A Malaysian city with colonial buildings, murals and hipster cafes. No, it is not George Town in Penang, but Ipoh in Perak – a former tin mining area experiencing a renaissance of sorts.

The organisers of an annual festival, CausewayEXchange, are leveraging the charm and heritage of Ipoh for its upcoming edition. The festival, which features crossborder cultural exchanges between Singapore and Malaysia, takes place in Ipoh from Aug 24-7 and in KL from Sept 22 to 24.

It was started in 2010 by events organiser DMR Productions and Singapore-based creative non-profit organisation Global Cultural Alliance. This is the first time there are activities in Ipoh. The festival has been held in Johor Baru, Kuala Lumpur and George Town. It is also organised in Singapore every other year. The festival’s programming in Ipoh includes performances by Singapore theatre company Teater Ekamatra, panel discussions by Singapore and Malaysian poets and mural artworks by Singapore artists Ernest Goh and Yip Yew Chong.

Over in KL, the programming will focus on how the arts can help in therapy and medicine.

For example, a group of Republic Polytechnic students will present a sensory-friendly production titled How Singapore Got Its Name on Sept 23 and 24. The show, about the founding of Singapore, is suitable for children with special needs.

There will also be a concert and exhibition held in the dark to bring about greater awareness of the experiences of the blind.

Singapore poet Yong Shu Hoong, 50, looks forward to learning more about writers from Malaysia.

He is part of a literary panel discussion on Aug 26 that will look at the similarities and differences between Singapore and Malaysia’s literary scene, titled Same Same But Different.

The panel includes Singaporean poet Sim Piak How and Malaysian poets Wani Ardy, Paul Gnana Selvam and Bridget Eu Yoke Lin.

“I’ve always held the belief that we should have more of such interactions. I don’t think we know enough of each other’s literary scenes,” says Yong.

“I’m curious about how Ipoh can be developed into more of a cultural centre. Going there feels a bit like a group of pioneers going to test the waters and experience the culture – to be there before it gets overdeveloped.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network/Nabilah Said