Projects for, with, and by the Community: Arts-ED in Kuala Sepetang


Over the weekend of 29-30 June 2019, Arts-ED was invited to conduct a workshop on community-based projects, using Kuala Sepetang as a case study. The workshop was part of a 4-month long capacity-building program《社区就是教室,大地是课堂》-- 青年种子培力计划 with the aim of equipping selected young leaders involved in New Village development from across the country with the skills to create effective community-building initiatives.

Local community leaders firstly presented on the history and politics of Kuala Sepetang, and the background of the community project Look! Port Weld.

Arts-ED’s Training Component


The participants worked in groups to plan potential projects in Kuala Sepetang and presented them to local community leaders to gather feedback. Throughout the process, Janet Pillai, founder of Arts-ED, facilitated the discussions, exemplifying the role of a moderator, including asking targeted questions to clarify the community’s priorities.


In her presentation, Janet explained the differences between projects for, with, and by the community through underscoring the different degrees of community involvement and independence. She outlined the framework for intervention, starting with research and cultural mapping, followed by participatory dialogue and collective action.

Chen Yoke Pin, Senior Manager of Arts-ED, shared the case study of Sungai Pinang Kita, Arts-ED’s 2012-2014 community-based arts programme at PPR Sungai Pinang, a low-cost flat in Penang. The programme used the arts to build the young residents’ awareness about issues apparent in their living environment, and to facilitate exploring solutions towards improving liveability.

Key Discussions

A participant mentioned the difficulty he faced in engaging the community even when it came to issues pertinent to them. Janet pointed out that the reason is the absence of an ongoing relationship established prior to the emergence of the problem. She recommended consistent engagement at locations where the community gathers as trust-building is crucial. 

Another participant sought further elaboration on how Sungai Pinang Kita identified the needs and issues of the community upon which the creative educational programs were based. Chen explained that there was basic engagement with the community before focus group discussions, which were run by facilitators who spoke the language, were held for an intensive period of 3-4 months. The residents then voted on their issues of priority. Janet reminded everyone that there is no formula for community engagement, and that community participation and empowerment should be the driving principles behind all actions. The methodology must be adapted according to the target interest group and issue.

On that note, Janet encouraged the participants to take risks and experiment through pilot projects, with the bigger goal of changing the system of governance to create an environment more conducive to community participation. Documentation of the planning process is therefore highly important to facilitate the exchange of learning between different groups and should be done at the end of every phase rather than upon the completion of the entire project. The method of documentation depends on the resources available; participants too can be documenters, provided that the necessary aspects of documentation are clearly communicated.

Photo credit: Vanessa Howe, Natalie Chan, and Felecia Sia

Photo credit: Vanessa Howe, Natalie Chan, and Felecia Sia

Group Learning

Towards the end of the training, the participants shared that Arts-ED’s workshop answered some of the queries with regard to community-building that they had, as well as provided them with a methodology to carry out community engagement efforts. In particular, they highlighted the importance of building partnerships and balancing the perspectives of different stakeholders in cultural planning. Central to this is developing a holistic understanding of the community, empowering interest groups to be active participants to ensure the sustainability of projects, and mobilising available resources effectively. The participants gained a clearer picture of their roles as intermediaries who, while facilitating dialogue between the various parties involved, need to have a larger vision in mind regarding the change they want to bring about. 

The participants looked forward to continuing to develop their skills by applying the knowledge gained from this workshop in their own communities.

Reported by: Ooi Win Wen, 11 July 2019

Chen Yoke Pin