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Supporting our arts, culture and sports sectors to emerge stronger

Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law at the Debate on the Ministerial Statement on Overview of Government's Strategy to Emerge Stronger from the COVID-19 Pandemic

Mr Speaker Sir, I hope I can bring a fresh perspective on an entirely different topic.

Valuing the arts, culture and sports

  1. I have previously spoken in this House about how the Singapore society is like a Tapestry.

    (a) Woven out of diversity, bound by community and forged from a shared sense of destiny. Every part of Singapore, coming together, for a beautiful, tightly-knitted, cohesive fabric.

    (b) These diverse strands of our social fabric include our arts, culture and sports sectors. Mr Darryl David has spoken passionately about these three sectors, and I will address his queries.

    (c) They make the Singapore tapestry even more beautiful, vibrant, and meaningful.

    (d) These strands come together, to represent the heart of Singapore.
  2. In recent times, like the many threads which make up the fabric of our society, these strands have also come under strain.
  3. The Covid pandemic has fundamentally affected the way in which we interact and socialise with one another. It has threatened to unravel some of these threads.
  4. But we know, that even as we battle the pandemic, it is critical for us to ensure that, each of these threads - our arts, our culture, our sports - remain vibrant, cohesive, and remain very much a part of the Singapore Tapestry.

    (a) We must continue to sustain and develop them. 

    (b) And they, in turn, must continue to be an avenue through which Singaporeans fulfil their aspirations, their dreams and their desires.
  5. These threads must also continue to connect Singaporeans from all walks of life, and be able to inspire and imbue a sense of pride in being Singaporean.
  6. Sir, Members will agree – that in one way or another, our lives have been touched by the many contributions and achievements of our artists and our athletes alike. 

    (a) Our sportsmen and women, past and present, have been a source of inspiration to many Singaporeans. We share the joys of their success, and we feel the pain of their defeat.

    (b) The events and programmes of our arts community reach ever wider and growing audiences. They fill us with pride. They also teach and they also inspire us – in a way in which almost nothing else can.

    (c) All this is possible only because we have, over time, nurtured the best talents, helped them along in their journey, developed them, given them a boost in their chosen craft and built a platform from which they can showcase their talents.

    (d) We also owe a lot to our community of trainers, coaches, instructors, freelancers, all of whom contribute richly to this landscape.
  7. As Mr Darryl David says, we must do what we can to rally behind them during this difficult time.

    Supporting the arts, culture and sports sectors through COVID-19

    COVID-19’s uneven impact on our sectors
  8. Sir, DPM spoke about the unevenness of COVID-19’s impact on our sectors.
  9. Whilst some sectors have seen a measure of recovery, the past few months have not been easy for the arts, culture and sports sectors.
  10. Fundamentally, our sectors thrive on large group gatherings.  Theatre, performances, and competitive sport – they all play to an audience.
  11. Yet, this is precisely what we cannot now do, as we continue to fight against Covid, to keep Singaporeans safe, and to keep the virus at bay.
  12. We have had to suspend large-scale events and limit group sizes to five. These measures are necessary but we must not forget that they have severely impacted the viability of businesses and the livelihoods particularly of freelancers in these sectors.

    Resilience of our sectors
  13. In the almost 3 months I have been at MCCY, I have met a broad range of people, across the various sectors.
  14. I have met with many leaders of our National Sports Associations, talked to athletes, coaches, freelance instructors. I have also heard from artists, musicians and arts educators.
  15. Many have been so very generous in sharing their views and vision with me, and given me a good grasp of the industry, and good ideas for the longer term development of these sectors.
  16. But they also spoke candidly about their here and now, their immediate challenges, and I understand their difficulties.
  17. Over the last few months, MCCY has rolled out dedicated support measures for our sectors, to supplement the assistance they already receive through broad-based Government measures. We understand what many are going through, and we know that we must help them. Let me outline a few of these initiatives.
  18. To help them manage overheads, we have provided rental waivers to tenants in SportSG facilities and arts venues, as well as venue hire subsidies for users of our cultural institutions.
  19. We have also supported practitioners to hone their digital skills and expertise in areas such as business literacy. Many of them, in turn, support the industry as a whole.

    (a) The Arts and Culture Resilience Package has generated over 10,000 work and training opportunities, of which almost 4,000 alone were for freelancers. It has also supported close to 1,200 digitalisation projects and programmes by local artists and organisations.

    (b) For example, the Jazz Association of Singapore. Mr Jeremy Monteiro is their music director, and someone that Mr David mentioned earlier. They were one of the first recipients of the Digital Presentation Grant.

    (c) They went online overnight, and launched multiple digital programmes including JASS@Home, a digital concert in celebration of UNESCO’s International Jazz Day 2020. This featured performances by many local musicians.

    (d) I attended many of their presentations – high quality, innovative, entertaining. But I think, most of all – comforting to the many Singaporeans. Especially in these times.

    (e) And on top of that, in the true spirit of giving back, JASS has also started their own Crisis Fund to assist local jazz musicians affected by the crisis with short-term financial aid.  So JASS receives a grant from the Government, but they also pay it forward.

    (f) Bhaskar’s Arts Academy was also awarded the DPG for DashaTanMatra (or 10 Subtle Elements), a series of 10 mini digital presentations of new dance, music works, webinars on Bharatanatyam, and re-adaptation of past repertoires. We will continue to support the industry as they seek to go digital.
  20. Another practitioner I met recently was Ms Emmeline Yong.

    (a) She was an investment banker in New York. She gave it all up, returned to Singapore to pursue her passion in visual arts and set up Objectifs in 2003. 

    (b) Objectifs is an example of an arts organisation that MCCY is committed to supporting. It has a strong sense of mission to nurture and also provide a platform for other practitioners and freelancers to hone, practise and exhibit their craft. 

    (c) With the support of the ACRP, Objectifs put out free photography and videography courses for arts practitioners and freelancers to help them create strong social media content to outreach and pitch their offerings. 

    (d) To better support arts freelancers, the Arts Resource Hub, set up under the National Arts Council, provides targeted support for freelancers, including co-working spaces, talks and clinics on financial planning, digital tools and copyrights.

    (e) A broad spectrum of what is needed giving them a platform, and tools for artists to pursue their craft, and build on their dream. Much like what JASS and Objectifs have done.

    (f) In the immediate short term, the ARH has also provided freelancers with aggregated information and assistance to help them tap on broader government programmes like the Self-Employed Persons Income Relief Scheme (SIRS), COVID-19 Support Grant and SEP Training Support Scheme.
  21. At the same time, MCCY has also worked with people in the community spaces to develop platforms to bring digital experiences and also blended programmes, to Singaporeans. Blended programmes are often programmes that are hybrid in nature. They blend both in-person and virtual, and finding platforms to bring more of these to Singaporeans.

    (a) For example, #SGCultureAnywhere by NAC is an integrated campaign that profiles the best of Singapore arts. Our cultural institutions and major arts companies have also made their content available on new digital platforms, such as SISTIC Live. Those of who you have not gone on SISTIC Live, I encourage you to give it a try.

    (b) In sports, we developed ActiveSG Circle as a virtual sports centre to encourage and inspire Singaporeans to get active, as well as to provide a marketplace for sports and fitness instructors and their potential students, trainees to get in touch with each other. 

    (c) Jasmine Wong, a certified KpopX Fitness instructor, has conducted 85 virtual classes on the Circle since April. Through the Circle, she has discovered new ways to reach out to both existing and also new students, with reasonable fees to make these classes and interactive sessions more accessible.

    (d) SportSG also introduced Blended, an initiative to encourage sport event companies and organisers to transition to events that blend virtual and physical participation which Singaporeans can look forward to more of in the coming months.  This format will certainly be with us for some time, and we will continue to study how we can support them better, so that instructors, coaches and other freelancers alike can continue to reach out to an audience, and as far as possible, even in these times, to continue with as much as they would have done in normal circumstances as possible.

    New, immediate term support to tide over this period
  22. Sir, let me now touch on what else we will do, to support these sectors in the immediate term.
  23. MCCY will provide immediate assistance to critical segments with special talents. We know that if we lose these talents, it could take years to recover. It will set us back in our efforts to promote arts, culture and sports in Singapore.
  24. For the arts and culture sector, we will be providing an Operating Grant under the ACRP to support arts and culture organisations, and those in closely-related sectors. They hold key talents in our ecosystem and we must not lose them.

    (a) Eligible arts and culture organisations will receive a one-off ACRP Operating Grant of either $75K or $50K which they can use to defray their operating costs, and the amount depends on the size of their organisation. 

    (b) We hope organisations that receive this grant will also provide many opportunities for employees, including  freelancers. 

    (c) Pay it forward, such as what Objectifs and JASS, have done.

    (d) This grant is expected to benefit over 300 organisations. More information will be made available by NAC in end-October, and we will also reach out directly to eligible organisations to tell them about this and assist them in their applications. 

    (e) With this grant, we expect to fully utilise the $55 million set aside for the ACRP by the end of Financial Year 2020.
  25. Sir, for the sports sector, we will add a further $25 million for new and expanded measures added to the earlier announced $25 million package. This makes for a total of $50 million available to the sports sector.
  26. Let me say a little more about how this will be administered.
  27. First, some background to our sports ecosystem. It is made up of a diverse range of different institutions, including the National Sport Associations, private academies and clubs, private leagues, sports facility operators as well that are run privately, and the whole mass of coaches and many others. They all make up a rich and vibrant ecosystem.
  28. All of them play an important role in our collective efforts to mould and shape our athletes, supporting them on their quest for competitive success on both the domestic and international front.
  29. Many private academies and clubs, in particular, complement the efforts of NSAs. They enrich training and talent development, and also offer a range of different competition opportunities.

    (a) Take the Aquatic Performance Swim Club, for example. It is a private swimming academy which has, over the years, contributed significantly to the identification and development of Singaporean swimmers. 

    (b) Since 1996, the APSC has channeled swimming talents spotted from the APS Swim School into its specialised competitive swimming, diving and also synchronised swimming training programmes. They have also provided competition opportunities across a range of different levels and through its myriad of events.

    (c) We understand the impact that COVID-19 has had on these private academies, such as APS and others, the leagues, the facility operators and we understand the challenges they go through. Many of them need some measure of support, if nothing else, to tide over the period.

    (d) Recently, the Cage and other sport facility operators reached out to me to share their concerns. They spoke about the inevitable loss of revenue due to the Safe Management Measures. They had to close, they were not allowed to open. They had difficulties affording rent and continuing to sustain the salaries of their staff. And we well understand how these restrictions have impacted their ability to operate. SportSG has worked with many such businesses to allow them to resume some programmes and activities safely coming out of the circuit breaker.

    (e) We do not want these operators to be a casualty of the pandemic. Our sporting landscape with its broad spectrum of different players, different options, will be the poorer, if that happens.

    (f) While the resumption of sports activities since June has alleviated some immediate operational concerns, we recognise that there is still the longer term sustainability and survivability, and this remains a major source of stress for operators.

    (g) With this in mind, the SRP will provide eligible businesses with an operating grant to cover up to 25% of their total operating expenses, capped at $15,000 a month. This will last for six months, beginning from October 2020 through to March 2021.

    (h) We hope to support up to 150 sport businesses with this operating grant – helping operators who do not currently receive Government funding.

    (i) This grant will also ensure that our critical sport businesses which contribute richly, as I have said, to our athlete pipeline development and training, do not close down due to the pandemic, do not marginalise the programmes that are available for athletes, allowing our athletes to benefit from the best training programmes.

    Mid-term support for capability development and resumption of activities
  30. Let me now touch on some of the mid-term measures to partner our arts and sports community to innovate and adapt to the new operating environment.
  31. The last few months have shown that going digital is paramount. It is, in fact, completely necessary. It allows our businesses and freelancers to reach out to existing audiences, to newer and wider audiences, allowing higher content to be developed and also a degree of interactivity despite the fact we are communicating across two screens.

    (a) Under the SRP, we will provide $5 million to help expand the existing Blended initiative to include eligible Private Academies and Clubs as well. We recognise the work they do and we have extended this programme to them.  

    (b) We recognise the work that they do, and are aiming to support 100 projects, which will in turn see the participation of 450,000 Singaporeans in sports programmes over the next 6 months. 

    (c) We will also set aside an additional $4 million for sport businesses and freelancers to enhance the quality of their own digital productions to become even more interactive and engaging, and attract a greater following on their platforms.
  32. In addition, we will work with MOE and other partners to ensure that our students continue to have access to high quality arts experiences as part of their holistic education. Let me speak a little about this.
  33. The intent, Sir, is to continue to nurture and develop an appreciation, and hopefully, eventually, ignite a passion, for the arts in our young. And our young make up our audiences, our supporters and of course our practitioners in years to come. 

    (a) I have noted Mr Darryl David’s suggestion to engage our arts practitioners as auxiliary educators in schools. In fact, to ensure that students can benefit from the knowledge and experience of our arts practitioners which I agree with Mr David is a critical resource, NAC has worked with NIE International since 2012 to develop a course on the Essentials of Teaching and Learning for arts practitioners precisely to become arts educators. 

    NAC has also worked with other partners such as the Social Service Institute and the SEED Institute to develop relevant pedagogical skills to complement what they already do and are able to practise, so that they can then seamlessly work with children with special needs and pre-schoolers. One needs to merge or blend what they have in their own experience as an arts practitioner with the relevant pedagogical skills to that pre-schoolers and those with special needs can also benefit from this education.

    (b) NAC is working with arts educators to convert their student-facing programmes, such as the NAC Arts Education Programmes, into digital or blended formats in the same way we do for so many other programmes to ensure greater reach and wider audience.

    (c) NAC also paired up with NIE to develop an E-Learning Primer and an E-Pedagogy Course for the Arts, which will be launched in December 2020 and made available to arts educators at no cost. 

    (d) Let me assure Mr David that we are committed to ensuring that arts and culture remain an integral part of the curriculum, as students continue to develop awareness of our cultural heritage. Today, I’m sure Mr David knows, Museum-based Learning forms a key component of the Primary Arts syllabus, with a recommended learning journey for Primary 4 students to the National Gallery in Singapore or to the Singapore Art Museum. 

    (e) On top of that, All Primary Six and Secondary Two cohorts will visit the Asian Civilisations Museum and National Museum of Singapore respectively, to enhance and also to complement what they are taught in school, out of their classrooms, as far as possible.
  34. I would next like to speak on the role which freelancers play in our sectors, and address the challenges they face, besides what I have mentioned earlier.
  35. There is a certain messiness in the way in which sports and arts practitioners are organised. That is not only inevitable, but perhaps also useful to keep the sectors fresh, and maintain some of that carefree entrepreneurial spirit.

    (a) Hence, MCCY and our agencies have taken a light touch approach towards freelancers in the past, recognizing the value of spontaneity and flexibility in their work. One day you can work on your own, and another day you can collaborate with others. 

    (b) But COVID-19 has thrown into sharp focus the importance of having some dedicated, organised framework, to look after these freelancers, to support their efforts, to help them apply for programmes that government has put out.

    (c) We have reached out to many freelancers; my colleagues, MOS Low Yen Ling in particular. And we will continue to do so, to help to level up and allow them to bring in more diversity into their craft.
  36. The sport freelancers I have met expressed their desire to do so.
  37. To support them, we have set aside $2.5 million under the SRP for two initiatives.

    (a) First, coaches who are registered under the National Registry of Coaches (NROC) can receive a training allowance of $10 per hour when they take up courses run by CoachSG, and take it up beyond the  Continuing Coach Education (CCE) courses.

    (b) Second, CoachSG will select 50 to 80 pairs of Level 2 and Level 3 NROC-registered coaches to participate in its structured mentorship programme. To encourage more to sign up for this programme to raise their coaching capabilities, so that once we are back closer to what was normal before, these coaches will become more relevant and have more skill sets to impart to their trainees. To encourage this, participants will be provided between $400 and $600 per month to sign up to this mentorship programme. 
  38. Likewise, for arts freelancers, MCCY and NAC, through the ARH, will work with them to step up on efforts to support them, identify and facilitate work opportunities, skills upgrading, and also help them leverage on digital technology. It might not be easy for freelancers to do this on their own, hence we have a team set up to help them. We encourage our freelance community to approach the ARH directly, should they need assistance.
  39. Sir, the COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably disrupted our sectors. We are facing both short, and longer-term challenges.

    Forging the future of the arts, culture and sports sectors

  40. The Government is committed to helping as many as possible in these sectors to pull through, to remain viable, and to continue to play a rich part in the Singapore Tapestry.
  41. In the immediate short term, the financial measures that I have outlined briefly will help.
  42. But we know that the most sustainable way to help our sectors is to allow for our activities to resume at scale, and also safely.
  43. We are as eager as our artists, athletes and wider community for this to happen, and we have been working towards this goal.

    (a) Recently, my colleagues and I attended several live performance pilots, including those by the Singapore Dance Theatre, Bhaskar’s Arts Academy, Singapore Symphony Orchestra, to name a few. These were carried out safely and successfully. 

    (b) We are reviewing how we can fully resume and scale up live performances for the sector, with the appropriate measures to always prioritise the safety of our audiences, the performers and the crew. 

    (c) In the coming days, we hope to progressively reintroduce programmes at museums in a safe manner as more social activities resume.

    (d) As Mr David pointed out, Singaporeans can also anticipate the return of the Singapore Premier League this Saturday after a hiatus of over six months. Our teams have resumed training, first in small squads of five and subsequently in full squad training. 

    (e) When I visited the Lion City Sailors Football Club in training a few weeks ago, it was quite evident that their players were keenly motivated by a desire to get back into the field and compete.

    (f) We are also working with health authorities to pilot the resumption of spectator sports and mass participation sport events in the near future. In particular, we will have to find new modalities for mass participation events to avoid large concentrations of people at one time and to consider the use of blended models at such events. 

    (g) One such example of a blended event is the “Run as One” event, where small groups of runners will be given time slots to compete across a fixed route over the course of two weeks. So here is an example of “own time own target” – go at your own time, but complete the distance. Nowadays everyone has a fitness tracker where you can track your time and distance covered.

    (h) These pilots allow us to test and refine new sport formats, with the goal of making them as safe as possible and maximise interactivity and fun for participants and spectators. 

    (i) Sir, besides arts and sports, we know that, perhaps especially in these times, many turn to religion as a source of solace, spiritual comfort and well-being. Therefore, we are working closely with our religious organisations to resume more activities safely.

    (j) My colleagues and I visited several such Religious Organisations (ROs) over the last couple of months. It was encouraging to learn how various faith groups have adapted so quickly, put safety as a primary consideration and were committed to working closely with the Government, placing the safety of their devotees first. 

    (k) Following a successful pilot of the increase in worship limits to 100-persons, all ROs have been allowed to conduct congregational and worship services for up to 100 persons – with the necessary safe management measures in place and that has been the case since 3 Oct.

    (l) We continue to be in constant dialogue with our religious leaders. Many have shared that singing and live music is integral to the way in which they practise their faith.  

    (m) So we have commenced two separate pilots, in selected ROs – one to allow up to 250 persons at a time for worship services; and another to resume live music for worship services across different faith groups.

    (n) We will see how that goes, study these pilots, before considering whether to extend the higher worship limits and live music to all ROs and religious activities.
  44. Finally, Mr Speaker, coming back to the packages that I have outlined today.
  45. Much as these will help many tide over this period, we also know that it will take more than just financial assistance to sustain these sectors and to develop these sectors.
  46. People must be able to see, and also appreciate, the intrinsic value that arts, culture, and sports can bring to our community. It brings us together, it allows us to rally behind our athletes and sporting heroes.  It builds and shapes the Singapore we want to live in, in a way which nothing else can.
  47. Singaporeans have turned to the arts, culture and sports to find respite, inspiration, and to uplift our spirits over the last few months.

    (a) Now our practitioners need you as well.

    (b) I urge all of us to support them as much as we can.

    (c) Whether it is established artists or nascent sporting talent, they all thrive on having an audience.  

    (d) They will perform even more gracefully I’m sure, and compete more vigorously when they are cheered on by an appreciative audience.  I’m sure we can all see why. 

    (e) I hope we can also be receptive to new ways of consuming the arts, culture and sports and to support them, like Blended. Please experience them and support them as they bring better content, programmes and events to you. 

    (f) To our practitioners in all these sectors, I encourage you to stay determined, and to continue to hone your craft, build your skills, train, compete, and perform.
  48. Each of you will continue to be a part of the Singapore Tapestry, bringing together rich patterns and colours drawn from each of your own diverse contributions and your own achievements in our arts, culture, music and sports. All of these threads make for a more vibrant, exciting and cohesive Singapore.  Be assured that we value the work that you do, and the Government will support you. Thank you Sir, and with that, I support the Ministerial Statement.

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Last updated on 16 October 2020