Despite the bleakness of the pandemic, the accelerated growth of the digital economy is often touted as among the good that came out of the global lockdown. It would seem as if international collaborations became more enabled via the internet. Yet, the reality is that for many artists and arts organisations, the pivot to virtual was an added struggle due to limited literacy and a lack of access to digital resources. In recognising these challenges, the British Council has kickstarted 3 global programmes to rebuild and strengthen the arts networks in Malaysia.
Arts and Creative Industries Head at the British Council Malaysia, Florence Lambert, says that the pandemic has exacerbated the challenges faced by the arts, creative industries, and cultural sectors globally.
“It has accelerated the sometimes painful shift towards the digital economy. The pandemic may go, but other global challenges, like climate change or conflicts related issues, are going to further push us into this way of working and living. More than ever, networks and connections between artists and creatives within a country, region, and the UK, are vital for their survival,” says Florence.
Inclusion, Resilience, Arts and Technology, and Sustainability are the global themes of focus for activities in 2022.
The three global arts programmes by the British Council Malaysia support many strands of activities, projects and initiatives. They are designed to address three specific goals as follows:
“Networking and collaboration create opportunities. It has a key role in enabling the cross-fertilisation of ideas and practices,” says Florence.
Under the Culture Connects programme, the British Council acts as a broker to create connections between arts professionals. Some of the projects under this programme in 2021 included The Great Escape Festival. Due to pandemic constraints, the live-music festival, a popular platform for the discovery of emerging artists, had to take place online. International delegates from SEA also took part in two roundtable discussions at the festival: Exploring New Markets and The Future of International Collaboration.
Throughout the UK this year, UNBOXED 22 promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime celebration of creativity. The unique event comprises 10 new creative commissions shaped by unusual collaborations across science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the arts.
Other projects under Culture Connects include Momentum, via the Edinburgh Festivals running through July and August 2022, the Unlimited Festival in September 2022 and two residencies, the British Library Sound Archive, and Birmingham 22.
Malaysian producer, curator and multi-disciplinary artist from Ipoh, Mohd Jayzuan was part of the Birmingham 22 festival as a delegate of 11 other artists from Commonwealth countries. He shared that it is important to empower events and activities for artists to get to know and learn from each other, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 global lockdown.
“We live in an uncertain world, with Covid and other weirdness that’s been happening. To give a platform to artists to be free and make artwork without limitations is giving hope. Hope is all that is left in this banal world. We live in fear, anxiety, depression and God knows what other miserable feelings most of us have to face. Birmingham 22 not only helped the artists involved economically and nurtured artistic growth but also, crucially, injected positivity into our lives. More power to such programmes!” Jayzuan told Eksentrika.
The British Council also supports creative collaboration through grant schemes such as International Collaboration Programme (ICP).
Under Culture Connects, arts professionals and delegates from Malaysia and the UK benefiting from this include the Georgetown Literary Festival (GTLF), Glasgow School of Arts, Borneo Bengkel, The Poetry Society and Freedom Film Network (FFN).
“Through delegations, showcases and partnerships with Malaysian festivals such as GTLF and FFN, and creative collaborations grants, we hope to increase opportunities for arts professionals and organisations from the UK and Malaysia to collaborate and exchange knowledge that contributes to more inclusive, resilient and sustainable culture sector in Malaysia,” says Florence.
The British Council believes in the collective power of cultural and creative industries to bring positive economic, social and cultural impacts.” As such it’s important for policymakers, funders and intermediary organisations to better understand and effectively nurture cultural and creative players,” says Florence.
The British Council’s Creative Economy programme will deliver evidence and insights into creative sectors in Malaysia through research and scoping to map out the areas of collaboration between the UK and Malaysian arts sector organisations.
“This data will help to support development, and create pathways, for future market opportunities. It will also be useful to inform policy – in which we share, exchange and enhance the understanding of international policymakers on the social and economic value of the creative sector and how to support it.”
A landmark initiative under this programme is also the UK- SEA Creative Hubs Connect. Launched recently, Mereka Connect is a sophisticated digital networking platform expected to serve as an interactive bridge between the UK and SEA’s creative communities.
“This programme focuses on the transformative power of arts and culture. It supports artistic and cultural expression recognising its potential to challenge and change mindsets for a more inclusive and sustainable future,” says Florence.
Five Films for Freedom, which ran in March 2022, showcased five short films touching on solidarity with LGBTIQ+ communities. For 11-days the films were available to be watched online for free in over 200 countries. Since 2015, more than 17 million people around the world have watched the films under the programme.
As we pick up the pieces after three years of lockdown, it appears there are graver issues to address other than the Covid-19 pandemic.
2022, marks the year that Europe experienced an unprecedented heatwave and in Malaysia, there were unparalleled floods that ravaged whole villages. Not only that, acts of discrimination based on gender and race, also made global headlines.
The role of the arts in society is ever more vital now to provide hope, encourage discourse and create solidarity for the spectrum of humanity.
“We need to break down silos and advocate with a common narrative,” says Florence, emphasising that this is a crucial response to rise up against the escalating global challenges.
Cover Image features delegates who participated in the British Council global arts programmes; (From left) Bangalore based producer and DJ, Rahul Giri, Yee-I-Lann from Kota Kinabalu and Mohd Jayzuan from Ipoh. (Photo credit: BFI Flare & Beatfreeks)