Going beyond surfaces and silos: how the arts media can survive – and thrive – in a digitally disrupted Asia
Let me start at the beginning, with the story of how I got into “arts media”.
It was the early 1990s. Whatever encounters we had with “influencers” were largely through the pages of newspapers and via TV screens, and phones were something you actually talked into, with voices at the other end of the line. I read the newspapers pretty much every day, as did everyone who wanted to know what was going on outside of one’s front door.
As a wide-eyed, bushy-tailed theatre studies student, I found in the features and reviews of Hannah Pandian – early 1990s theatre critic of Singapore’s national daily The Straits Times – a ringside seat to a theatre scene in Singapore that was just taking off, in terms of the professionalisation of its theatre companies, the beginnings of an ecosystem of arts funding and education, and the crystallisation of an original performance language for the stage.
One of the groundbreaking productions of the time was Off Centre (1993), a blistering indictment of Singapore society’s inability to accept those who are different through the eyes of two teenagers with mental health issues. When Hannah wrote in her review that “Off Centre marks a new maturity in Singapore theatre, addressing an audience prepared to be challenged”, I rued that I was not there in the audience – the play, which saw its funding withdrawn from the government ministry that commissioned it, is now acknowledged as a classic of Singapore theatre, is studied in schools, and has since been revived several times, most recently this year. (I eventually caught saw the production by The Necessary Stage in 2007.)
Hannah, together with T. Sasitharan, The Straits Times’ former arts editor who wrote about the visual arts and theatre from 1986 to 1996, wrote impassioned, incisive columns and reviews. A marked contrast to journalists of the past who were less rigorous or committed in writing about the arts, the volume and seriousness of Hannah and Sasi’s coverage had an impact which outlasted their time at the newspaper and set the tone for arts media in Singapore for the next 15 to 20 years.
Several years after first following Hannah’s columns, in a somewhat surreal turn of events, I found myself in the hot seat doing her job, and much later also Sasi’s job as arts editor. The Straits Times’ commitment to covering Singapore theatre made it possible for me to write a book documenting that history (from 1958 to 2000) through the newspaper’s archives – to this day, it remains one of the few books on the subject.
The arts, the media and Asia
From my introduction to how I got into this industry, you can see certain themes emerging which I will return to. There is the crucial role professional arts writers and critics play in creating a wider awareness of the arts, developing more discerning audiences and inspiring younger writers. The arts can be ephemeral in its immediate impact – exhibitions and performances have a limited run, even if they lodge themselves under our skin and we find ourselves turning snatches of a song, lines of dialogue or fragments of movement in our heads for weeks after. Arts writing thus performs a vital act of documentation, their claims and arguments seeding a conversation on what is good art, what is relevant art, what is disposable or forgettable art, as well as what is original and groundbreaking.
The question I think we are all concerned with on Day One of this roundtable is the future of good writing and content on the arts at a time when fewer people than ever are prepared to pay for it, expecting news and views through digital devices free of charge and on tap. With the proliferation of noise and consumers empowered to sift out what they want to hear, how does the arts media break through and get on the radar of the “unconverted”, while continuing to deepen the discourse for those who care about the arts and its relationship with society? In particular, what does this mean for the arts and the media in Asia?
I would like to focus my keynote speech on three areas: 1) new funding models and media formats responding to this digital and social media landscape; 2) how to build a meaningfully engaged community around arts media content, in a climate where social media influencers hold more sway than media brands and where comments’ threads can descend into banality or toxicity; 3) the need to actively nurture rigour and depth of arts writing and arts coverage, including the next generation of professional arts writers and arts media specialists.
Before that, some definitions of key terms are in order, as well as some scene-setting of the diversity of contexts with which we operate in Asia. First, what is “the arts”? We know that a whole spectrum of forms and genres make up the arts or hover along its boundaries, but I will define the arts as thoughtful, envelope-pushing cultural practices distinct from entertainment-based consumption. Hence “the arts” could be theatre, music, dance or literature or anything operating at the intersections of any of these forms, which aspires to challenge the individual, change the world and do more than just tickle the senses and make a quick buck.
Secondly, who or what is “arts media”? The media owners in this case may be media companies, arts centres, arts councils, arts companies – any organisation dedicated to writing about and profiling the arts in a way that cuts across a spectrum of artists and arts entities. For example, in Taiwan, one of Asia’s most unfettered and vibrant cultural cities, the National Theater and Concert Hall (NTCH) has published a monthly Chinese-language performing arts magazine, Performing Arts Review《PAR表演藝術》, for the past 27 years – making it arguably one of the longest-standing arts media titles in the Asia Pacific region. It carries long-form features, interviews and reviews which chronicle trends and developments in Taiwan’s performing arts scene and introduce the best of international performing arts to Taiwanese artists and audiences. Aside from print, it has electronic versions available for subscription and downloading, and its website excerpts print content from the magazines, but also carries videos produced by both PAR and NTCH.
In Singapore, the national performing arts centre Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay used to publish a bimonthly print title called The Arts Magazine from 1997 to 2003 – its format was quite similar to that of Taiwan’s Performing Arts Review, with features, interviews and a reviews section. The publication was much missed by artists and arts lovers in Singapore when it was discontinued, the city-state’s tiny market making it hard even back then for niche magazine titles to be financially sustainable. Back in 2013, shortly after Esplanade marked its 10th anniversary as an arts presenter, producer and venue, I was a senior writer in The Straits Times and wrote in an op-ed on the subject, without much inkling of where it would lead me personally:
The arts centre can also do more to engage 21st century audiences… In an age of information overload, audiences want more in-depth knowledge about an artist before deciding to watch a performance. They want this information at their fingertips, on mobile devices, and to watch related videos and buy tickets in one seamless experience. A decade ago, the Esplanade had a bimonthly print publication The Arts Magazine. It had thought-provoking articles but not the sales and subscriptions level necessary for sustainability. That kind of serious content is still needed today to generate interest in the arts, but packaged to appeal to today’s audiences.
I wrote this six years ago as a print veteran not yet plugged into the turbulence of digital and the warp speed at which channels and content formats evolve to keep pace with technology, lifestyle trends and audiences. In a nutshell, those lines describe what I am doing today heading up digital content at Esplanade. The break from the past is that the arts centre is no longer publishing a magazine, but extending the experience of the performing arts centre through digital media, leveraging on the rich media and knowledge of contemporary and traditional Asian performing arts collected in its archives after 16 years of presenting and producing works. For audience development and education purposes, we are producing a regular stream of digital content on the arts in various formats from videos to quizzes to collections of long-form features, for our website and social channels. We are currently in the process of developing a microsite and a new media brand featuring curated insights, knowledge and archival content to help audiences experience more keenly the performing arts. Its primary audience will be in Singapore, but its secondary audience will be regional/international and interested to dive deeper into the performing arts in Asia.
Both Esplanade and Taiwan’s National Theater and Concert Hall are public-funded companies. Suffice to say that with digital disruption, coverage of the arts is tilting more towards specialist public-funded or crowdfunded models and away from the profit-oriented traditional news media, which because of declining advertising revenues has had to reduce coverage of the arts — for the most part a not-for-profit activity and not a steady source of advertising.
Finally, it is important to note that the media in Asia operates within extremely diverse sociopolitical, economic and cultural contexts. Take the difference between Singapore and Malaysia, two neighbouring countries with a common history but which went their separate ways after 1965. Malaysia has the stronger climate and market for subscription-based independent media but this has benefited largely sociopolitical/current affairs media like Malaysiakini, the country’s leading independent news media site launched in 1999, which has grown through a combination of subscriptions, donations and advertising. Though there is an energetic arts scene concentrated in the capital Kuala Lumpur, the arts in general is poorly funded and the lack of arts education in school curricula has also limited the support for the arts. As a result, independent sites once dedicated to arts news and reviews like Kakiseni and Arteri have shifted their focus away from criticism and reportage to events, networking and capability building for creative professionals, while traditional media such as New Straits Times and The Star may occasionally report on but no longer review the arts. Nonetheless Malaysian arts writers and critics are active and at large – dance producer and critic Bilqis Hijjas founded a reviews site, Critics Republic, for ad-hoc commissioned reviews and reviews by young writers, while the founding team behind Kakiseni, Kathy Rowland and Jenny Daneels, have started ArtsEquator in Singapore, an independent site offering reviews, commentaries and aggregated news on the performing arts in Southeast Asia
In comparison, Singapore has a smaller market but stronger funding and infrastructure for the arts, including arts education which is woven into the curriculum and school life from primary school, with dedicated secondary and tertiary-level institutions for the creative arts. Unlike Malaysia, Singapore still has an arts media presence, though in a markedly different form from say five years ago. Unlike say, Western Europe, where affluence, a common market, the historically strong patronage of the arts and culture, freedom of expression and the recognition given to practitioners and cultural intermediaries alike have led to a fairly buoyant arts media across different countries, there are a lot of asymmetries in Asia. What needs to be considered when talking about Asian arts media, is that there is no one Asia but many Asias.
Print’s heyday – discovery through long-form and the critic
The 1990s and the noughties were the heyday of the influential newspaper/magazine critic, who had the power to make or break a production or an artist and shape the trajectory of a cultural scene’s development.
This influence was built on a chicken-and-egg of factors: i) the knowledge and exposure of the beat reporter/reviewer who had seen every play/concert/exhibition in town and was steeped in the ways of the industry, and ii) the unassailable advertising revenues and circulation of key print media, which gave the beat writer a readership as well as the job security to carry on doing the work for years. Even if only a fraction of that readership was interested in the arts, the arts were seen to lend an intellectual dimension to the newspaper that was part of its social function. The downside, of course, was the aura of elitism surrounding influential print media and their resident writers – although a natural response to that was the emergence of alternative media and voices, which happened everywhere, including Singapore, even well before the Internet.
The upside of this climate where print held sway was the broad-based and sometimes in-depth mainstream coverage given to the arts in the name of public interest, and the key word here is ‘mainstream’. As an arts journalist and theatre reviewer in Singapore in the noughties, I was there at big-bang festivals and tiny black-box theatre studios, at rehearsals and on opening night, talking to everyone from artists to policymakers to producers, pounding the beat – as they say in journalistic parlance – and letting readers in on all the ups and downs in the development of the arts. I remember reviewing an average of 2-3 theatre productions a week in the first half of the noughties, going back into the office late at night after the show to bang out my review on an old IBM desktop – this was before the days of laptops and wireless Internet connections.
At The Straits Times’ Life section, where I spent a good part of my career and was arts editor in the middle part of this decade, there was also a commitment to showcasing long-form feature writing. As an editor, I assigned features on the development of forum theatre in Asia and a series of 1,500-word Q&A-style conversations between a pair of artists across genres or generations united by their exploration of certain big ideas – material that would not be out of place in a serious arts journal or magazine.
It must be said that in Singapore, where one political party dominates, and where the pages of The Straits Times are closely scrutinised for being a barometer of establishment viewpoints and changing norms, one has significantly more leeway to challenge establishment views as an arts writer than as a hard news or political journalist, on the premise that the artists are themselves critical or provocative in their works. As an arts writer for the newspaper I’ve never had a column or review withdrawn from publication because of the sensitivities of the day, and every now and then, it was not unusual to see a column from myself or one of my colleagues that was critical of cultural policies or censorship decisions in the arts. This gave arts writing a certain dynamism, a sense of being on the pulse of society and being empowered to verbalise the unspoken.
In Singapore, aside from the Singapore Press Holdings’ (SPH)-owned The Straits Times, the other mainstream news media outlets which allocate or used to allocate significant resources for arts coverage are The Business Times and Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao, both also owned by SPH, and Today, owned by Singapore’s other media conglomerate, MediaCorp. In recent years, however, the presence of the arts has shrunk in Singapore’s traditional media, which has had to privilege more advertiser-friendly sectors for coverage because of declining print advertising revenues.
In those pre-social media and pre-smartphone days, when print media held sway, what did such broad-based mainstream coverage of the arts, with pockets of in-depth content, mean for the artist and the reader? For the artist, you had a love-hate relationship with a group of people – arts writers, journalists and critics – who were among the most important audiences for your work, in the insights they had on art-making and various artists’ career trajectories that a more casual, fade-in fade-out kind of audience-goer would not be privy to.
For the audience, flipping through the newspaper, you would have access to a wide range of developments in the arts and cultural scene. If a headline or image caught your eye, you might be drawn to read something a little outside of your consciousness, and in the process, you could be introduced to a trend or development that you would not otherwise have thought much about. Over time, this could build a more considered, more discerning readership or audience.
In an unpublished 2017 interview with writer Lim Cheng Tju on the impact of the seminal Singapore indie music critic and deejay X’Ho (Chris Ho), music editor Hidzir Junaini spoke of reading Chris Ho’s columns in The Straits Times and in particular in the alternative music magazine BigO, which was published first in print and then online from 1985 to the 2000s. Hidzir, who was previously editor of Southeast Asian music news and reviews site Bandwagon, described himself as “a casual music fan until I encountered Chris Ho’s work. He made me think deeper about music not only in terms of structure and technicality, but in terms of its value in a socio-political context”. Hidzir went on to comment on the state of music journalism:
I actually think it’s fantastic that anyone can set up their own site and proffer their own opinions, reviews and criticism… In fact this DIY attitude can often lead to more honest and varied writing than what’s allowed in “legitimate” publications. Now that being said, this is kind of like an open mic night — quality control is not assured. And with such an overwhelming stream of information, articles, playlists and blog posts coming your way every single second, every single day — it’s only natural that you’d want to filter to only consume things that are congruent to your interests. That’s great because you can connect and discuss with like-minded folk and communities, but there’s also a danger that you’d form an echo chamber of hype for yourself. Chris Ho wrote compellingly and eloquently about things so outside my wheelhouse as a kid, and I’m glad he did because he helped me discover.
The key thing to note is that for all the much-vaunted democratisation of views and commentary ushered in by the Internet and social media, a lot of it is being backed and swayed by advertising, interest groups and the algorithms of social media platforms. If you’re consuming and ‘liking’ something, you’ll keep getting fed more of it. And if all your news and commentary is coming from social platforms – as it is for a growing number of digital natives – you’re not going to be pushed anything outside of that spectrum of content.
In with the new – funding models, media formats
I spoke of public-funded arts media models earlier. In Singapore, the National Arts Council (NAC) has been a prime mover in this area. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it funded an arts radio station, Passion 99.5. Currently, the arts council is behind two digital initiatives: The A List Singapore, a Singapore arts and culture portal where users can search for event listings and recommendations, and Hear65, a microsite promoting Singapore music.
Also funded by NAC is three-year-old ArtsEquator. It’s a specialist site targeted mainly at Southeast Asian arts insiders and more discerning audiences hungry for in-depth reviews and criticism. NAC funding has not stopped ArtsEquator from freely opining on controversial productions or hot-button industry issues such as regulation and censorship. However one can anticipate tensions in a place like Singapore should public-funded arts media adopt the approach of blurring the line between arts and current affairs by focusing less on reviews or artist features and more on op-eds on culture at large and even politics. Such an approach would bring more eyeballs and have the effect of making the arts less ‘niche’, but also dilute the focus of ‘arts for arts’ sake’ and the supposed political neutrality of arts media, putting such public funding under threat.
The alternative to public funding is crowdfunding, particularly for transnational, regional-focused media outlets which do not want to be beholden to governments or corporations. One example is Asymptote, a five-year-old website for translated world literature which publishes quarterly issues; it is incorporated in Singapore where its founding editor is from, but has contributing editors from around the world, including Asia. Donors give amounts ranging from $10 to $5,000 and above, and the full list of donors are acknowledged on the website. Another example is Mekong Review, a quarterly English-language print literary journal on Southeast Asia, launched in Cambodia in 2015. Sold via subscription as well as off the rack in eight countries and territories including Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia, it recently started a crowdfunding campaign. The financial uncertainties are tremendous with crowdfunding, but it could be argued, since content exists because of the readers and audiences it serves, they have to be challenged to pay for it to ensure its sustainability.
In terms of media formats and channels, the current boom in podcasts, particularly among millennials, has benefited radio, and this has also led to dedicated arts and culture programmes on mainstream radio channels like Malaysia’s BFM Radio, whose target audience are business professionals. Millennial friends tell me that increasingly they would rather listen to an in-depth interview or review than read it, as this allows them to multitask and listen on the go via smartphones and now-ubiquitous online music services. From Instagram for the visual arts, to video and playlists for the performing arts, there are a whole range of digital formats to engage casual arts audiences and millennials or Gen-Z (the generation after the millennials, born in the mid-1990s or later) and hopefully in the process direct them to more serious arts content. At the same time there’s also a nostalgia for print which some publishers are banking on. As Mekong Review editor Minh Bui Jones puts it:
Some people prefer to read in print and are happy to pay for it. And paying for content in print is an intergenerational habit… When you pay for a paper you know that someone’s gone into the trouble of laying it out — page by page, article by article; printing it out, which costs money; then lugging it from printer to shop. So what you’re paying for is not just the content but also the physical effort of delivering the content to your corner shop.
Community-building: from the “town square” to “omakase”
So as an arts media publisher or owner today, you begin by identifying a business or sustainability model and the appropriate content formats, and you build the product. The next step is audience development — how to talk to our audiences and keep expanding the base beyond narrow silos and interest groups.
For one thing, how do we build a community of readers or audiences at a time when on social channels people follow individual influencers more avidly than brands and feel more connected to them? This connection is reinforced by Facebook’s algorithms being weighted in favour of personal posts so that brands and organisations wanting more traction are forced to advertise. While ‘influencer’ tends to be a pejorative term referring to lifestyle influencers hawking restaurants and beauty products, I’m using it in a neutral sense to refer to prominent individuals with a huge social following using their influence for advocacy, and in this context there are influencers in the arts and culture in every Asian country. In Singapore, an influencer who straddles both the arts and sociopolitical activism would be someone like respected firebrand Singapore playwright Alfian Sa’at — who has over 20,000 Facebook followers, posts every other day and shares his formidably eloquent thoughts on everything from government policies to the productions he has seen or which he is involved in. I imagine that on a weekly or even daily basis, more liberals in Singapore are reading a Facebook post by Alfian than they are reading a review or op-ed from traditional or new media outlets, and indeed his posts are regularly picked up and reported on by alternative news sites in Singapore.
Asian arts media organisations do commission influential writers to write for them – Alfian writes an occasional column for ArtsEquator and over at Esplanade, we’ve collaborated with renowned Indian author Devdutt Pattanaik, whom we have presented before at Kalaa Utsavam – our Indian Festival of Arts – and whose books on Hindu and comparative mythology are bestsellers. He has over 170,000 followers on Facebook, more than say Salman Rushdie, and we commissioned him to write an essay for us on gender in Hindu mythology for the Learn section of Esplanade’s website, as myth and its contemporary relevance informs much of the subject matter and performance vocabulary in Indian arts.
Beyond extending the reach and resonance of arts media content by appealing to followers of influential figures, there is the larger question of how we as editors and publishers engage more deeply and constructively with our audiences, including in debate, because the fact is that times and the way we consume news and views have changed. As American technopreneur Chikai Ohazama wrote in a recent column on technology site TechCrunch: “Even if you don’t make any comments yourself, news exists in a public conversation and people’s reactions, whether they be from your friends or celebrities, are often part of the news itself. Now these public conversations can be very toxic and are the very reason people are fleeing and looking for alternatives, but I don’t think people want to turn the dial to zero and go back to the days of reading the newspaper by yourself over breakfast.”
Using the analogy of omakase – a Japanese fine dining tradition where the dishes have been pre-selected by the chef, typically in a small intimate restaurant where you sit at the counter in front of the chef and can talk to him and watch as he prepares the meal – Ohamaza posits that this is where our daily consumption of news and insights is headed: away from the “town square” of social networks where algorithms tend to pander to “the lowest common denominator” and towards curated and private news feeds, via e-mail newsletters and messaging services where you can have exchanges within a closed group of like-minded individuals. Hence the title of his column, “The future of news is conversation in small groups with trusted voices”, partly a response to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement of the social network’s vision of building a privacy-focused messaging and social networking platform, in the wake of all the flak Facebook has gotten on mishandling users’ personal information.
If I extrapolate this to what I’m doing at Esplanade, how do I take the real-life communities we have – membership programmes for different audience segments, mentorship schemes for young artists, established and emerging artists we work closely with – and translated these to the online space? Strengthening these communities both online and offline is something arts media can start thinking about, because we want to build an engaged audience, and we want to create the mechanisms for constructive dialogue where audiences feel a sense of ownership and involvement in the art as well as the media product. This is all still unchartered territory, but there may be an opportunity to move in this direction as technology starts to push the boundaries of what private messaging could be and bring about convergence with news feeds.
Deep diving and the next generation
Product and audience development aside, for arts media the fundamentals still lie in the craft of storytelling and the depth of insights, as these are what help demystify the arts for newcomers and deepen the understanding of regular arts-goers, giving them fresh contexts to make sense of what they are watching. When I think of the digital features we have done at Esplanade that I am most proud of so far, they are the ones where both the storytelling and the insights have come together in a way that is creative and jumps out at the reader or viewer.
One example is an introductory piece we did on bharatanatyam, the oldest and most widely performed of classical Indian dance forms. Apart from footwork and facial expressions, one of the crucial elements of its storytelling is the system of hand gestures called mudras. Our editorial team worked with an external videographer and motion graphics designer to produce a short introductory video, targeted at students and general audiences, titled “The Secret Language of Hands”, which introduces mudras through a combination of animation and close-ups on a solo bharatanatyam performer – the idea is that in bharatanatyam the dancer is using her eyes, body and gestures to narrate a story, and that with her hands, she can depict anything: a lion, a mouse, the feeling of superiority, a net, the act of freeing one from restraints. The video is embedded in an interactive feature which also contains a flip-card guessing game: guess what certain mudras or hand gestures represent, then flip the image over to see how many you got right. This video and interactive feature is one of our most-viewed pieces so far. The key thing to note is that editorial creativity aside, our content team benefited greatly from discussions and a close working relationship with the seasoned producers of Esplanade’s Kalaa Utsavam, who are very knowledgeable about Indian arts and who were able to connect us with the performer who appears in the video.
Another example, this time in the area of long-form feature writing, is a series we have commissioned called “Asian Theatremakers” on practitioners in Singapore and Asia who have made a difference, diving into their philosophies, quirks and notable works. In particular, there are two features in this series, both written by experienced arts writer-critics, which profiled Singapore theatremakers starting to be recognised for their distinctive or boundary-pushing work, and these pieces are in all likelihood the first in-depth analyses of their careers. One is on Singapore playwright and dramaturg Zulfadli Rashid, a prolific but hitherto underrated and growing poetic force in Malay-language theatre. The piece, written by playwright and critic Nabilah Said, was published shortly before the premiere of Zulfadli’s witty, rollicking musical theatre work Alkesah, commissioned by Esplanade in July 2018. Since then Alkesah has been nominated for Best Production at this year’s The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards, and Zulfadli’s writing for Best Script. The other standout piece is on experimental Singapore Chinese-language playwright and director Liu Xiaoyi, known for his intense, site-specific works that challenge the audience as well as the boundaries of space and time. Theatre critic Corrie Tan, who wrote the piece, has followed Xiaoyi’s work very closely over many years, and the resulting piece was a loving hybrid of sagely criticism and fly-on-the-wall journalism that really helped to unpack the approach of this practitioner whose works baffle but are also getting noticed.
A lot of in-depth, on-the-ground knowledge of the arts in Singapore went into these pieces. Before commissioning them, I had conversations with the Esplanade producers who have long followed Zulfadli and Xiaoyi’s work, and subsequently Nabilah and Corrie each brought their own perspectives and craft to bear on the pieces, as writers whose backgrounds have criss-crossed arts journalism, theatre practice and academia, in Corrie’s case.
But my question for all of us here today is, how do we unearth and nurture the next Corrie Tan or the next Nabilah Said? There is far less time and resources in today’s frantic, time-strapped newsrooms and content production teams to ‘train’ writers and arts media specialists. And as long as arts media platforms are worrying about financial sustainability, they will not have the bandwidth to think about the next generation, and likewise young arts enthusiasts will not have the runway to grow as writers and critics.
This is why I treasure ArtsEquator’s efforts, supported by the National Arts Council, at organising talks and mentorship programmes for young theatre and dance reviewers. At Esplanade, we have also for many years run mentorship programmes for budding music writers as part of our indie music festival Baybeats. But these conversations are not just about young writers, but also collaborating with other kinds of writers as well as artists, creatives and producers, from areas such as academia or artistic practice. We want to dialogue with them and adapt their work and knowledge for digital media and a more general audience, so that the pool of good writers and good content for arts media can grow.
Finally, in a globalised world where there are few barriers to accessing funding and digital content across national borders, we can only grow from networking and knowledge-sharing among arts media publishers and writers across Asia. While our cultural or sociopolitical context may be very different, we are united by our subject matter – the arts – the hybrid nature of its roots, and the increasingly intercultural traffic in art production and collaboration. There is much experience and wisdom to be gleaned from this gathering today — I feel privileged to be part of it, and look forward to the resulting exchange of insights.