise freedom of expression, thought and opinion in Malaysia as part of its mandate, recognising this to be an important factor in a healthy and functioning democratic nation.

Malaysian arts, and culture makers, workers and educators from both Peninsular and Borneo states have been the critical voice of honesty, hope and change from the early days of the anti-colonial movement, through to every major social, economic and political shift in our history.

Malaysia needs its arts and culture communities now, more than ever. The abuses of power, neglect and cynical use of the instruments of state to foster distrust amongst the people needs to be redressed. Cultural diversity flourishing within a framework of democracy and mutual respect between peoples and cultures – that also values indigenous knowledge and practices – is essential for peace, well-being and development at the local, national and international levels.

Having a dedicated Ministry will help ensure that arts, culture and heritage can fully play its unique and critical role in supporting this nation’s journey towards transformation. Under the previous administration, Heritage was dropped from all ministerial portfolios in 2009, while Arts was removed in 2011.

 We urge the newly installed government to reinstate a dedicated Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, and we look forward to engaging with the appointed minister in the spirit of openness and common good.

——Please endorse if you agree with the statement and consider yourself part of the arts and culture community, whether as designer, architect, artist, performance artist, actor, musician, writer, curator, archivist, conservationist etc. Note: This is not a public petition, and looking for endorsement by community for now – although we hugely thank you for the the support!

This statement was initiated at a Borak2 Buka Puasa get-together hosted by Malaysia Design Archive
on 18 May 2018.

For list of signatories, click here


Artist for featured image: Lee Weng Fatt

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