What do the Louvre, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and the Great Wall of China have in common? They’ve all released VR tours for visitors to peruse its masterpieces from the comfort of their homes.

Malaysia plans to use the same tech to breathe life into its cultural preservation efforts. It will use VR and AR to make video tutorials of traditional practices more realistic and immersive.

GovInsider spoke with Salehhuddin Md Salleh, Deputy Director General of Policy and Planning, National Department for Culture and Arts at the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture to learn Malaysia’s vision for a tech-boosted arts and cultural scene.

VR for cultural preservation

The Department will use VR and AR to strengthen its cultural preservation efforts. Tech will allow these lessons to come alive, so traditional art forms aren’t passed down only as head knowledge, Salehhuddin says.

It will create e-learning videos documenting traditional practices, such as instrument making. 360 degree viewing can help learners study the instrument’s craftsmanship up close and from all angles.

Malaysia has also created an online inventory of the country’s cultural and heritage commodities, including food, traditional games and dance forms. These are classified according to Malaysia’s 14 states, he explains.

The website serves as a database to advance cultural research and education, and support the tourism and arts sectors. Visitors can find what’s unique to each state’s culture, and even where to find its best delicacies.

Art entrepreneurs

Artists have been amongst the hardest hit in the pandemic. Malaysia plans to help them earn from their craft using e-commerce.

“In the government, usually art is for art’s sake. But we changed our vision to [focus on] the economy,” says Salehhuddin. “We want arts to have economic returns.”

The Department has launched a website, Facebook group and mobile app for artists to sell their craft. Buyers can order dance costumes or instruments online just as they would for clothes or meals.

“You don’t need big capital to put up a company like this. It can be in your kitchen,” he says.

Business is climbing. The Facebook group E-Kraf Bazar recorded RM1.9 million (US$0.46 million) in sales in Terengganu from April to October last year, according to The Star. The group has 15,400 members to date and sells a wide range of items, including textiles and metal products.

The data generated from the different platforms will be useful for policy planning, Salehhuddin notes. The government can better understand the size and demand of the arts and culture industry, and allocate funds accordingly.

Officials can also study the number, age and education levels of the nation’s art entrepreneurs. This will help universities forecast incoming student numbers.

Microcredentials for arts education

Malaysia will help artists develop their careers with training programmes and microcredentials. The Department worked with the human resources ministry to design a career pathway blueprint for jobs in the arts industry, including actors, musicians, stage managers and art commentators.

This blueprint will guide the human resources ministry’s training efforts. It was created after consulting with companies in the industry to understand the jobs that were in demand.

Malaysia will also offer different levels of certificates to recognise professional artists’ skills. “This is a quick way, rather than taking a diploma for three years,” shares Salehhuddin.

Beyond equipping those who have already chosen a career in the arts, the Department plans to develop e-learning content to boost arts education in schools.

Traditionally, the government would have to provide all training resources, including instructors, venues and any instruments or costumes required. This meant arts education wasn’t consistent across the years. Tighter government budgets would translate to less resources for schools, explains Salehhuddin.

With e-learning, the Department can create videos for the syllabus and broadcast it to the schools. This saves resources and makes the lessons accessible nationwide, he notes.

A national Netflix

Malaysia will experiment with another way for artists to generate income: a Netflix-esque subscription service for the performing arts.

Artists can record their performances or hold art forums, and broadcast this content on government-owned or private channels. The government will then pay them for the content they produce.

This can support other businesses that depend on artists for revenue, such as venue owners. Many struggle to break even when they run live shows because they can only operate at half capacity now, Salehhuddin shares.

A subscription-based broadcasting model could help. Venue owners could open up their space for artists to stage their shows, and earn from rent or a part of the subscription fees. Tech companies could also earn income from setting up the broadcasts.

Supporting artists and making their skills commercially viable will be a huge priority for Malaysia. AR, e-commerce and data will help artists be a part of the nation’s drive towards a digital economy.

Image by Choo Yut ShingCC BY-NC-SA 2.0.