top of page

Backstage: Managing Creativity and the Arts in SouthEast Asia (2021)

Backstage: Managing Creativity and the Arts in SouthEast Asia, is a collective effort and benefited from the support of many individuals and institutions during the eighteen months of its making.

South-East Asia is a region rich in cultural diversity and dynamic in its creativity. There is great potential for the countries of the region to capitalize on their cultural resources and their dynamic young populations to gear toward the creative economy and fully realize the role of culture in achieving sustainable development.

This publication, Backstage: Managing Creativity and the Arts in SouthEast Asia, draws on the findings of UNESCO’s recent study of the creative sector in the nine countries of the South-East Asian region (Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam), which involved a quantitative survey, in-depth interviews and policy analysis.

The publication showcases the policy environments in which the creative sector is operating, points out the similarities and differences across the countries of the region, and concretely identifies areas in which exchanges (sharing and learning from each other) and further development can be engineered to unleash the full potential of the sector.

The publication goes beyond a review of existing policies, however. It also tells the stories of the twenty-nine organizations across the region which are on the front line of moving the sector forward. Most are small and medium-sized organizations that depend largely on external financial support and on the resourcefulness of their founders and leaders. While the organizations may face certain limitations in strategy and capacity, and vary in terms of the challenges that they face in manoeuvring the complex and at times under-developed policy landscape, they share a great ambition to succeed and a full commitment to support their countries’ creative sector and to make them vibrant.

When we began the study in 2019, we did not foresee that the world would experience a major shock in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the creative sector, and the researchers returned to the participating organizations to learn about that impact. Therefore, while the publication focuses largely on the ongoing operational environments of the organizations, additional interviews demonstrate that the challenges that the creative sector faced before the pandemic intensified as a result of this crisis. The responses to the interviews also show that support to the sector is needed now more than ever to revive it in a timely manner.

I thank everyone who was involved in preparing this publication, which reports on one of the first comprehensive studies of the creative sector in South-East Asia. UNESCO will continue to engage with the sector under the framework of the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and we look forward to our future collaboration with you. (Shigeru Aoyagi, Director UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education)


Though the development of the Cultural and Creative Industries (CCI) sector has great economic potential in Southeast Asia, it is hindered by local market conditions. Given this, the UNESCO office in Bangkok, Thailand commissioned this study to review and analyze the financial environment of the CCI sector in Southeast Asia with a focus on the sustainability of civil society CCI organizations.


Important finding from the study is that a lack of firm policy direction, a lack of recognition or limited perceptions of the value of culture in society, a disconnect between the government and civil society, and a fragmented understanding of the CCI sector and its markets have inhibited the growth and sustainability of CCI organizations.

In other words, the study found that CCI organizations in Southeast Asia are more likely to flourish if they have access to government grants, subsidies and incentive schemes, private patronage, and/or funding from international organizations.


Independent organizations in Southeast Asia have worked towards creating their own capacity-building activities to respond to the lack of these programs in the CCI sector. These activities include vocational education programs, short-term courses, and capacity-building workshops. These projects often depend on grants, sponsorship, and international support, but organizations in Southeast Asia have sometimes obtained funds by hosting performances, offering services, and/or offering technical expertise.

The following are case studies on how countries in Southeast Asia have responded to the lack of CCI programs:



Epic Arts

One organization in Cambodia, an international NGO called Epic Arts, aims to celebrate diversity by “using the arts as a form of expression and empowerment” and “bringing people with and without disabilities together”. They work towards its purpose by managing an inclusive education program, a community program, and a social enterprise program.

Epic Arts were first registered as a charity in the UK in 2003. Later, in 2006, it opened the Epic Arts Cafe in Kampot, Cambodia. In 2009, Epic Arts built the first fully-accessible arts center in Southeast Asia.

Epic Arts Cafe is one of Epic Arts’ most vital income sources. As a social enterprise, it was established to provide job opportunities for people with disabilities. It is a well-known cafe and restaurant in Kampot. Additionally, Epic Arts’ provision of inclusive dance workshops and performances is another significant source of their income. Specifically enough, that income counts for about 40-50% of their annual budget.

Some of the obstacles encountered by this organization include the scarcity of long-term financial support and qualified staff members. Furthermore, it must rely on external funding and foreign support to continue its work because it does not receive permanent support from the Cambodian government. Since Cambodia does not exempt local NGOs from paying taxes, taxes are a major burden on Epic Arts.


MondiBlanc Film Workshop

Established in 2016, MondiBlanc Film Workshop is a non-profit foundation that functions as a film workshop community with the goal of helping people build their skills for the film and video industries. Although the workshops are free of charge for anyone who wants to study film professionally, candidates are selected based on their commitment and prior knowledge of film software and equipment. The training activities include online and offline editing, production design, production management, visual arrangements, acting and directing, scriptwriting, post-production, and cinematography.

Content that has been produced by Mondiblanc Film Workshop includes short and long films, music videos, and serials. One such film is called XABI, a “mental health documentary” which revolves around the lives of four survivors of psychological disabilities and their experiences with these disorders.

MondiBlanc obtains its revenue from its monetized videos on YouTube, its cafe business, its equipment rental service, and commissioned projects via its sponsor: Talemaker LLC. MondiBlanc has been able to carry out these training activities between 2016 and 2020 through this revenue. However, Mondiblanc’s business structure is precarious because of a lack of long-term planning which has caused a high turnover of management personnel and diverging opinions on the future direction of the organization.

Mondiblanc films can be viewed on

More information about the organization can be found on



The Association for the Promotion and Preservation of Art and Literature (PPALLao)

PPAL is a local civil society organization that supports cultural promotion and preservation in Literature, Fine Arts, and Performing Arts. It was created in 2014 and started as an informal group. Several years later, it sought to become an association because its activities are targeted toward local communities and a non-profit status would allow it to develop partnerships with organizations of diverse backgrounds.

The principle of its mission is the belief that “culture is key to sustainable social development and the creation of fresh ideas, stronger relationships, heritage preservation, and playful education”. One way in which the PPAL contributes to cultural development is by establishing community libraries. It also organizes art and literature contests, holds workshops, produces publications, and arranges activities like artist meetings, book fairs, and poetry festivals at children’s education development centers.

Unfortunately, locals’ lack of appreciation for these artistic disciplines has hindered the organization. Moreover, governmental procedures in Lao PDR require the Ministry of Culture, Information, and Tourism to monitor and authorize the activities that PPAL works on. Thus, PPAL relies heavily on external funding sources like partnerships with international organizations and contributions and sponsorships from private companies. It initiates projects only when funding is available, thereby operating on a project-by-project basis. PPAL also generates a modest income through its book sales and literature classes. Because of its limited budget, PPAL cannot pay wages to its staff members, most of whom are volunteers.

Past projects organized and managed by PPAL Lao include:

  • 2015: “SONTHANA” discussion when writers meet readers 3 sessions and “Writers meet High schools students” in 7 High schools in Vientiane Capital

  • Since 2015-2018 “Scale up the Poetry Reading and Folk Singing Project” Training of Trainers; children’s performance at SINXAY Festival

  • 2016: “Young Illustrator workshop on Character design”;2016: “Training of Trainers on Storytelling for Primary school Teachers”

  • 2016: Young Illustrator workshop on “How to make a Storyboard” and “Children’s book illustration project for DOKKET publisher”.

  • 2019: Drawing Competition “Let’s join us and draw” at Vientiane Book Festival


The Philippines

Pineapple Lab

Pineapple Lab is a private company that was established in 2015. It has operated as a private company since 2018, and it was formerly known as Fringe Cultural and Creative Industries. Strategically, it is located in the cultural center of Poblacion in Metro Manila. It seeks to register as a non-profit organization but has not yet succeeded in doing so.

Pineapple Lab serves as a creative hub and platform for emerging artists and groups who identify as LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, Intersex, and/or Asexual). Opportunities like this for LGBTQIA artists are rare in the Philippines since these artists lack the social capital that is necessary to get showcased in respectable exhibits and art spaces.

Notably, Pineapple Lab also serves as a space for performances by LGBTQIA emerging artists. One project that illustrates this is the Pineapple Lab’s festival called Fringe Manila. This festival, which hopes to make art more accessible to a more diverse audience, has resulted in more than 180 shows in over 100 venues in 2018.

Pineapple Lab’s key source of funding is commissions. For instance, it has been commissioned by the local city government, the British Council, and the Japan Foundation.


bottom of page