Realising our vision of a vibrant and sustainable arts landscape in Singapore
Speech by Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth & Transport in response to the Adjournment Motion: Building a Sustainable and Vibrant Community Arts Ecosystem, by Nominated Member of Parliament Mr Terence Ho
06 January 2020
Adjournment Motion makes three recommendations to build a sustainable and vibrant community arts ecosystem: (i) to build under-one-roof performing arts housing for music, dance and theatre, (ii) to reconsider and revisit the plan to reinstall the arts radio and TV channel, and (iii) to foster and further the establishment of community arts groups with school/institution alumni and students.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank Mr Terence Ho for his suggestions to improve the vibrancy and sustainability of the arts and culture in Singapore. The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) and its cultural institutions recognise the importance of fostering the sustained and sustainable growth of Singapore’s arts and culture sector over the longer-term. We have been, and are committed to working closely with partners from the private and people sectors towards this end.
Shared resources and co-location as sustainable way forward
- I will start by addressing Mr Ho’s first and third suggestions on the use of spaces for the arts and culture. I agree that it is important to ensure efficient use of physical spaces in land scarce Singapore. The Gross Floor Area (GFA) that is dedicated to artists and art companies has grown almost five-fold over the last 30 years1. Venues such as Goodman Arts Centre (GAC), Stamford Arts Centre (SAC), Aliwal Arts Centre , and the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre currently provide our arts community with many creation and presentation spaces. However, demand for art spaces continues to increase and remains high. Given our limited resources with rising rental costs and increasing competition for space, co-location initiatives and shared spaces are necessary to ensure our existing spaces are effectively used for the benefit of more arts practitioners.
- Multi-purpose studios, performance venues, office spaces and storage rooms are co-shared at our arts centres. This arrangement not only maximises available spaces but also allows the arts community to strengthen their networks, facilitate exchange of ideas, and increase opportunities for collaboration and partnership. For example, GAC offers arts practitioners the use of facilities such as a Black Box, dance studio and acoustically treated music studios. GAC’s multi-disciplinary tenant mix was a purposeful design by the National Arts Council (NAC) to catalyse diverse and quality artistic works, create greater synergies and collaborations amongst the various art forms, and introduce appreciation of different art forms and genres to audiences. Today, GAC is an energetic arts enclave, drawing in the public interested in experiencing the diverse range of art forms and arts activities on offer. We agree with Mr Ho’s suggestion that NAC can grow the Stamford Arts Centre’s potential to similarly grow into a vibrant and attractive arts venue with the mix of performing arts groups which share its spaces.
- NAC will continue to review arts spaces under its care, and will prioritise shared and common spaces that benefit more arts groups. As Mr Ho mentioned, there are two co-working spaces for arts freelancers at GAC and SAC. They will be officially launched in the coming weeks, which would further contribute to the dynamism of our arts spaces. Mr Ho’s idea of a shared warehouse is a good one that NAC will explore as a way to diversify our arts space offerings. Given our limited arts GFA, however, we would also encourage our arts practitioners to consider how they can pool their resources to rent commercial spaces, or for members in the arts community with existing facilities to open them up for sharing with or rental to others.
- Aside from arts spaces under NAC, we also work closely with corporate and community partners to unlock new spaces for arts practitioners. One such partner is the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which encourages developers to allocate space in malls for arts, sports and social groups with strong community links through its Community Sports Facilities Scheme. Arts groups like Wild Rice, Singapore Dance Theatre and The Rice Company Limited are examples of organisations that have successfully benefited from this scheme, through retail operators like CapitaLand, Far East Organisation and Frasers Centrepoint. We hope that more developers and venue owners could support this scheme and provide spaces for our artists to flourish and contribute to their communities.
- Other partners are the Community Centres and Clubs (CCs). Mr Ho would be familiar with community orchestras and bands that have been formed and housed at our CCs, such as Keat Hong Chinese Orchestra2 at the Chua Chu Kang CC, and West Winds at the Bukit Batok CC. These groups are dedicated to developing young talents, and are useful platforms for many to continue pursuing their passions even after leaving school.
- In addition, NAC also works with the People’s Association (PA) to facilitate co-location of arts groups within community facilities such as Our Tampines Hub and Wisma Geylang Serai. As Mr Ho noted, the arts groups in such venues can contribute to the vibrancy of their neighbourhoods, and grow their community stakeholders. NAC and PA are open to considering more of such co-location opportunities if there is a good fit between our CCs, and the needs, priorities and commitments of arts groups, including alumni arts groups. On their part, arts groups should be responsive and adaptive to the needs of local audiences and community stakeholders such as grassroots organisations and space owners.
Expanding audiences and deepening engagement through digital means
- Mr Deputy Speaker, let me now turn to Mr Ho’s other suggestion, namely the reinstatement of a radio station and TV channel to promote the arts. I agree with Mr Ho that it is important to promote the arts to as wide an audience as possible, to give everyone the opportunity to experience our vibrant culture and for it to become a part of all Singaporeans’ lives.
- NAC already works with mainstream media platforms to showcase the arts. For example, Hear65, a national movement launched in 2018, partnered with local radio station UFM 100.3 in 2019 to present six shows profiling our local artists, drawing an audience of over 1,500 and 80,000 views online. In addition, Mediacorp as our National Broadcaster continues to make arts content accessible and enjoyable to the public across its Free-To-Air and digital platforms, when appropriate. Arts and culture-related programming that have been broadcast recently include Spop Sing!3, Lights. Camera. Singapore4 , and Singapore Talent Night5 , which showcased performances by local artists who performed at River Hongbao 2019. MCCY and NAC will continue to explore opportunities to work with mainstream media to reach out to radio and television audiences.
- However, with the increasingly widespread use of technology, coupled with global trends on declining TV viewership and radio listenership, it is important to also tap on digital platforms and channels to complement traditional media to transform the way in which audiences engage with our arts and culture. As Minister Grace Fu announced at the 2019 Committee of Supply debate, MCCY, NAC and NHB are developing new digital initiatives such as the one-stop online Cultural Concierge for arts and culture activities and content, and the Cultural Resource Ontology to facilitate easier public access to our cultural resources. We are actively digitising our National Collection and making this accessible through platforms such as NHB’s Roots.sg, as well as the National Library Board’s National Online Repository of the Arts (NORA).
- Most recently, the Esplanade launched a multimedia site Offstage in October 2019, hosting behind-the-scenes, broadcast, interactive and archival content of the performing arts. Through such initiatives, we seek to bring our arts and culture to new audiences, while simultaneously engaging existing audiences in new and meaningful ways.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, to realise our shared vision of a vibrant and sustainable arts landscape in Singapore, it is in our arts and cultural groups’ own interest and responsibility to ensure their long-term relevance and success. This can range from developing audiences to appreciate their work, to creating new works of art which can appeal to a wider audience, and continually enhancing their governance and financial processes to attract and retain donors and sponsors. MCCY and NAC are committed to working with our arts practitioners towards this end. Thank you.
1 NAC’s GFA grew from 18,170 sqm in 1985 to an anticipated 88,350 sqm in 2020.
2 Keat Hong Chinese Orchestra’s Music Director and Conductor is a zhonghu musician with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and for a time, doubled as SCO’s Resident Music Arranger.
3 Spop Sing! is an inaugural nationwide talent search in 2018 targeted at youths which showcased Singapore music and promoted homegrown talent.
4 Lights. Camera. Singapore (LCS) is a curation of creative works presented on Mediacorp platforms that celebrates content created for, by and with local talent. LCS kicked off in Nov 2018 with the screening of 28 Singapore films, followed by 3 stage to screen adaptations – Fried Rice Paradise, Mixed Signals, & Ti Tou Dao (premiering in Feb 2020).
5 Singapore Talent Night is part of River Hongbao 2019, and took place over two days on 8 and 9 February 2019. It featured performances by local talents, including Joanna Dong, Ding Yi Music Company, and MICapella.