Everyone knows Penang street art. The cool kids flock to Penang island, Malaysia, where hipster cafes, gentrified shopfronts selling artisanal breads and barista coffee abound. While Penang island itself is trotting out the reclamation of heritage buildings for an overseas palette, hurrying itself a make-over that diminishes its soul, its poorer, mainland cousin of Butterworth has a quiet street art space for those who want to see what Penang island USED to be like.
I’m proud of how Penang Island has reinvigorated itself, but like any “newly found” spot, it ends up losing some of its intrinsic value by selling too much of itself.
Over in Butterworth, you’ll see art down the road from a local market still used by locals who have not yet been pushed out to make way for cafe culture. The main “walk” is on the lane next to Lodge 18 Hotel in Lorong Bagan Luar 1. There are also a few other pieces of art round the corner – across the road from the carpark at the abandoned building, and towards the market, near the Hindu temple….but you’ll need to find it.
The sad part is that locals don’t appreciate their own art scene until the overseas tourists put a ticket price on it. So I guess I’m writing to the locals and the tourists – please keep it real. Do you want to make money out of this? The realist in me says “yes, of course”.
So by all means, add amenities and incentives for businesses to bring in the tourists, but balance that against nurturing and saving the soul of the place. Don’t shut down every street stall and push out the old businesses who don’t service tourists just to make way for their presumed need for lattes and gluten-free carrot cake.
You do need to keep the grime, the local hustle, the mum and pop stores, the innocence and the delight, else, you lose that core value of why the tourists were enchanted by your town, to begin with. That local flavour is what keeps it from becoming just another street art scene in Melbourne or Manhattan. You are Penang. That’s why I flew 100s of miles to see YOU. So please, be you.
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