A moment with the Curators of 10 Days 3 Festivals 2015

The idea is simple: three festivals that run for 10 consecutive days and combined, they offer music, arts and literature. Individually, however, there’s more than what meets the eye when it comes to putting together a popular festival and here’s a lowdown from each festival’s curator – you’ll notice a common thread in terms of curating challenge. This year, 2015, 10Days 3Festivals will run from 27 November to 6 December.

Bernice Chauly Marks the Page on George Town Literary Festival 
The first three editions of George Town Literary Festival curated by Bernice Chauly saw a host of international and local authors sharing their experiences and thoughts on a number of literary matters. Now, she’s back for its fifth edition working with the production team from the Penang Institute, inviting, she discloses, ‘over 33 writers and poets coming from all over the world. It’s our biggest and boldest festival yet’.

How has GTLF evolved as a festival? 
It has become one of the most important festivals in the region, largely because of its intimacy between writers and audiences, the themes discussed, the quality of our moderators, and its continued celebration of world literature.  

Who were the most prominent authors you've invited to GTLF? 
We've celebrated writers from Belgium: David van Reybrouck, Annelies Verbeke; from Malaysia: Tash Aw, Tan Twan Eng, Dato’ Lat and A. Samad Said; from Holland: Christine Otten and Franca Treur this year; from Norway: Hanne Ørstavik this year; from Indonesia: Linda Christianty, Leila Chudori and we will invite Lily Yulianty Farid this year.

Did you think GTLF would attract visitors to Penang? 
Literature has a very distinct following – people who read have authors they like and would love to meet and hear in person. And I think this festival gives its audience from all over the world a selection of writers they know and whom they can discover and love. Many of our writers had tremendous experiences at GTLF. It’s a festival that really celebrates the diversity of writers and their writing and George Town gives them the warmth and generosity that’s needed to make a festival work.

Any bumps along the way? 
We work with a very small budget, so the support and partnerships we get from foreign embassies and their cultural institutions is crucial to getting the festival to work.  

Any last words? 
GTLF has the potential to be a consistently good festival. Everyone is welcome because it’s inspiring, it’s provocative and it’s free!

What In-between Arts Festival 2015 Curators Got to Say
Experts at organising world class arts events such as the annual George Town Festival, Joe Sidek and his team are putting together a spectacular programme for this year’s In-between Arts Festival that is wedged between George Town Literary Festival and Penang Island Jazz Festival. The curators admitted to ‘getting involved at a late stage, after much of the programme has been announced’ and IbAF ‘being on weekdays’ as challenges of curating this eclectic arts festival. Where is IbAF being held this year?
IbAF events will be held in outdoor and indoor spaces on and around the streets of Lebuh Victoria and Lebuh Armenian.
How will IbAF fit into the different spaces of ChinaHouse?
ChinaHouse is made up of such an interesting mix of spaces, our events fit right in – Art Space I and Vic’s, both on the first floor are naturally and respectively housing the ‘AB+C Art Exhibition and Auction’ plus the exhibits for the photo contest ‘What GT Heritage Means To You’. Both of which will be on until 8 Dec.  
What are other IbAF highlights we can expect?
There will be indie bands on all three nights at The Canteen from 9pm onwards and before that, we encourage visits to the ‘Reading Room’ in ChinaHouse to watch artists live doodle or stop by at the ten pop-up stalls at its courtyard for ‘Market @ the Courtyard’. There are also workshops and at Victoria Street, enjoy either one of three street performances each night such as gamelan, Po Te Hi Puppet show or wayang kulit. Then there are films at 179 Victoria Street featuring film director’s showcase of The Blue Mansion, Bunohan and The Journey, including sharing sessions with directors Dain Said and Chiu Keng Guan. IbAF’s final night will see additional features such as children’s storytelling and a zapin dance workshop, both by Dr. Hardy. Finally, a drum circle called Drum ¾ will perform at the crossroads of Victoria and Armenian streets at 5.30pm. All events are free except for the LAPAN workshop and registration is required for some. Visit for more information and links to registration.  
What inspired your IbAF2015 programme?
Accessibility to art and art-related events formed the backbone of our programming. Thus, our ‘AB+C Arts Benefiting the Community’ project is one of the highlights. The response to our call for artists’ works for auction, with part of its proceeds going to charity, is heartening and we now have on display close to 30 pieces of work although we had only targeted 20. We want the IbAF events to attract participants of the other two festivals (GTLF and PIJF) to enjoy and extend their stay in Penang.

How can IbAF develop in the next couple of years?
We would like to see a closer collaboration between the three festivals in terms of co-promotion and maybe even looking into organising 10-day travel packages by our local travel agents.

In 1996, musician and Penangite Paul Augustin had the idea to start a jazz festival. And he did. The fairy tale version is that opportunities trickled in and snowballed to turn his Penang Island Jazz Festival into one of the region’s most respected music festivals and they all lived happily ever after 12 years later. Truth of the matter is, there was no magic wand. It was pure hard work, doggedness and gritted teeth in facing challenges such as moolah and sponsorship. Here’s a quick take of PIJF’s story from the horse’s mouth.
What got you to start PIJF 12 years ago?
We (along with Capricorn Connection company) did extensive research on festivals and realised that jazz festivals were the longest running and biggest music festivals in the world and nearly every country had at least one jazz festival. So, we concentrated on putting together a jazz festival and approached a number of corporations and state agencies but no one was interested.  From 2001 to 2003, a few corporations and a Penang state agency contracted us to manage and coordinate a few music festivals in Malaysia. Through this experience, we developed a network of contacts and gained sizeable knowledge in organising and managing a music festival. We re-visited the jazz festival idea and took a major risk in organising our own independent festival – The Penang Island Jazz Festival. It was a path only angels and fools dare to tread especially as an independent festival without support. Back then, we were the latter.  
Why Penang?
It is my hometown and it has the necessary infrastructure. We saw the potential of a jazz festival becoming an iconic event for Penang. PIJF has been held at Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Bahang since its inception.
Anything different you've got planned for PIJF2015 as compared to the past years?
This year, one of the things that the festival will be introducing a collaboration performance between a foreign act, Dos Orientales a Japanese percussion and Venezuelan pianist duo and Penang Philharmonic Big Band. This is something new for us and it will be interesting to see how it goes, especially for the members of the Penang Philharmonic Big Band who are relatively young in age and experience. And the latter will perform during ‘Penang Musical Heritage Night’ featuring local Penang vocalists playing songs from the 1930s to 1960s and songs local Penang composers.
How has PIJF evolved as a festival?
A festival that began as a sort of concert, with small supporting activities, has evolved into a total festival experience since some of the supporting activities have grown to become attractions by itself. The total sum of all its parts has given PIJF recognition internationally as one of the more important festivals in the region.

Did you think it would grow into a popular tourism tool for Penang?
Yes. It’s reflected in the way the festival is named – Penang Island Jazz Festival, promoting the words ‘Penang’ and ‘island’. Through our research, using the word ‘island’ is an additional attraction as there are not many island (jazz) festivals. We saw a growth and change in percentage ratio of attendees from the initial 50% Penang and 50% outside of Penang to 35% Penang and 65% outside of Penang at last year’s PIJF. Attendees were from countries such as Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, India, South Korea, Australia and UK.

What were the challenges you faced as its curator?
Many! But the biggest challenge would be the budget and sponsorship. We’ve managed to secure some support from corporate firms and the local and federal governments over the years – this has helped us in keeping the festival alive. Another challenge is to create a festival programme of international standards with whatever budget we have and trying to maintain (or better) the presentation level of high quality musicians and programmes year after year, and making the programmes appealing to both young and young-at-heart.
What’s next for PIJF?
The expansion of some of the current main programmes in terms of days and venues, also to include other supporting activities to enhance the festival further.