Building inspiring and strong arts, heritage and sports sectors
Speech by Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth & Ministry of Transport at the Committee of Supply Debate 2019
08 March 2019
The arts, heritage and sports are integral to making Singapore a vibrant and liveable city, and for Singaporeans to lead well-rounded and fulfilling lives. They can inspire us, affirm our shared values, and make us proud of what we stand for. They provide opportunities for Singaporeans of all backgrounds to showcase their talents, pursue their dreams, and come together to create shared memories.
Our SG Arts Plan, Our SG Heritage Plan, and Vision 2030 are roadmaps that provide multi-year directions and guide the development of our sectors. I will talk about some key focus areas for this year, beginning with the arts and heritage.
Artistic Excellence that Inspires and Connects Communities
Mr Henry Kwek asked about our Arts & Culture Strategic Review (ACSR). Since 2012, ACSR has led to an injection of over $350 million into the sector to support community engagement, arts education, and capability development. In the same period, our arts and heritage activities have seen increases in number, variety, and attendance. However, we recognise that our strategies and approaches must be updated to address new developments that have taken place since then. These are reflected in Our SG Arts and Heritage Plans, introduced in 2018. They were done in consultation with about 1,500 stakeholders across the public, private, and people sectors.
Our SG Arts Plan comprises three strategic thrusts – inspiring our people, connecting our communities, and positioning Singapore globally. I will touch on the key initiatives which support each thrust.
Inspiring our People – Supporting Capability Development in Art-making
To inspire audiences, our artists must be able to produce high-quality and impactful work.
We will provide capability development platforms for artists across various art-forms. One example is in the literary arts. The National Arts Council (NAC) will partner Nanyang Technological University to introduce the Asia Creative Writing Programme later this year. Writers, in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil, will benefit from masterclasses by international, regional and local talents. Our writers also will benefit from peer-learning and opportunities to build communities across cultures.
To support our artists, we will continue the Community Arts Residency programme, just piloted last year. It aims to reflect the collective stories of our people, by providing artists with spaces in the community to develop arts collaborations with residents. Over four months in 2018, the residency supported visual artist Terence Lin, who organised house-visits, invited residents to his open house, and facilitated art-making sessions with seniors and youths living in and around Taman Jurong. The project culminated in an exhibition of residents’ artworks, items, and audio interviews at the Taman Jurong Community Club. From now to 2022, NAC will support as many as 40 artists in various community settings, from void decks to nursing homes, to engage residents in co-creating artworks and telling their stories.
Inspiring our People – Support for Arts Freelancers
It is also important that we help arts practitioners, including our arts freelancers, build sustainable careers. NAC consulted over 370 members of our arts community last year to understand the specific needs of freelancers that will enable them to be more self-sufficient and financially independent, not just during their working life, but prepare them for retirement. To address some of the findings, NAC will establish freelance resource hubs, and work with partners to offer shared resources and services. These include insurance coverage, connecting freelancers with relevant service providers, and making available jobs, contracts and projects; as well as a database of talents and expertise. As part of this effort, NAC will launch an online portal in the second half of 2019, with more services and resources to be introduced progressively.
In addition, we would like freelancers to benefit from national schemes such as Skills Future to enhance their employability. Earlier, MOM announced that the Government as a service buyer, will pilot the Contribute-as-You-Earn (CAYE) model early next year to allow for smaller but regular contributions to MediSave, instead of bigger lump-sums at year-end. MCCY, NAC, and NHB are looking forward to participating in this pilot, so that our freelancers can better save for their healthcare.
Inspiring our People – Strengthening Research in the Arts
Some people may think artists create works based on a single moment of inspiration. In reality, many artworks are based on a deep understanding of the subject matter, presented from a well thought-through perspective. Therefore, NAC will strengthen research support in the arts so that artists can further grow their practice. Research can also help arts groups better understand and develop their audiences. In addition, we want to better understand the long-term value and impact of arts engagement on different population segments. NAC will support more research studies in these areas and publish a monthly e-newsletter to share relevant research with the arts community. NAC is also organising a research symposium next week that brings academics and artists together to discuss the impact of the arts on space, people, and communities.
Connecting our Communities – Growing Audiences in the Arts
The second thrust of Our SG Arts Plan seeks to connect diverse groups with the arts.
One key group is our youths, who are important as arts enthusiasts and practitioners not only of today but for the future. The NAC, National Youth Council, and *SCAPE will create more platforms for our youths to develop and showcase their talents. Last year, diverse music acts from NAC's Noise Singapore performed at NYC’s YOUTHx, thereby reinforcing our youths’ interests and aspirations in music. NAC and NYC will strengthen the dedicated arts track in YOUTHx from this year. This will elevate the profile of our young artists, and help them grow a larger audience base.
NAC will also work with *SCAPE under its Arts and Culture Nodes network. Our existing nodes enrich and enliven neighbourhoods around Singapore through regular and accessible arts programmes. *SCAPE will be our next node, and showcase more art that resonates with young people, and give our youths more chances to exhibit their works.
For the wider public, our signature showcases such as the Singapore International Festival of Arts, Singapore Writers Festival, and Singapore Biennale bring art closer to the community. For example, the 7th edition of the Singapore Art Week in January showcased over 100 diverse programmes in venues such as Singapore Art Museum, Gillman Barracks, Little India, and Sim Lim Square.
Dr Lim Wee Kiak, Mr Saktiandi Supaat, and Mr Terence Ho spoke about the importance of promoting Singapore’s cultural talents overseas. We are proud of our arts practitioners who venture overseas. This not only helps artists hone their skills and develop new markets, but also showcases Singapore’s culture internationally, and promotes people-to-people links.
Over the last five years, MCCY and our agencies have supported the participation of more than 1,000 artists and arts groups in over 300 international platforms.
We will continue to facilitate such efforts by building our overseas networks. For example, our cultural institutions participate in platforms such as the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art, Association of Asia Pacific Performing Arts, and the International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA). In addition, MCCY signed cultural cooperation agreements with China and Indonesia in 2018 to deepen and broaden cultural exchanges.
In addition, we will emphasise the development of visual arts residencies in Southeast Asia. For example, under NAC’s partnership with the Cemeti Institute for Art and Society, we will begin sending Singaporean artists for residencies in Yogyakarta, Indonesia starting from September. NAC is also exploring similar opportunities in the Philippines and Thailand. With a deeper understanding of this vibrant region’s shared heritage and future, our artists will be well placed to produce even more compelling works.
We will also support our performing artists in countries such as Australia, China, Japan, the UK and France. An example is Shaza Ishak, Teater Ekamatra’s General Manager and Company Director, who was funded by NAC to represent Singapore at the prestigious ISPA Fellowship Programme from 2017 to 2019, and the Australian Performing Arts Market in 2018. Arising from this, Teater Ekamatra, DramaBox and Australia’s pvi collective are now developing TOPIA – an international residency exchange programme in Singapore and Perth. This will to explore experiential theatre-making.
I will speak in Mandarin next. 我们将竭力为我国文学创作者提供海外的发展机会。这将帮助本地作家磨练写作技巧，把新加坡文学带到国外。譬如，国家艺术理事会和鲁迅文学院签署了长达三年的合作伙伴关系，提供两个驻留机会，让本地文学创作者在文学院进行一个月的交流。鲁迅文学院是中国一所国家级的研究机构，栽培了不少著名作家如王安忆以及诺贝尔文学奖得主莫言。通过这类国际驻留计划，本地艺术工作者将有机会跨国切磋学习，进一步提高创作水平。
[Translation: We will help our writers secure developmental opportunities overseas. This will help our home-grown talents to hone their skills, and bring Singapore’s literary art offerings abroad. For example, NAC has secured a three-year partnership with Lu Xun Academy of Literature, with 2 month-long residency places at Lu Xun for Singapore writers. Lu Xun is a top-rated academy based in Beijing which hosted notable Chinese writers such as Wang Anyi) and the winner of 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature, Mo Yan. Through this residency programme, our artists will have the opportunity to learn from best practices and advance in their craft.]
Safeguarding and Sustaining our Shared Heritage
Let me now move on to our shared heritage. Since the launch of Our SG Heritage Plan in 2018, we have made progress across its four pillars: Our Places, Our Cultures, Our Treasures, Our Communities.
Our tangible heritage remains important markers of the Singapore Story. NHB’s 18 heritage trails help us to document and increase awareness of the heritage of places where we live, work, and play. Last year, NHB launched the Orchard Heritage Trail, and refreshed the Bukit Timah Heritage Trail. In 2019, NHB and the Housing Development Board (HDB) will be launching the Pasir Ris Heritage Trail, as part of HDB’s “Remaking Our Heartland” programme. Public can look out for an open call for community contributions of stories.
To promote awareness and appreciation of our 72 National Monuments, NHB will introduce a new annual programme ‘Milestones through Monuments’. It will highlight the roles of these monuments during significant episodes in our history, and encourage the public to have meaningful experiences at our historic sites. The inaugural edition will be held in late 2019, and will feature a race with stops at National Monuments along the Singapore River.
NHB will also continue working with MOE to enhance the various education programmes at our museums. For example, pilots of the Museum Educators Programme were conducted at the Asian Civilisations Museum and National Museum of Singapore last year, which included the engagement of 20 retired educators and museum docents to support interactive learning experiences for over 2,100 primary and secondary school students from 9 schools. We are reviewing the pilots and refining the programme.
This year, the Singapore Bicentennial Office and NHB will offer a twinned programme for secondary school students as part of our Bicentennial commemoration. It will run from May to August, and provide students with the opportunity to visit the National Museum of Singapore and the upcoming Bicentennial Experience at Fort Canning Centre. The content presented in both experiences will reinforce learning points about our history and the Singapore story.
Minister and SMS spoke about reaching underserved communities through our Heritage Institutions and programmes like HeritageCares. We will also be leveraging technology to transform the way we engage. For example, NHB will be implementing House of Memories, an app-based programme that aims to improve the care experience for persons with dementia, andtheir caregivers. The app will allow users to view objects from the National Collection, reflect on their memories, remain connected with people around them, and affirm their sense of personhood. This will be piloted by Khoo Teck Puat Hospital later this year.
Beyond our museums and heritage institutions, we also recognise the importance of community-led events in celebrating and safeguarding our heritage and traditions. Mr Yee Chia Hsing spoke on the success of the recent River Hongbao, an event organised by the Chinese community since 1987. We have supported the event as part of the Chinese New Year celebrations, as well as the Hari Raya and Deepavali light-ups in past years. This year’s River Hongbao was a successful commemoration of our Bicentennial. Kudos to the organising chair Mr Ang Wei Neng and his team. We are heartened that community support for these cultural events has been strong, and hope that such support will continue to grow.
Inspiring Active Living and Sporting Excellence for All while Fostering an Inclusive Society
Finally, I will share on Vision 2030 (V2030), which was launched in 2012 as a national blueprint to help all Singaporeans live better through sports. Mr Lee Yi Shyan and Mr Kwek asked for update on V2030. In the past 7 years, recommendations have been progressively implemented, in the form of ActiveSG, Team Nila, our Disability Sports Master Plan, and High Performance Sports system, to name a few. Last year, we conducted over 60 stakeholder engagement and focus group sessions, involving 1,500 people from various sectors. We will share the updated V2030 recommendations later this year.
Updates on Disability Sports Master Plan
A major part of V2030 is about bringing Singaporeans from all walks of life together through sport. In 2016, we launched the Disability Sports Master Plan, which has to date seen the opening of 5 Inclusive Gyms by ActiveSG. Our annual Inclusive Sports Festival also saw a doubling in participants with disabilities last year. This year, SportSG will expand Play Inclusive, Singapore’s largest unified sports competition, which is co-organised by Special Olympics Singapore and supported by MOE’s Special Education Branch. The two-day event will pair athletes from special education schools and adult disability centres with students from neighbouring mainstream schools to form more inclusive teams. Altogether, SportSG’s programmes have introduced sport ranging from swimming to wheelchair rugby, to over 500 persons with disabilities over the last 3 years.
Leonard Lu, a wheelchair user, is one of our programme participants who is now leading a much more active lifestyle, after joining the Yes! I Can swimming programme at Heartbeat@Bedok. He now makes weekly visits to the inclusive gym, accompanied by his mother, Natalie. He has built up strength and is walking more during his exercise sessions. As Leonard gets stronger, he is enjoying more sports activities, such as canoeing and kayaking.
SportSG will continue its outreach efforts to increase awareness in the community and develop organisational and professional capabilities in disability sports. Currently, plans are underway to build the capabilities of teachers and staff at special education schools and disability centres in conducting sporting activities. They will work with sport coaches to co-create and tailor sport activities that meet the needs of their students.
Ms Yip Pin Xiu asked if we can make sport more inclusive in Singapore by integrating our National Sports Associations (NSAs) to oversee able-bodied and disability sports. This has to be decided by the sports fraternities themselves and their NSAs, which are non-governmental organisations that operate firmly on the principle of independence.
The International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee oversee the various National Olympic and Paralympic Committees. These include the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) and Singapore National Paralympic Council (SNPC), which in turn oversee the development and promotion of the Olympic and Paralympic Movements in Singapore, as well as the selection of Team Singapore athletes for the major games.
The NSAs not only have to align with the SNOC and SNPC, but also their respective International Sports Federations. They take reference from their parent bodies in how they organise themselves, and are also accountable to them for the development of the sport in Singapore. In this regard, the NSAs play an important role in leading their fraternities in the development and promotion of their sports in Singapore, as well as supporting the high performance development of their national athletes through coaching and competition opportunities.
While respecting that NSAs are independent organisations, SportSG partners them to develop their sports. For example, SportSG provides eligible NSAs facilities, funding, and technical support to implement their Multi-Year Sports Plans, which address the development of top athletes and grow the sport’s participation base. It also works with NSAs to strengthen their organisational capabilities and governance standards. In addition, SportSG provides all Singaporeans with opportunities to develop their sporting potential, through programmes such as ActiveSG Academies and Clubs.
One encouraging example is Mr Tan Whee Boon, who lost part of his limbs to an unfortunate bacterial infection in 2015. Like Leonard Lu, he started at our Yes! I Can Swim programme in 2016 when we launched the first Centre of Expertise. So in 2016, three years ago, it was already very different from Ms Yip’s experience in the 1990s and it extends beyond swimming. For Whee Boon, he has since gone on to try out a lot of different sports, including scuba diving under our SportCares programmes. Through such opportunities and exposure, Whee Boon discovered his passion and talent for rugby, and since gone on to pursue competitive rugby as a part of Singapore's first wheelchair rugby team.
When it comes to disability sports, some International Sports Federations integrate the development of able-bodied athletes and those with disabilities, while others prefer to do it separately. In Singapore, the NSAs for Cycling, Equestrian, and Sailing oversee the development of athletes of all abilities, with Table Tennis set to join their ranks. We would want to see more NSAs adopt an inclusive approach in developing our national athletes.
We aim to achieve what is best for all athletes regardless of ability. While integrating able-bodied and para sports in a single NSA has its benefits, we understand there might be concerns from the disability sports fraternity that doing so may dilute attention on para sports. For sports that are exclusive to athletes with disabilities such as goalball, SportSG will continue to support the work of the Singapore Disability Sports Council, which partners the respective National Disability Sports Associations to realise synergies in outreach and public education.
Updates on High Performance Sports System
Whether in able-bodied or disability sports, whether they are integrated in the same NSA or not, MCCY will continue to support our Team Singapore athletes. Their successes, and Ms Yip’s achievements, provide Singaporeans occasions to come together as one nation and ignite our sense of optimism and “can-do” spirit, and this is what Mr Lee has also spoken about.
For many national athletes, the road to success has multiple entry points and pathways. It is crucial that we have a strong sports ecosystem to support them at every stage of their journey.
Mr Darryl David and Mr Yee spoke about Team Singapore’s preparations for upcoming major games, the 30th SEA Games and 10th ASEAN Para Games this year in the Philippines, and the 32nd Olympic Games and 16th Paralympic Games in Japan next year. We continue to work with key stakeholders to ensure that our High Performance Sports (HPS) system nurtures our athletes to greater heights and maximises their potential. This is something which Mr Lee also raised, and I agree that more can be done to help our national athletes achieve their best. In addition to the Government’s annual investment of $70 million, we will sharpen our HPS strategies and support to our athletes in their sporting pursuits.
SportSG will set aside $3 million this year to provide extended campaign support for up to two years for selected Team Singapore athletes preparing for the upcoming major games. This is 50% more than before, giving our athletes enhanced programme support tailored to their training needs, which also covers the costs of overseas trainings and competitions for the athletes, which Er Dr Lee Bee Wah had asked about. Athletes also enjoy a higher quantum of spexGrants, such as spexTAG which helps defray training, equipment, and other costs incurred by our national athletes, and the Sports Excellence Grant for Loss of Wages.
One encouraging example is fencer Ahmad Huzaifah. As part of his preparations, he is receiving additional funding to defray his full-time training expenses, including equipment costs, as well as his participation in more overseas competitions and training stints. We hope that the enhanced campaign support will benefit Ahmad’s long term high performance sports development, which will put him in good stead for the upcoming SEA Games.
Mr Yee also asked how we are developing our HPS eco-system to meet the challenges of the future. We are committed to supporting our athletes’ personal development, helping them balance the demands of high performance sports with education goals, and preparing them for smooth transition to a post-sport career.
Under the spexEducation Scheme, the Singapore Sport Institute (SSI) has partnered 13 Institutes of Higher Learning to support student-athletes with flexible academic arrangements, benefitting over 400 student-athletes. Under the spexBusiness Network, SSI works with corporate partners to offer professional development opportunities with flexible work arrangements, as well as mentorship on starting a business. Since 2013, the network has grown from 7 to 61 companies, benefitting over 230 Team Singapore athletes.
One example is Chelsea Ann Sim, a three-time SEA Games medallist in Taekwondo. Through the spexBusiness Network, OSIM and Deloitte offered her internships in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Such opportunities enabled Chelsea to gain work experience while juggling with her sporting goals. Chelsea graduated from the Singapore Management University last year, and is now working full time with Deloitte as a Clients and Markets Executive, while concurrently training for the upcoming SEA Games.
Developments in Local Football
Mr Faisal Manap spoke about the developments in local football. Football is a sport with mass appeal and potential to bring Singaporeans from different backgrounds together. Like many Singaporeans, we would like to see improvement in the standard of Singapore football and performance of our national teams.
The revamped local professional league, the Singapore Premier League (SPL), is part of the Football Association of Singapore’s (FAS’s) efforts to improve local football, with emphasis on youth development, as well as raising the coaching standards and professionalism of the football clubs. We have seen some improvements in the past year, such as stronger focus on player fitness resulting in higher standards of play. The exposure given to U-23 players will also strengthen our major games squads, and provide a stronger foundation to build the national team. For the 2019 SPL season, the matches will be consolidated at 4 ActiveSG stadia – namely Bishan, Jalan Besar, Jurong East and Tampines. SportSG has been progressively upgrading these stadia to improve spectator experience at football matches. Fans can look forward to LED scoreboards, electronic A-boards, improved sound system, and stronger club branding at the venues, while the SPL teams can look forward to better changing room facilities.
The Singapore Sports School is also doing its part to develop a pool of young talents, by following the FAS coaching syllabus for its football academy. Student-footballers are also provided with overseas exposure through competitions and training exchanges. One example is national footballer, Adam Swandi, who went to Japan for training stints during his time in the Sports School. This contributed to his long term development as a professional footballer. In 2018, Adam, who was previously with Albirex Niigata Singapore FC, played a key role in his team’s SPL title win, and I am happy to hear that he was later named the SPL Young Player of the Year. He has since transferred to Home United FC in January to further his sporting career.
For the wider community, SportSG’s ActiveSG Football Academy partners FAS to develop structured programmes to provide opportunities for more young Singaporeans to develop football skills. We hope that this will encourage and sustain mass participation in football, build a wider talent pool, and foster a stronger football culture.
While the impact of these efforts will not happen overnight, I am encouraged by the uplift in our national team’s performance in the past year, such as their achievements in international matches like the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup. This year, Fandi will be leading the National U-22 team at the upcoming SEA Games. Meanwhile, FAS will be appointing the national coach for the Senior team soon. The FAS leadership will also continue to and have to engage the clubs, stakeholders, and fans, and work closely with them on this journey to improve the state of Singapore football. In response to Mr Manap’s point, all our Team Singapore athletes could breathe and strive within Singapore unique ecosystem. It is not easy but many of them have been able to balance their sporting pursuits with commitments whether in NS, education or career, and they have done well kudos to them. For FAS, it has a joint management committee with SportSG to better integrate the strategies and plans of football. MCCY will continue to support FAS and the national teams to raise the standard of Singapore football.
Building a strong nation requires us to recognise the diverse talents, gifts, and dreams of each individual, and to support one another to be our best selves. Together, we can celebrate our collective achievements and be confident in our future.