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Budget 2017 – Yes, the arts are in there

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Buried in a 11,290-word speech* are a few dozen that should make the arts and culture community sit up and take notice. Don’t be surprised if you missed them – they were largely ignored by the general media and barely made it into most publications’ Budget 2017 highlights.

Be that as it may, not one, but two of the 300-plus points made last Friday by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak could directly impact your work and passion. Lots still needs to be cleared up, and time will tell how these small steps translate into giant leaps. Here is what has been pledged for the coming year.

1. Greater rewards to those who sponsor the arts

Point 197 acknowledges the economic importance of tourist dollars and therefore commits to improving and promoting four aspects vital to this sector. The third promises that an Increase in tax deduction from RM500,000 to RM700,000 will be given to encourage sponsorship by the private sector in local and foreign arts, culture and heritage shows and performances.

Why this is cause for celebration

An increase would be great news indeed.  It would mean more money flowing in from corporate sponsors – vital to the survival of the performing arts.

Why we’re keeping that champagne on ice

Although the word ‘increase’ is used, the numbers are in fact the same as what is currently in place. Companies can already claim tax deductions for up to RM700,000 (RM500,000 for promoting local and RM200,000 for promoting foreign arts). Watch this space while we keep digging.

2.  An actual, honest-to-goodness, funded committee specifically to advance arts and culture

Point 216 asserts that:  The Government will also establish a committee represented by artists to further invigorate (the) arts and cultural sector. All these initiatives involve an allocation of RM80 million.” Before you get too excited about the amount, this allocation is also intended to fulfill another commitment made in point 215: Meanwhile to rejuvenate (the) creative industry and film production, Film in Malaysia Incentive, Arts and Culture Revitalization Agenda as well as FINAS Content Creation Hub in Santubong, Sarawak and Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, will be implemented. So thinner slices of the pie all around.

Why this is cause for celebration

Unlike in most countries, the arts in Malaysia aren’t governed by a single ministry. Instead, “Various ministries handle different aspects,” says Izan Satrina, founder of My Performing Arts Agency. With no single unit representing the arts and cultural agenda it becomes difficult for practitioners to learn about benefits and assistance available to them.

Izan says that MyPAA has being lobbying various ministries for years on various strategic initiatives. “Most importantly for representation in the wider social, creative, cultural and economic landscape in order for us work with the many players and develop the local arts ecosystem.” This year, for the first time, MyPAA successfully lobbied the Prime Minister’s Office. Five meetings followed, and then the announcement in this year’s budget speech.

Izan adds: “The committee is part of a integrated out-of-the-box approach marrying best practices and international benchmarks to what realistically can be implemented inmarket. It is also hoped that an international advisory panel be included in this new approach.” The committee, she hopes, will be “inclusive, efficient, relevant and enabling to empower the communities.”

In that spirit, she asks ARTERI readers for their feedback: “What are your thoughts on this initiative? Who should be included in the arts and culture advisory committee – who would be best to represent and strategically value add to building up the ecosystem via this committee?” Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Why we’re keeping that champagne on ice

While there is much this actual, honest-to-goodness, funded effort can do to support, unify and advance the arts ecosystem, it is still in the planning stages. What the unit will look like, what powers it will have and what it will fund remains to be seen. Once again, glue your peepers to this space.

*The full speech in both English and BM can be found here.

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Amy De Kanter
Amy De Kanter

Former Chief Editor, frequent contributor and enthusiastic audience member, Amy is thrilled to have a job that lets her do three of the things she loves most.