Nearly three years after it began, the Arts On The Move (AOTM) Kuala Lumpur programme will be taking its final bow this month if no sponsors step up to the plate.
Launched in June 2016 as part of efforts to rejuvenate downtown Kuala Lumpur by creating buzz at selected public places, the initiative led by Think City in partnership with Prasarana Malaysia Bhd, operator of the Kelana Jaya LRT Line, will host its last performance on Sept 27.
Over the years, AOTM was financially supported by Yayasan Hasanah, the corporate social responsibility arm of Khazanah Nasional Bhd, and Citi Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Citigroup Inc.
Yayasan Hasanah was set up in 2013 to promote Malaysia’s global sustainability through solutions that empower communities, encourage social inclusivity and improve the environment through education; community development; environment; knowledge; as well as arts, heritage and culture. The Citi Foundation funds neighbourhood revitalisation programmes, among many other things.
For the past two years, AOTM has brought high-quality visual and performing arts to people from all walks of life in Kuala Lumpur.
“We showcase established acts, and don’t put mere buskers up there,” says Lee Jia-Ping, Think City’s programme director for partnerships.
With the support of various funders and partners, AOTM worked with arts curator Susie Kukathas to showcase a wide variety of Malaysian and international performers, ranging from the sole remaining French military bagpipe band (Bagad Lann Bihoue) to the Geng Wak Long from Kelantan, to musicians from Sarawak (KL Sape Collective, Alena Murang, and Anak Kenyalang), all the way to opera (Teochew Puppet and Opera House).
“Our carefully curated weekly performances have proven a hit with commuters at the Masjid Jamek LRT station, other than showcasing proven local and foreign talent,” says Lee.
“AOTM affords people the opportunity to be exposed to a broad spectrum of arts and cultural entertainment that they may otherwise not have the opportunity to witness on an average day,” she adds.
For Yayasan Hasanah, bringing arts to the masses is an integral part of its makeup.
“We believe passionately in creating long term impact that contributes towards nation building,” says Shahira Ahmed Bazari, managing director for Yayasan Hasanah.
“I believe it is a big step towards promoting the use of public spaces as places to build stronger communities,” she adds.
For Lee, the arts is one of the most tangible ways for bringing back buzz to the old core of the city, which has been suffering from hollowing out over the years as professionals move to the suburbs, while only coming to the city to work in the daytime on weekdays.
“We also believe in the importance of private-public partnerships to make for a successful endeavour and we would like to invite more corporations to create programmes with Think City. Our mandate in Kuala Lumpur is to spur urban renewal in the downtown area, specifically within a 1km radius of Masjid Jamek,” she adds.
Other than bringing high quality arts to the masses, AOTM at the same time introduces “placemaking” to citizens – a practice that involves leveraging the power of the arts, culture and creativity to serve a community’s interest while driving a broader agenda for transformation in a way that adds value to the character and quality of the place.
“We hope that through AOTM, citizens will be able to gain an appreciation for local talent while at the same time opening their perspectives and views on the use of public spaces. We envision this to be an impactful platform where artists and performers may secure sustainable income to enable them to continue enriching lives through their various expressions,” says Lee.
Other than performance arts, AOTM also covers visual arts by making use of the 60m-long underground pedestrian walkway that is part of the Masjid Jamek station. This wall has been put to great use, and has aided at least two charities such as an animal shelter and even the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO). For example, calls to the WAO hotline spiked up by 35% in the same month the Harapan Sentiasa Ada art exhibition by domestic violence survivors was up, proving that this precious space is not just for promoting cute, furry beings.
Understandably, Prasarana, which is supporting AOTM by hosting the performances and exhibitions within the Masjid Jamek and Pasar Seni LRT stations, is also reluctant to see it go away.
“We could see that a certain measure of vibrancy has been created in the Masjid Jamek area since AOTM began, and it would be a pity if this effort is halted,” says Lim Jin Aun, Prasarana’s head of group communications and strategic marketing.
Surveys among nearly 800 respondents in 2016 and 2017 confirmed the allure of AOTM. In 2016, some 60% said that they had the opportunity to watch live performances at the station for the first time through the AOTM platform, which hosted 36 live shows and six visual arts exhibitions in 2016, and 94 live shows and four visual arts exhibitions in 2017.
More than a quarter (27%) of commuters surveyed said they always stopped whenever shows were on, while another 62% said they stopped “sometimes” to watch a show. Surprisingly, 10% of the respondents said they travelled specifically to the station just to watch the show. Overall, about 83% felt the shows contributed positively to the atmosphere.
“It was while transiting at Masjid Jamek that I first came to know about AOTM and Think City. The twice weekly shows are such a blessing as they give a moment of relaxation in the city’s hectic life. Other than this, it also introduces us to the various cultures and gives an opportunity to Malaysian musicians. All in all, this is a unique programme which I do hope will continue,” says LRT user Marlene Blanche Culas, who follows the programme on a regular basis.
As it looks out for partners and sponsors, Think City will resort to crowdfunding to keep AOTM going, with the immediate need being raising at least RM150,000 to keep AOTM running next year. The funds will pay for performances from 5pm to 7pm every Thursday at the Masjid Jamek LRT station, as well as for the creation and production of visual arts display areas at the pedestrian underpass.