Getting artistes, buskers to bring some cheer during pandemic
Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Opinion - New Straits Times
July 13, 2021
There is no denying that the current state of affairs is difficult for many. Everyone is being challenged, what more frontliners of every category.
Of late, the Arts and Public Spaces of Yayasan Hasanah took a bold initiative called the Cultural Frontliners (CFLs).
This programme is intended to support the efforts carried out by the Cultural Economy Development Agency, which is under the Communications and Multimedia Ministry.
It aims to help those impacted by Covid-19 in the arts and culture sector, as public gatherings, performances and exhibitions have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely.
A survey involving 519 arts practitioners reported that on average, 93 per cent were negatively impacted, while only seven per cent were spared.
Many of those involved in the former regarded arts and culture as a source of income, where reportedly 46 per cent were affected due to postponements and 30 per cent due to cancellations. The remaining were involved on virtual platforms.
The activities ranged from art education to exhibitions and performances, from gigs and weddings to art residencies, conferences, seminars and workshops.
Overall, 70 per cent reported a loss in all or most of their income, and only four per cent reported no loss of income, whereas 26 per cent were unclear, especially those with partial payments who were still hopeful that their events would pan out one way or another.
In terms of savings, 36 per cent said they had active Employees Provident Fund accounts, while 63 per cent did not.
This also indicated the percentage of unregistered arts practitioners who were dependent on government aid.
Their list of concerns were far and wide: 83 per cent were concerned about generating income, 76 per cent were worried about future work, 74 per cent were not receiving payments on services rendered, while bills (72 per cent), daily expenses (66 per cent) and the ability to create new works (65 per cent) also weighed heavy on the minds of many.
The proposed Cultural Frontliners initiative will allow unemployed musicians to perform and be tipped at various vaccination centres nationwide.
For instance, they will be given two slots per day (i.e 10am to 1pm; 2pm to 5pm) to perform between six to seven hours, with a reasonable and fair rate.
Their presence can be a source of attraction and entertainment for the public who are there to be vaccinated.
If successful, the programme could be continued by the relevant ministries and organisations (like the Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force) that are interested in further supporting the CFLs and their livelihoods.
It could even be scaled up if necessary by employing more musicians and artistes to expand the programme.
The inaugural performance took place at the Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre (MITEC) on June 24, and it was very well received.
Members of the public were seen to be enjoying and appreciating it, particularly, the sitar performance which attracted many curious on-lookers.
For this, it even had a special request from the powers that be to do an encore performance — a deserving compliment to efforts in supporting the CFLs, as well as promoting cultural appreciation at the same time.
In fact, on the third day of the performance at MITEC, the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry (MoTAC) announced that they would expand the programme to include more buskers and would be working with buskers' associations and freelance musicians towards this end.
Kudos to MoTAC. Hopefully others will follow suit to spread the cheer around. There are not enough efforts like this, unlike other countries, where musicians and performers come together to display their talents in public especially during the pandemic, sometimes performing just from their balconies and verandahs.
At one of the events, the prime minister dropped by without prior notification, giving a "booster shot" to those who were performing on the day.
More importantly, he gave his endorsement for such a novel initiative which was in line with the promotion of the creative industry in Malaysia.
It is hoped that the CFLs initiative will not only fulfil the noble objective to reach out to those who are in need of assistance in whatever shape or form, but also bring about more cheer, joy and happiness as we go through a very challenging and depressive period of the pandemic.
The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector