Museums with no visitors. Live music with no audience. The pandemic threw cultural arts into a grim new reality. Yet it also fuelled innovation and created new platforms for performance.

Salehhuddin Md Salleh, Deputy Director General of Policy and Planning at the National Department for Culture and Arts, Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Malaysia (JKKN) tells GovInsider how AI is protecting the past. He also shares how it is promoting future progress and empowering citizens to collectively contribute to humanity.

Pandemics and new platforms

Amid travel and tourism shutdowns, JKKN is planning to launch its National Culture Policy (DAKEN) this August. While details are still to be revealed, it will focus on promoting Malaysia’s multiculturalism.

The programme is geared towards “realising a high-cultured society towards the development of the nation”, said Salehhuddin. It aims to spur the nation’s socio-economic development through innovation.

The department has also updated its website and has produced its own TV broadcast using the digital communication technology facilities. TV will be the main platform to disseminate information and provide updates of activities organised by the department.

Big data and future policy planning

Cultural mapping and big data are also helping to put Malaysia’s arts on the global map. One of JKKN’s main aspirations is to build a Big Data bank, consolidating all information relating to culture and the arts.

The national cultural map, Salehhuddin explains, will play a critical role in supporting the country’s digitalisation journey and ambitions for a “world-class” digital infrastructure.

He also foresees that, with the integration of the intelligent predictive analytics capacities of Big Data, “we will be more effectively guided in decision making”.

This includes evaluating the ROI and measurable impact of each project. The team will take in audience feedback to “design our long-term plans for the development of culture and arts of the nation’s way forward”, he said.

Growing Malaysia’s digital economy

Nurturing talent will in turn power economic growth. This will be part of Malaysia’s National Policy on Industry 4.0, the Digital Economy Council and the National Digital Infrastructure Plan (JENDELA), Salehhuddin highlights.

These projects, such as the National Technology and Innovation Sandbox, aim to produce digitally skilled local talent by providing opportunities for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship capabilities.

New technologies can also help protect and preserve traditional practices. Virtual and augmented reality video tutorials can pass on traditional practices, while a 360-degree viewing can help learners study craftsmanship up close and from all angles.

Salehhuddin firmly believes that digital innovations will help make a “realistic, immersive and interactive” cultural landscape a (virtual) reality.

Using the past to empower the future

To protect Malaysia’s intangible culture, JKKN are looking to future generations to protect their past. Its 2019 apprenticeship programme resulted in the formation of 83 new artists groups and 63 art forms.

Now, the agency is working with the Ministry of Education on an Arts Guidance Programme. This aims to educate both primary and secondary school students on the significance of arts and creativity as future careers, and grow greater appreciation of national heritage.

Even in the face of Covid-19 and cost-cutting, Salehhuddin is adamant that cultural learning should continue. JKKN has plans to develop video content as part of an e-learning syllabus that will boost arts awareness and education in schools.

He also recognises that learning – and cultural appreciation – are a lifelong journey.

“New talent and upskill[ing] or reskill[ing] current talent are needed to nurture and develop a strong talent base for Industry 4.0,” he affirms. “This talent is also essential to prevent technology-induced job losses.”

Culture, Creativity, Commerciality, and Change

For Salehhuddin, culture is all about forging creative connections. And like dance, music, or theatre, AI has become an important medium to forge these bonds and “reach out to more people irrespective of their geographical locations and culture backgrounds in creative ways”.

It can also help governments address a wide range of issues. These include preserving cultural heritage, understanding the disruptions associated with emerging technologies, bringing arts education to the young, and developing public policies that promote creativity and social development.

Supporting artists and making their skills commercially viable is a huge post-pandemic priority for Malaysia.

“AI [will] provide the connectivity between creative minds of the world and identifying ways that culture can raise awareness, build bridges and promote positive change,” says Salehhuddin, confidently.

Hyperconnectivity has made all the world a stage. And it is putting Malaysia in the spotlight.