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Last year, The Tuyang Initiative (Tuyang) was invited to perform at the World Music & Dance Festival in Hakodate, Hokkaido, set to be held in August 2024.

Tuyang, which we’ve previously featured, is a community-led arts management organisation devoted to preserving indigenous Bornean cultures.

Established in 2017, this wouldn’t be the first time the Tuyang team has received an invitation from this festival.

“The festival actually has been trying to get us over to Japan for a few years now, and it’s just that the opportunity hasn’t been right, especially during the COVID period,” Juvita, the co-founder of Tuyang, told us.

But when the opportunity arose again last year, they were finally ready. After all, the team has had more international exposure, having opened the Singapore Festival of Arts in collaboration with a Chinese orchestra.

A celebration of various cultures around the globe, World Music & Dance Festival in Japan welcomes about 30,000 people every year, making it a precious opportunity for any group to showcase their performances.

Plus, the festival also generously offered to take care of 15 Tuyang team members, covering their stay and food there in Hakodate.

However, there’s still an obstacle that stands between Tuyang and the festival—money for the flights.

Exhausting other options

Back in September, Juvita had reached out to the Sarawak state ministry and the state tourism board about the opportunity.

Image Credit: The Tuyang Initiative

The co-founder believed that this festival was a great way to promote the state and share more about Sarawakian culture. With that, she felt like they would likely get the necessary resources.

Yet, the team wasn’t able to get any traction despite having their track record and portfolio of work.

In February, they finally heard back from a representative who said Tuyang needed to apply for a grant through an association.

As an accredited social enterprise, Tuyang is not linked to any associations and Juvita felt like as a player in the creative industry, it didn’t make sense for them to treat this like financial aid rather than a business opportunity.

Image Credit: The Tuyang Initiative

They wrote to airlines for sponsorships as well as MOTAC for a letter of endorsement, but was not able to hear back either.

Unable to get the necessary funding required to make it to Hakodate, Tuyang has turned to the masses. On March 19, they launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise RM180,000 by the end of March.

RM180,000 does seem like a big ask, but Juvita clarified with Vulcan Post that it is mainly to cover transporation fees, factoring some allowances for any incidences, layovers, and such.

Some practitioners will need to go from Ba’kelalan to Lawas (a six-hour drive), and then fly from Miri to KL, then to Tokyo, and finally to Hakodate.

Why it matters

The opportunity to perform on a stage of this magnitude is also the culmination of Tuyang’s work for the past seven to eight years.

“There are very rare chances for our cultural practitioners, especially if they’re rural-based, to try and elevate the way they present their own creative expressions,” Juvita said.

Juvita hopes that this chance will inspire the development of more work that can better contextualise Sarawak’s various indigenous group.

Image Credit: The Tuyang Initiative

She pointed out that many tourism campaigns and fairs will jumble up various communities’ cultures into one broad stroke.

But Tuyang challenges this by bringing people who are actually from the land, who live and practise the culture, to go out and engage with others.

Yet, it’s challenging to counter mass media and tourism campaigns that paint a blanket stroke of indigenous Bornean cultures.

Through the performance they’ve prepared for the World Music & Dance Festival, Tuyang is showing a better, more nuanced way of combining indigenous communities’ cultures, exploring the common themes and shared motifs.

More than a performing arts company

Currently, the team is working to extend the festival’s deadline to confirm their spot so they can have more time to fundraise.

“If we get even RM100K to get our initial international flights sorted, I think that is the current baseline that we would be comfortable with,” Juvita said.

They’re also writing an appeal letter to the state ministry and the Dayak Culture Foundation.

From the fundraising platform’s side, there is an option to extend the campaign dates or keep the campaign running until the goal is met.

But if the timeline doesn’t work out, Tuyang will need to close the campaign and communicate with their donors about the situation.

At the time of writing, they’ve raised RM12,820.

Image Credit: The Tuyang Initiative

Juvita clarified that Tuyang is a social enterprise rather than a charity or non-profit. But getting the word out there about their business capacity is challenging.  

As the co-founder pointed out, many see them as just a performing arts company, as opposed to a team who can offer solutions from a broader heritage perspective.

“We’ve been relatively successful in getting projects and commissions by clients,” she said. “We’ve worked with Education New Zealand and recently concluded an art curation project with an Oil & Gas company in Miri.”

One of their biggest dreams is to bring their performances to their own backyard.

Image Credit: The Tuyang Initiative

This will do what Broadway has done to New York—offering recurring performances in a given timeframe, attracting people to the state to learn about its culture.

Stages like the World Music & Dance Festival will serve to solidify Tuyang’s capabilities, showcasing Sarawakian culture and heritage to the world.

  • Learn more about The Tuyang Initiative here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: The Tuyang Initiative

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)