The homegrown arts festival scene, arguably, divides opinion. Undoubtedly, there are a few highlights slated for the year. Some arts festivals, obviously, are better organised, programmed and promoted than most. But we will leave that for another topic of conversation.

There are many pressing questions: What can a good arts and cultural festival do? Should it inspire, educate and embrace all? Should it just be about attracting the tourist hordes and sidelining local communities? Also, why does Kuala Lumpur lack a world class arts festival while you can find one in Penang?

A successfully-run arts festival, in a Malaysian context, is still a debatable subject. Also let’s not forget a solid curatorial team that also ensures a festival’s diverse programming, public appeal and connection.

The show must go on. Whether you want dance, music, theatre, or are searching for the experimental, here are eight festivals to check out.


The dance-centred Damansara International Arts Festival, formerly known as the DPac Arts Festival, is set for its two-week run slated in July. Photo: The Star/Raymond Ooi

Damansara International Arts Festival, Petaling Jaya – July

The Damansara International Arts Festival, formerly known as the DPac Arts Festival, is all geared up for its two-week run slated in July. Promising to be even bigger and better this year, expect homegrown programming interspersed with international collaboration.

This fourth edition will present music and theatre and everything in between in its first week, before zooming in on dance in its second week. The Damansara International Arts Festival is curated by DPac CEO Datin Jane Lew, artistic director Bernard Goh and theatre manager Tan Eng Heng. Visit:


The crowd attending the inaugural Rainforest Fringe Festival’s concert night last year in Kuching. Photo: Rainforest Fringe Fest

Rainforest Fringe Festival & Rainforest World Music Festival, Kuching – July

The Rainforest Fringe Festival (RFF) held its inaugural edition last year and will return on July 6-15. The RFF, though modest in scale, saw a programme list that included the Sada Kamek concert, a fashion event, art/photography exhibitions and a traditional craft and vintage market.

In short, the RFF is a new arts-based platform to get visitors in early to Kuching, a few days ahead of the 21st Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching (July 13 to 15). Visit:

Yayasan Sime Darby Arts Festival, Kuala Lumpur – Aug 18-19

Presented by Yayasan Sime Darby and the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac), this ambitious arts festival kicked off last month with an open call for project ideas via Pitch Start.

What are they looking for? Ideas for a museum that will cater for the visually-impaired and hearing-impaired. After two successful editions, the YSDAF is back with a message to spread: how the arts can touch hearts and minds. Themed “You, Me and The Arts”, this year’s fest is branded “the heartfelt edition” as it aims to be raise awareness on various social issues and causes through the arts.

Satellite activities include a school outreach programme to educate young people about consent, a speech and drama outreach project for underprivileged children, a photography project highlighting the plight of the disabled and a singer-songwriter camp that will culminate in a showcase in May.

YSDAF will offer over 300 activities and events throughout its six-month run. Its grand finale will be held at KLPac on Aug 18-19. FB: Yayasan Sime Darby Arts Festival

George Town Festival, Penang – Aug 4-Sept 2

The George Town Festival strives to create a space where arts and culture belong to the masses, which means many events are free, and ticketed shows are kept at an affordable price. The ninth edition of this annual festival will see even more exciting international and local acts being rolled out, including multi-disciplinary collaborations. This month-long celebration of the arts, culture, heritage and community will return from Aug 4 to Sept 2. The Butterworth Fringe Festival, which is a George Town Festival spin-off, has not been confirmed at press time. Visit:

Johor Arts Festival – Sept 1-15

The Johor Arts Festival, one of the country’s longest-running arts festivals, celebrates its 15th edition in September. It promises a programme of performances, workshops, exhibitions, and activities by both internationally-renowned artists as well as emerging homegrown talents. Visit:

DiverseCity: KL International Arts Festival – September

Despite being billed as one of the capital city’s main arts festivals, DiverseCity has yet to outdo its inaugural edition in 2015, which saw a bumper cast of reputable homegrown curators and audience interest. This year’s fourth edition, hopefully, will present the masses with an exciting and dynamic line-up. Visit:


The artist-run KLEX festival celebrates its ninth edition this year. Photo: KLEX

Kuala Lumpur Experimental Film, Video and Music Festival (KLEX) – November

The community-driven KLEX fest, celebrating its ninth edition this year, will continue to bring creative and unconventional works in film and music from around the world to the Malaysian audience.

Its aim? To cultivate understanding, friendship and exchange among experimental art communities in Malaysia and abroad.

Tentatively slated for the last weekend of November, watch out for the call-for-work for its short film programmes in April. Visit:

Melaka Art and Performance Festival (MAPFest) – November

The 10th edition of the MAPFest promises to be a bumper edition with additional (dance) programming and new highlights. The festival’s signature venue – St Paul’s Church ruins, St Paul’s Hill – will still remain a destination of choice, with a host of performances scheduled to take place there. Watch this space if you are keen on a road trip to Melaka to experience the arts. Visit: