Lonely Planet Writer

Kuala Lumpur's new culture centre wants to get you closer to local art

YSB Square, a revitalized culture centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is creating an unusually intimate venue for appreciating the local arts.  “Most of the traditional arts are showcased in larger places like Istana Budaya [a modern national theatre],” says general manager Zaid Ambak Khalid. YSB (shortened from Yayasan Seni Berdaftar, a cultural foundation established in 1983) is set inside a quiet compound in the Ampang Hilir district, one of the best-preserved colonial-era neighborhoods in the city. There are no large halls here, only small rooms, galleries, terraces, and outdoor courts each with limited seating.

A wayang kulit performance. Image by Robert Kelly

“When we have wayang kulit, for example,” says Mr. Khalid, referring to shadow puppet theatre performed outdoors, “we only have a 60 pax capacity, so you can just come and relax, enjoy the show, and then go home.” In 2016, YSB began to expand its objectives from that of a typical charitable arts foundation to something more like an incubator for the commercial potential of Malaysian arts (broadly defined). The new centre opened in mid-2017, and is expected by mid-2018 to have weekly traditional performances, live contemporary music events, standup comedy, arts-focused workshops and a host of health and fitness activities such as yoga, F45 classes, and spa services. “The plan is to have a space where diverse activities are always happening,” says Mr. Khalid. The goal is to create a sustainable operation.

A brochure advertising the centre. Image by YSB Square

Though gift shops won’t be part of the package, throughout the year artisan crafts fairs will pop up regularly, as well as four or more holiday bazaars offering not just handcrafted goods for sale but also a range of foods.  “For the Ramadan Bazaar this year,” says Mr. Khalid, “we brought back the traditional form of eating, which is eating from a single large tray. This is not buffet style but rather food on a single tray for one group of four people to share.”

Though YSB does not see its mission as involving tourism promotion, it does see the potential for the centre to facilitate closer connections between travelers and Malaysian creatives. “We do need activities for visitors to be able to get into the local culture,” says Mr. Khalid. “When we look on [social media] for events in Kl, the list of activities is pretty boring. We see there is a huge gap there that can be filled.”

For now the best way to find upcoming events is on the YSB Square Instagram or Facebook account.

By Robert Kelly