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Interview: Low Ngai Yuen of Kakiseni

The charismatic multi-tasker Low Ngai Yuen takes time off her busy schedule to talk about Kakiseni, her non-profit work and most importantly, being a mum

Low Ngai Yuen is an unflinching artist who has always done something within the entertainment industry. From producing and directing, to becoming the youngest marketing director for Carrefour, she is now the driving force behind Kakiseni, a non-profit performing arts platform. Low became a household name as one of the hosts of ‘3R’, a popular infotainment programme that aired locally. ‘3R’ (Respect, Relax, Respond) was a half-hour programme aimed at empowering young women by focusing on issues of gender discrimination, sexuality and technology, and was regarded as quite a trailblazer at the time.

Currently, she’s serving as the president of Kakiseni, essentially an information hub. And that’s not all. In 2011 she conceptualised and founded a non-profit and cause-driven organisation called WOMEN:girls. Through this initiative, Low wants to reiterate how important women are in society and to encourage girls to forge their own identities. 

‘Exposure to the arts and arts education is fundamental in building    empathy, creativity and skills in communication and expression'

How did you come to be at Kakiseni?
It all started when the founders, Jenny Daneel and Kathy Rowland, announced its closure back in 2009. I was upset with the news and offered to continue the good work that Kakiseni has been doing. Long story short, after much persuasion, we signed the contract and voila, Kakiseni was signed over! We turned it into a non-profit in 2011.

What’s the biggest challenge in educating the Malaysian public about the arts?
That we are starting from ground zero every single time. Arts education isn’t the priority in many schools here, to put it politely; funding, resources and acknowledgement that it needs to be developed are very much lacking. So to the policymakers, our lobbying is about integrating the arts into a holistic education (critical and creative thinking plus collaborative working). For the schools, we pilot programmes that use arts as a tool to increase learning’s stickiness, and with the public we drive a lot more participation through community collaborations. Then there’s the corporate angle that we’re trying to engage and attract to play a stronger role. So there’s still much to be done.

What are some ways Malaysians can help the local performing arts scene and what are your thoughts about Kakiseni’s role in this?
Malaysians can go watch more shows, take part in workshop conversations, and walk into galleries more! There’s no shortage of amazing content happening every day, but it certainly takes the initiated to maximise its benefit. Kakiseni’s role? We continue to advocate and reach out to the public. Also, we’ll be launching our new and sexier site soon – hopefully that’ll start some awareness going.

What’s coming up for Kakiseni? Do you have any future plans lined up?
Lots! We never stop! We’re working on The Other Fest for Ipoh, due to happen in September – not to be missed; especially when we marry food, culture and arts! Also coming up is a Rasa Sayang festival in collaboration with Quill City Mall to place the arts collective as a key driver of the mall’s footfall.

LowNgaiYuen

Does Kakiseni have any plans for younger audiences?
Yes! We’re in the midst of building Kakiseni Junior, which will allow ease of looking up classes, activities and shows to expose and enrich the children’s appreciation for the creative. Kakiseni Junior will also work with schools, driving more collaboration between schools and professional artists.

That sounds exciting! In your opinion, how beneficial is exposure of the arts to a child’s growth and development?
Generally, exposure to the arts and arts education is fundamental in building empathy, creativity and skills in communication and expression. Focus, ability to collaborate, problem-solving, critical thinking skills and decision-making abilities are all practised thoroughly through the many tools of the arts from music and drama to drawing.

Tell us about WOMEN:girls, the not-for-profit organisation (NPO) that you founded.
It’s my dream coming true! WOMEN:girls is really about reminding every woman that they are role models to girls in order to maximise every girl’s potential. That every person matters and can be a changemaker – that’s our core motivation. We’re in schools and various communities driving multiple conversations, and most of our programmes are designed based on what the communities and schools need. From matching resources for mothers-turned entrepreneurs to finding apprentice opportunities for school dropouts, it’s all about providing ears on the ground and acting on them.

You’re a proud mother of four, a wife, an entrepreneur and an activist. How do you juggle so many things at once?
I don’t think about it separately. I’m all four and more all at once; not like Jekyll and Hyde though. I just make sure my strengths are always brought to the forefront and to constantly support my weaknesses with great teammates!

What’s the most important thing your kids have taught you? Does being a mother help you keep your feet on the ground?
I’m certain that growing up with my kids has taught me more that I could ever learn on my own. And yes, they keep me sane and motivated to always strive for more and do better!

For more information, check out the websites of WOMEN:girls and Kakiseni

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