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Meet Joe Sidek

by Su Aziz

The expert trainer of  WIEF Young Fellow 2019 in Penang, Joe Sidek, is a force in the arts festival circuit, especially in Southeast Asia. He has been invited to speak on curating, running and starting arts festivals internationally. Here he chats a little more about himself and the creative business.

It’s not easy to meet Joe Sidek since he bounces between three Malaysian cities of George Town, Kuala Lumpur and Kuching. However, if you’re a participant of WIEF Young Fellow 2019 that’ll be held in Penang in November, you’ll get the chance to meet with him. Joe will be one of the expert trainers for YF2019.

Already a well-known figure in the regional arts scene, Joe wears many hats including festival director of multiple festivals including Rainforest Fringe Festival, which is a prelude to the renown Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak and LIFT Festival in Putrajaya.

In 2010, Joe started the internationally acclaimed George Town Festival in Penang that aimed to celebrate the arts produced locally and internationally for a month each year. Joe curated GTF, as it’s fondly known, for its first nine years with a discernible global flavour that was backdropped by Penang’s rich and colourful heritage.

Joe’s business sense may have been born of his family’s textile chemical business of which he is its managing director. This true blue 62-year old Penangite has experience in the creative business that’s at least twice the length of his person. Due to that, he has been invited to speak at numerous arts events around the Asian region as well as internationally such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Yokohama, Beijing, New York and in cities across Australia.

Prior to YF2019, Joe answers some quick questions.

How would you describe yourself?
I’m my mother’s son. I hope I’m at least 50 per cent of what my late father was. Generally, I’m opinionated, difficult, choosy, fussy, a klutz, technologically challenged, short-tempered, unable to spell well, poor hearing (on the left side), love gardening, somewhat kind and compassionate. Most of all, I’m passionate about my work and people. Oh, I’m also loyal and I love life.

What is your definition of creative business?
Making money out of passion.

What got you into the creative business?
I’m still trying to make it a business as it all started based on passion. Passion is what got me into this.

What were your three main challenges besides funding?
One, changing the mindset of people in the community. Two, convincing the local community to look beyond our borders. And as for the last one, negativity from onerous person(s).

What were the solutions to the challenges?
Time. Along with me learning as well as understanding the community. I must say, I’m still struggling to understand and I’m still working out the elements after nine years. So, in other words, it’s an on-going process which is ever-evolving.

What was your proudest moment as a creative business person?
There’s no one specific moment but every time I get invited to talk about GTF on a global stage, and judging from the reception I receive from people around the globe, it makes me proud of what we have managed [with GTF].

What changes would you like to see in the Malaysian and international creative industry?
The mindset. We can all work separately but together, sailing an armada with all our different ships is all right, but we have to sail together. It’s difficult to grow without working together.

What do you think is the role of the creative industry within a country’s economy?
Look at how Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Australia, Japan and China’s focus on the creative economy, and the answer is there. Money is being pumped into their creative ecosystem and figures from UNCTAD on creative economies substantiate this.

What do you do differently now, when running a creative business?
Learnt difficult lessons about finance, politics, and learn to get up and go back into battle. Actually, I’m going back to reading The Art of War by Sun Tzu!

What are your tips for young startups venturing into the creative industry?
Only do it if passion is before ego and money. Remove anger, ego and fear.

What can participants expect from you during your YF2019 session in Penang?
Starting their career path is always difficult and tricky. I would want to share real experience and how to manage expectations.

WIEF Foundation’s Young Fellows 2019 will be happening in George Town, Penang, Malaysia on 11-14 November. Its theme this year is Embracing the Future of Smart Tourism. To register as a participant, visit this link.

Read more on smart tourism here. Read an interview with another YF2019 trainer here.

4 Oct 2019
Last modified: 4 Oct 2019
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