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Safeguarding the livelihoods of arts and culture practitioners for a vibrant and sustainable ecosystem

Speech by Ms Low Yen Ling, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth & Trade and Industry in response to Adjournment Motion: Increasing Support for the Sustenance of Livelihoods amongst Performing Arts Workers by Member of Parliament Ms Carrie Tan

  1. Mdm Deputy Speaker, I want to thank Ms Carrie Tan for her passionate speech and for her four suggestions on increasing support for the arts. Like Ms Carrie Tan, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) recognises that our arts and culture play a critical role in our efforts to foster a more caring people, cohesive society and nation. The arts play a key role in connecting different communities. The arts show the world who we are and what we stand for, as a people, as a nation. During these unprecedented times, the arts and culture sector is even more essential than ever, as a source of inspiration and hope for Singaporeans.

    Government commitment to the arts and culture sector

  2. As Ms Carrie Tan noted, the Government has since the 1980s, initiated deep seated efforts to develop a vibrant and sustainable arts and culture sector. Wide-ranging in breadth and aims, the masterplans from the 1980s to 2000s, such as the report of the Advisory Council on Culture and the Arts (ACCA), and the Renaissance City Plans (RCP), have built a foundation for the growth of Singapore’s art and culture. Since 2012, our approach has been guided by the Arts and Culture Strategic Review (ACSR) which seeks to bring arts and culture to everyone, everywhere, every day. This blueprint to enhance our arts and culture has made steady progress. In the Committee of Supply debate last year, MCCY noted that several ACSR outcomes, such as the number of arts and heritage activities have been registering healthy increases. The diversity and the types of activities, as well as attendance, have grown as well.
  3. Despite such progress, we cannot rest on our laurels. MCCY recognises the need to update our strategies and approaches, so that our arts and culture continue to strengthen Singapore’s social fabric and unity. In 2018, these important aims were reflected in the inaugural Our SG Arts and Heritage Plans introduced after extensive engagement with stakeholders across the public, private and people sectors. These plans cover a span of 5 years until 2022, and comprehensively set out the strategies that will provide strong foundations on the continued growth of the arts and heritage sectors. These included the continued emphasis on nurturing arts excellence and focus on leveraging technology, that she spoke about as well. One of the 8 strategic priorities in Our SG Arts Plan includes addressing the needs of arts freelancers.
  4. To better support the development of our arts and culture, the government has steadily and consistently increased funding for these sectors. Contrary to Ms Tan’s suggestion that funding for the arts and heritage fell from 2015 to 2019, I would like to clarify that based on MCCY’s annual Singapore Cultural Statistics report, funding for these sectors actually rose from about $300 million per year before 2013, to about $450 million per year from 2016 to 2018. In fact, funding was highest in 2014 and 2015 due to the enhanced programming for our SG50 celebrations, as well as major development projects like the revamp of Asian Civilisations Museum, and construction of the National Gallery Singapore.
  5. I wish to also highlight to Ms Tan and Members that substantial funding was provided to the culture sector through the government’s provision of $350 million to-date for the Cultural Matching Fund (CMF) to encourage cultural philanthropy. Rolled out in 2014, the CMF matches qualifying donations raised by arts and heritage groups dollar-for-dollar. Between 2014 and 2018, the CMF has matched about $215 million worth of donations raised by the sector. And this has helped over 100 arts and heritage groups double their donation income. The grant has enabled these arts and heritage groups to develop their capabilities. This topic is also one of the four recommendations she talked about, develop their capabilities for the long-term sustainability of the organisation, as well as to support digital productions.

    Support during COVID-19

  6. Mdm Deputy Speaker, with the pandemic, these steady efforts to grow the arts and culture sector are being disrupted like other affected industries hit by safe distancing measures and the halt of group events. The government has, through its special budgets, released specific help and measures to boost incomes and livelihoods. Arts organisations and practitioners are able to tap on broad-based measures such as the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), Self-Employed Persons Income Relief Scheme (SIRS), COVID-19 Support Grant (CSG) and SEP Training Support Scheme (STSS) for income support and skills training.
  7. The government recognises that the arts and culture sector, like  retail and food industries, has been significantly affected. Hence, the sector will continue to receive further government support till March next year. This is unlike what Ms Tan had suggested - that the arts and entertainment sector only receives 10% wage support under the JSS, with this dropping to 0% from January 2021. I would like to clarify that eligible organisations currently receive 50% wage support for 10 months under Tier 2 of the JSS, similar to the retail and food industries. These organisations will receive a rate of 30% for 7 more months, with disbursements in March and June 2021. I hope Ms Tan will be happy to hear this information.
  8. In addition to these measures, MCCY also announced a $55 million Arts and Culture Resilience Package (ACRP) in April 2020. The ACRP provides additional support and opportunities for the arts and culture community, while encouraging the development of longer-term capabilities that will help the sector emerge stronger after COVID-19. By end August 2020, ACRP funding generated over 6,000 work and training opportunities for arts and culture practitioners, and supported more than 900 digitalisation projects and programmes. As announced on 21 August this year, MCCY will be providing an additional Operating Grant under the ACRP to support arts and culture organisations, as well as those in closely related sectors that Ms Tan talked about earlier, that are key to the arts and culture ecosystem. I want to assure Ms Tan that we will announce additional details soon.

    Support for freelancers

  9. We understand that the pandemic has disrupted livelihoods and plans in the arts and culture sector. Arts workers, including freelancers, have been hard hit. I would like to thank Ms Tan for the initiatives that she has suggested to better support these groups of valuable talents and workers. We recognise the diverse capabilities of our arts and culture freelancers and how they contribute richly to our arts and culture ecosystem. It is important to provide them with ways and means to continue contributing in this sector. MCCY and NAC are working closely with partners to provide a range of support to boost the livelihoods and capabilities of freelancers.
  10. Allow me, Mdm Deputy Speaker, to share several ways in which MCCY and NAC are ramping up assistance and opportunities for the arts and culture sector, including freelancers. Firstly, we have the Capability Development Scheme for the Arts (CDSA). Capability development is also a topic that Ms Tan spoke passionately about in her speech earlier. Capability development has been and continues to be a long-standing priority for the sector. This grant helps arts and culture organisations and practitioners upskill and prepare for a post-COVID-19 recovery. So far, the CDSA has supported close to 600 training opportunities, of which around 300 were for freelancers. Those tapping on the CDSA are eligible for paid training allowance of $10 per hour. Many of the training programmes identified by the NAC are not only useful in raising the capabilities of arts freelancers across diverse domains, the programmes are also eligible under the SkillsFuture framework for costs to be defrayed.
  11. Second, the Digital Presentation Grant for the Arts (DPG). This supports ground-up efforts by artists and arts groups to present their work in digital form. This not only generates work opportunities, it also builds industry capabilities in digital content production. She spoke passionately about Kpop, and I think to certain extent it is because of their ability to translate their art form into digital medium. The response to DPG has been  positive – it has supported over 300 projects and provided around 4,500 work opportunities, of which about 1,100 were for freelancers.
  12. Ms Tan had noted that the DPG only supported productions rated General. Mdm Deputy Speaker, allow me to explain the reasons for this. The DPG is created as a scheme during COVID-19 to support the efforts of artists and arts organisations wanting to present their work digitally or via digital mediums. Unlike live performances which are subject to the classification ratings under IMDA, like she mentioned earlier, online content is easily and generally available with no age segregation. This makes it prudent for the DPG to underwrite productions rated General. The DPG also served to cater for inclusive access by all audiences including young children. I think a lot of Members in the room are parents, we want to be there with our kids when they are consuming digital content but we cannot be certain that we will always be there guiding them, when they are watching and consuming digital content. Hence, it has supported a large number of digital works suitable for the general public. That being said, I want to assure Ms Carrie Tan that productions with a higher than General rating are still being supported. Apart from the DPG, NAC has continued to provide funding for major companies, key arts groups and artists through NAC’s regular grant schemes and commissions which have been enhanced to include digital works and presentations. These should cover wide-ranging works, including those with a higher than General rating.
  13. Third, even though the arts and culture may be disrupted, practitioners in this sector continue to benefit from commissioned work and partnerships for key festivals and events, like Silver Arts, Singapore Heritage Festival, Singapore Writers Festival, and Singapore Art Week. By end-August, Mdm Deputy Speaker, 72 commissions and partnerships were supported under the ACRP, providing over 950 work opportunities, most of which were for freelancers. For example, NAC digitally adapted 4 performances for Silver Arts 2020. I think many of the Members in the Chamber have seen some of these productions that has gone out to many of your elderly residents who usually would be out and about, but they can now enjoy these programmes in the safety of their homes. These were new works by Toy Factory, Asian Cultural Symphonic Orchestra, Wadah Seni Entertainment and Ding Yi Music Company. Their productions anchored the digital festival in September 2020, just last month, and encouraged many seniors to stay engaged creatively through performances and activities, at the comfort and safety of their homes, and through their mobile device, anytime, anywhere. Another key project commissioned by NAC was “Streets of Hope” which was an Out-Of-Home and digital integrated campaign featuring original artworks at areas such as the Civic District, and presented digitally on the Gillman Barracks website and social media channels. This commissioned project benefitted over 360 freelancers. I am happy to share with Ms Tan and Members that it was well-received online, with an estimated 158,000 unique reach and 33,000 social media engagements.
  14. Fourth, Ms Tan raised the issue of “permanent casuals”, or arts workers who may have neither benefited from JSS nor SIRS. MCCY recognises that these workers have critical skills and are valuable members of the arts sector workforce. We have been working with our cultural institutions, including the Esplanade and Arts House Limited, to help workers engaged by these institutions apply for Government support schemes they are eligible for, including SIRS and CSG. These institutions also provide the workers with information on job opportunities including those under SGUnited Jobs Initiative.
  15. We know it is not easy and our arts and culture workers, especially the freelancers, need all the help they can get.  I would like to highlight that freelancers can approach NAC’s Arts Resource Hub (ARH) for additional resources to help them continue their practice. The ARH, which was started in September 2019, has been engaging its stakeholders throughout this year to better understand their concerns during COVID-19. As a result of these engagements, ARH has expanded its range of talks and clinics to provide more targeted information and support for freelancers as suggested by Ms Tan. These include sessions on how to leverage digitalisation tools such as Augmented and Virtual Reality, and Copyrights and Intellectual Property in the Digital Realm. I am happy to share that the ARH has just reopened the co-working spaces at Goodman Arts Centre and Stamford Arts Centre today.
  16. I wish to assure Ms Carrie Tan and the House that MCCY and NAC are fully and wholeheartedly committed to ensuring good work opportunities for our practitioners and freelancers. Our national cultural institutions have adopted the Tripartite Standard on Contracting with SEPs since 2018, and we encourage all other arts organisations to do so. In addition, NAC is working with partners from the arts community on initiatives to boost the industry, such as the one led by Artistic Director of Drama Box, former NMP, Mr Kok Heng Leun, to look into best practices in the Theatre scene. This effort will lead to recommendations on what constitutes good employment and fair work practices that can be adopted by both freelancers and companies.


  17. In conclusion, let’s continue to work closely together. A healthy partnership between Government, private and people sectors can pull us through this crisis and ensure that our arts and culture ecosystem emerges stronger from COVID-19.
  18. I want to  welcome and urge Singaporeans to continue supporting the talents and productions and programmes of our artists which include the freelancers. As we do so, our demand creates work opportunities for this valuable sector,  and we also make the appreciation of arts and culture an integral part of our lives. Thank you.


Last updated on 06 October 2020