【Museums Link Asia-Pacific】Turning Artists into Entrepreneurs – The Young Art Entrepreneurs Project at the National Art Gallery Malaysia

Exterior of the National Art Gallery Malaysia (photo by Hsieh Yu-Ting)

Author/Photography: Hsieh Yu-Ting

*The article is translated from “博物之島 Museum Island", a website introducing museums in Taiwan and worldwide.


In addition to the main building, since 2017 the National Art Gallery Malaysia has also had several colorful pre-fabricated cabins that have become creative spaces for young artists. This is not your regular resident artist program: The Young Art Entrepreneurs project (YAE) is intended to nurture young creators so they can develop their own brands and support themselves through their art. This year, for the first time, Taiwanese artists were chosen to participate in the project.

Once an unknown artist struggling on the street, director of the museum Prof. Dato Dr. Mohamed Najib bin Ahmad Dawa (“Najib”) hopes to alleviate the plight of young artists who do not understand the market and struggle to make a living. The YAE project consists of a five-day training camp and a four-month on-site residency to help creators develop business acumen and think about the market value of their work, whatever the aesthetics.

Container cabin outside the art gallery (photo by Hsieh Yu-Ting)


“Art schools only teach students technique,” says curator Najib. “They don’t train students to deal with the business world. That’s why many art creators have to rely on part-time work to make a living, or choose a career that has nothing to do with [artistic] creation in order to support themselves.”

Najib saw this problem when he taught art school, so he included entrepreneurship training in the YAE project, with classes in business law, accounting, finance, online marketing, and fundraising. The museum also commissions lecturers to analyze the Malaysian arts ecosystem, enabling artists to think about their market positioning and coaching them to apply for creative subsidies and overseas residencies. Before the end of the residency, the National Art Gallery Malaysia will hold artist exhibitions where in addition to exhibiting their works each artist-in-residence must put forward a career plan.

“Of course, you can ask: Why should art be monetized and marketized?” Project mentor Dr. Abdul Rahim Said admits that they are constantly debating this issue. However, he believes that if artists want to influence society, first they have to survive, and they can’t passively wait for the attention of galleries and curators, but should actively build contacts and position their brands.

“Art museums collect artists’ works, so what are we going to do if we don’t have any new Malaysian artists’ works to collect?” Instead of merely acting as the highest repository of the art world, the National Art Museum of Malaysia is cultivating new artistic blood right at the source and turning art museums into a more powerful support system for artistic talent.

Brandon Ritom, a young artist who took part in the project in 2018, talked about his creations and experiences during the YAE program. (photo by Hsieh Yu-Ting)


Studio housed in colorful containers (photo by Hsieh Yu-Ting)