As Kuala Lumpur gears up to a new future of creativity and culture, we meet three young cultural sector movers and shakers who are returning to the city centre and bringing their work with them.
Passion is key
In an unassuming building along Jalan Panggong, just a stone’s throw away from Central Market and Pasar Seni LRT station, is a series of art spaces stacked one on top of the other. On the ground floor is AKU café and gallery, on the third floor is Lostgens’ gallery, on the fourth floor is RAW Art Space and on the roof is Moutou, an artist-run creative space and urban farm.
Tey Beng Tze is an artist and RAW Art Space’s founder. Taking over from the collectively-operated Findars Art Space which had previously operated from the same premises for a few years, the new gallery continues to move along the same path and beyond.
Despite the financial challenges of running an independent art space, Tey hopes this latest iteration can be a hub for multidisciplinary art explorations. “Raw Art Space isn’t about big gallery pretensions. We want to work with people who want something different,” Tey told the Star.
The creative life is filled with challenges, and it is true passion that powers KL’s artists to produce work and find platforms for their creations. “If you have the passion you won’t make excuses,” said Tey.
Support growing in KL
Gallery owner, Liza Ho met her partner Snow Ng while both were working at a commercial gallery. When the business closed in 2012, they decided to go independent.
Together they founded the Zhongshan Building arts hub, anchored by their own contemporary art gallery, OUR ArtProjects, on the ground floor.
The city centre location was a worry at first. “A lot of things happen somewhere else, but not in the middle of the city where no one goes to. After the Annexe in Central Market closed, there was really no central arts community space for creatives to gather.” Liza explained.
The Zhongshan Building – three interlocking shophouses from the 1950s – benefitted from a Think City grant for restoration works. Two other tenants were also successful in securing grants for their creative businesses.
The community has grown steadily to include artists, designers, musicians and researchers running creative businesses and spaces including studios, a design archive, library, coffee shop, bakery and fashion atelier.
Liza can see more institutional support coming in KL with institutions like Think City and CENDANA. “There are also increasingly more platforms and opportunities for creatives to showcase their work from galleries to shopping malls,” she adds.
Creative community support
Alak Idle is a musician and record store co-owner who moved his business, Tandang Store, to the Zhongshan Building.
He was attracted by the competitive rents and opportunity to be in a vibrant community of other creatives, which he describes as, “Basically a really good creative community, where many of the artists and creatives in KL gather. Everybody is doing something different and everybody is supporting each other.”
A community based in one place has meant that creative collaborations are a daily occurrence. Recently, Alak organised a Japanese band’s tour. He was able to work with other Zhongshan tenants to design merchandise like t-shirts and cassettes. The final performance was held in the shop itself.
Alak can see the effect that having such a centralised meeting place has had. “By having this hub, people are starting to come back to the centre of KL,” he says.
His business has also benefitted. “People can just walk over from Petaling Street. We have more customers and our profits have grown, so we can expand and offer more choices.”
Photo Credit: Choo Choy May, Malay Mail