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Developing our talents for a vibrant and sustainable arts ecosystem

Speech by Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth & Transport in response to the Adjournment Motion by Nominated Member of Parliament Mr Terence Ho on achieving arts excellence in Singapore

Adjournment Motion makes three recommendations to further improve Singapore’s pipeline of successful arts professionals: (i) establish an arts university, (ii) “establish a robust eco system to develop top notch artists”, and (iii) support young artists at local and international platforms.


  1. Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank Mr Terence Ho for his suggestions to grow arts excellence in Singapore. The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) and the National Arts Council (NAC) work closely with partner agencies and the arts community to develop a rich and vibrant arts landscape in Singapore, including through arts excellence.
  2. Mr Ho spoke about the important role the arts plays in building our national identity, bringing different communities together and presenting Singapore to the world. I agree. MCCY recognises that the arts plays an important and critical role in building a caring, cohesive and confident Singapore. We are committed to partnering the community to nurture arts excellence, even as we grow broad-based engagement.
  3. I will now address Mr Ho’s three suggestions in turn.

    Nurturing the young through arts education

  4. First, I agree with Mr Ho on the importance of providing opportunities for our children to experience the arts. Exposure to the arts at a young age can nurture creative thinking and help our children develop empathy and confidence. In addition to the initiatives already highlighted by Mr Ho, NAC has worked to enable quality arts experiences during different life stages from pre-school to tertiary education. To give one example, The Artground at Goodman Arts Centre is an incubator space that offers arts programmes for children as young as a few months old, such as the recent programme called “Baby Space” held in April. NAC has also collaborated with partners like the Early Childhood Development Agency and NTUC My First Skool to bring our artists to pre-schools to enrich their first encounters with the arts.
  5. Mr Ho asked about the diverse pathways beyond arts practice that have been taken by students from the School of the Arts (SOTA) after graduation. Our objective in establishing SOTA more than 10 years ago as a premier arts school to nurture leaders in all fields remains relevant today. SOTA was set up to provide a learning environment where both the artistic and academic potential of our students can be realised, and where a culture of experimentation and expression allows them to discover their passions and their strengths. SOTA has attracted some of our best and brightest students who are capable of succeeding in many fields of study and of gaining entry to some of the top academic institutions in the world. A SOTA education develops the skills and confidence for students to follow the pathways they wish to pursue in life. SOTA’s success is not defined by only the number who progress to higher-level arts institutions and become future art practitioners and leaders of arts and culture institutions, but also those who go on to take up other non-arts disciplines, and who then infuse their creative bent and skills into diverse professional fields and industries such as engineering, and law. These graduates of SOTA are the future patrons, supporters and audiences who champion the arts.
  6. I agree with Mr Ho that it is important to provide opportunities for students to pursue creative arts at the tertiary level. There is currently a wide range of diploma and degree programmes in arts, design and media, more than 90% of which are government-subsidised. They are offered at all five polytechnics, LASALLE College of the Arts, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, National University of Singapore –including the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, Nanyang Technological University, and Singapore Institute of Technology. Altogether, there is a total of 70 diploma and around 30 undergraduate degree courses offered in the creative arts, catering to students who are keen on specialised disciplines such as Music and Fine Arts, as well as those who are interested in more broad-based and multi-disciplinary programmes such as NTU’s degree in Media Art.
  7. With the competing manpower needs of our economy, it is also the responsibility of the government to ensure that arts education is competitive in quality and relevance with other disciplines in enhancing the employability of our students. MCCY and MOE will therefore study carefully Mr Ho’s suggestion for an arts university, taking into account the evolving arts education landscape.

    Building a robust ecosystem

  8. I will now turn to Mr Ho’s second recommendation. We agree that it is important to establish a robust ecosystem that contributes to the development of artists who can make Singapore and Singaporeans proud. To achieve this, NAC’s Our SG Arts Plan has identified eight priority areas which range from using digital technology to maximising the impact of the arts on society. We are also committed to providing sector-wide support for our freelancers to look after their own financial and healthcare needs over the longer term. With their range of skills and expertise, freelancers make an important contribution and should have access to resources that will better equip themselves for the nature of their work. MCCY and NAC have been working with our partners to further develop plans to support freelance artists that we shared at the Committee of Supply debates earlier this year, and we will be sharing more details in due course.
  9. Another priority in the Arts Plan is to grow our audiences, who are critical to a thriving and sustainable arts ecosystem. The success of a sustainable arts ecosystem is determined not just by the quality of artists and their works, but also by whether they succeed in connecting with and growing their audiences. NAC will on its part also step up efforts to help our home-grown talents grow audiences. An example of how NAC has partnered the community to build our audiences is the Hear65 initiative launched in April 2018. This was done in collaboration with independent music media company Bandwagon to celebrate and promote all forms of Singapore music.  

    Nurturing young local artists

  10. Finally, I will address Mr Ho’s third recommendation — supporting our young artists locally and internationally. Two other priorities in Our SG Arts Plan are to build diverse capabilities in the arts sector and take Singapore’s arts beyond our shores. Our arts ecosystem is made up of not only artists, but also other arts practitioners such as managers and administrators, educators, researchers and academics. NAC will continue to support the development of arts professionals in all these areas through its initiatives and funding schemes. For example, Jean Hair was awarded an NAC scholarship in 2018 to pursue a Master of Arts and Cultural Management, and has since returned to Singapore to continue her work at the National Gallery of Singapore. We are also proud of our 2011 Young Artist Award recipient Joshua Tan, who was appointed associate conductor of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in the same year, and went on to be the principal conductor of the Singapore National Youth Orchestra.
  11. There are multiple platforms for young artists to showcase and develop their talent such as the annual SHINE festival organised by the National Youth Council, and the Noise Music Mentorship programme by NAC. Some who perform well at such events and competitions are engaged by our national companies, such as Moses Gay – a prize winner at the National Chinese Music Competition in the early 2000s who is now a colleague of Mr Ho, as an Assistant Conductor with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO). In addition, NAC will continue to provide opportunities for our artists to participate in overseas residencies and exchanges, from Indonesia to China and Australia. These allow our artists to learn from others, build their markets overseas, and share what Singapore is capable of.
  12. MCCY and NAC are committed to developing our young talent, and are constantly exploring new ways of doing so. NAC is currently working with our flagship arts companies and institutions to take in NAC scholarship recipients after they return from their studies. This will help the scholars further their development under the tutelage of experienced professionals, while the companies gain from an injection of new ideas and energy. I would like to thank Mr Ho and the SCO for being part of this effort to groom our young talent and help them fulfil their potential. We look forward to his continued partnership and contributions to the development of a vibrant and sustainable arts landscape in Singapore.
  13. Thank you.

Last updated on 07 January 2020