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Revitalising and reaffirming our arts & heritage

Speech by Ms Low Yen Ling, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth & Trade and Industry at the Committee of Supply Debate 2021

Introduction

  1. Chairman, the arts and culture are the soul of Singapore city. They are integral to our identity, sense of community and well-being.
  2. Year 2020 was a challenging year for us all. We want to specially thank all our arts and cultural practitioners for their hard work and perseverance throughout this tough period.
  3. I wish to assure Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, Ms Sylvia Lim, Ms Janet Ang and Ms Cheng Li Hui that MCCY is committed to provide enduring support for the arts and culture sector which plays a critical role in our nation.

    Uplifting the arts and culture sector

  4. To tide this sector through the COVID-19 storm, MCCY rolled out in year 2020, the $55 million Arts and Culture Resilience Package (ACRP) that created over 13,000 work and training opportunities, of which over 5,000 were for self-employed practitioners. The package also supported over 1,400 digitalisation projects.
  5. Since moving into Phase 3, activities in arts and culture are progressively resuming in a safe manner. However, we are nowhere near pre-COVID levels, and we recognise the toll that has taken on the sector.

    a) Ms Sylvia Lim spoke about safe management measures (SMMs) and their impact on activities. MCCY and the National Arts Council (NAC) are working closely with MOH and stakeholders to safely resume arts and culture activities in line with what the public health situation allows.

    b) We appreciate that the arts community is keen to have more audiences in their performing arts spaces, but given the global COVID-19 situation, we cannot afford to let our guard down. Comprehensive vaccination coverage will enable us to re-open further, while SMMs, testing and contract tracing will continue to be necessary. 

    c) Currently, our museums can operate at up to 65% capacity. Since Phase 2, arts and culture training classes and workshops have been allowed to resume. Indoor live performances of up to 250 audience members are presently allowed. While applications can be made for outdoor performances, live performances that involve unmasked performers carry some risk.

    d) We will continue working to expand and restart activities so that our arts practitioners can continue their good work, as we all play our part to ensure a safe and sustainable reopening.
  6. Chairman, MCCY is sparing no effort to get the show back on the road and to put jobs back on line. Mr Xie Yao Quan would be glad to know that the government has a vigorous slate of additional stimulus and support measures to uplift and uphold this important sector. From fresh funds for operations and new opportunities, to a future roadmap and help to transform – we will reposition this sector for post-pandemic recovery.
  7. Let us elaborate on what Minister Edwin Tong has outlined earlier.

    Enhanced ACRP
  8. The government will inject an additional $20 million into the ACRP to build capabilities, create work opportunities/jobs and boost our local arts and culture ecosystem. This brings our total COVID support to $75 million.

    New ACRP SEP Grant
  9. We recognise the contributions many self-employed practitioners (SEP) have made to our arts and culture sector. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, many of them face uncertainty and loss of income. Last October, I pulled together 12 government agencies including colleagues from MOM, MSF, MOE, WSG and SSG to form an inter-agency workgroup tasked to come up with specific ways to boost work opportunities and skills for SEPs in the arts and culture industry.
  10. To this end, MCCY will launch a new ACRP SEP Grant to fund projects by SEPs and the organisations that work with them. The grant seeks to sustain the livelihoods of freelancers by minimising their job and income loss. 

    a) Each project can receive up to $50,000 in funds. The projects can involve live performances, digital presentations or skills development.

    b) We hope this wide-ranging grant, when launched by June 2021, will inject fresh work opportunities for self-employed practitioners, and spur them on to create new projects that hone their craft or gear up with skills for a post-COVID recovery. 
  11. Ms Lim asked about the impact of the pandemic on arts practitioners, while Ms Janet Ang spoke about helping our artists to enhance their skills and pivot to other sectors.

    a) Our creative and technical practitioners are talented and resilient. The recent Virtual Career Fair organised by NAC and NTUC attracted a total of 27 employers from the arts, and adjacent sectors of design, media and education. They offered close to 190 job opportunities which drew responses from over 130 applicants. This positive development reflects the value and continued demand for the skills of freelancers and bodes well for our creative economy.

    b) To date, the ACRP has also generated over 5,000 work and training opportunities for SEPs. 

    New Business Transformation Fund
  12. Chairman, there is no returning to the pre-pandemic days and like many other sectors, the arts and culture industry has to transform and reposition itself for post-COVID world. MCCY will introduce a new Business Transformation Fund (BTF) to equip and enhance the arts and culture sector’s capabilities for the future, and catalyse its capacity to transform and pivot to new opportunities.

    a) Under the BTF, the Business Transformation Grant (BTG) offers arts and culture organisations up to $30,000 to digitalise or improve their administration and service delivery.

    b) Organisations that pool together to explore co-solutioning IT projects that benefit multiple users, or have potential for industry spin-offs can apply for up to $200,000 in funding.

    c) MCCY and NAC will also work with our partners to commission work and co-create business transformation solutions that position arts and culture outfits for the future.

    2nd tranche of ACRP Operating Grant
  13. In addition to these booster shots that gear us up for the new normal, MCCY will also continue to offer relief for daily operations. We will extend the ACRP Operating Grant to keep arts and culture groups going by helping them to defray operating costs. Each organisation will receive $35,000 in funding.

    Venue Hire Subsidy Extended
  14. Furthermore, we will extend the Venue Hire Subsidy of 80% for another 3 months, from April to June 2021. In the year 2020, more than 300 venues were hired under this scheme.

    a) We encourage arts and culture practitioners to take advantage of this subsidy to hold shows, programmes or workshops at the many, many different spaces available.

    b) MCCY will also expand the subsidy to cover more venues. Chairman, in Mandarin please. 
  15. 文化、社区及青年部,为帮助文化艺术界人士应对冠病疫情的挑战,在去年推出了艺术文化坚韧配套。今年,我们将额外拨款2000万元加强配套。此外,还会推出第二轮的营运津贴,帮助我们文化艺术工作者应对营运成本,维持运作。我们也将高达百分之80的场地租金补贴,延长到今年六月。
  16. 我们也深刻了解到,冠病疫情给艺术自由业者带来更多的不确定性。为此,我们将在今年六月(之前)为艺术自由业者推出新的计划,让他们与合作机构联合申请高达五万元的津贴资助艺术项目。
  17. 文社青部也将以新的补贴计划,协助我们艺术团体实现转型,推动我国整体文化艺术生态的发展。在这段艰难的时刻,文化、社区及青年部希望和艺术以及文化界同仁,同舟共济,奋勇向前,一同携手渡过难关,在危机中找出契机,共同打造富有创意、欣欣向荣的社会。

    Capturing new opportunities in the arts and culture sector


    Digitalisation
  18. Chairman, since COVID-19, our arts and culture sector has pivoted towards digitalisation and new ways of engagement. We are immensely proud of the resilience and adaptability of our practitioners. Their creative use of technology has brought the arts and culture within the reach of manifold audiences. 

    a) For instance, I saw last month how S.E.A. Focus reached out to more than 20,000 collectors during the Singapore Art Week 2021; this is multiple times of the physical visitors received.   

    b) Last October, I met Ms Jayce Tham from CreativesAtWork, who organised the Thriving Singapore virtual exhibition. This is a project supported by the Digital Presentation Grant (DPG). The show garnered an online outreach of over 85,000 individuals in just 3 months. 
  19. Digital and blended delivery models will remain the way-to-go post-pandemic. I assure Ms Tin Pei Ling and Mr Xie Yao Quan that digitalisation is and will continue to be a top priority for this sector. We will dedicate time and resources to build and enhance digital capabilities. 

    a) Currently, charities in the arts and culture sector can tap on the VWOs-Charities Capability Fund Info-Communications Technology Grant for basic ICT setup and website development, and other digital solutions. In addition, the Charities GoDigital Kit launched last November aims to boost their digital capabilities, especially in corporate and administrative functions.

    b) Arts and culture companies, on the other hand, can draw upon the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) and Enterprise Development Grant (EDG) for the costs of IT solutions and equipment to innovate, upgrade or enhance business processes. 
  20. We welcome Ms Janet Ang’s suggestion to bring artists and the technology community together to remake innovative models for the arts. This is what we already do and will do more of.

    a) For instance, the National Heritage Board (NHB)’s DigiMuse programme engages the technology sector to enhance the museum experiences. 
  21. To set the sector on a speedy digital track, MCCY will draw up an Arts and Culture Digital Roadmap in consultation with stakeholders.

    a) It will provide a framework for the adoption of digital solutions to improve operational productivity and enhance audience experiences.

    b) The roadmap will be aligned with existing efforts to achieve long-term priority of enhanced digitalisation and technology adoption in the sector, as well as complement new schemes such as the Business Transformation Grant that I spoke about earlier.

    c) It will also serve as a one-stop directory of relevant government grants and schemes. 

     

    Protecting Singapore’s tangible and intangible heritage for future generations

  22. Even as we pivot towards technology, we remain strongly anchored in our cultural heritage which forms part of our shared identity. It reflects who we are and where we come from. Our tangible and intangible heritage reminds us of the progress we have made as a people, and provides us with the foundation to move forward, as a nation.

    Our intangible heritage
  23. UNESCO’s recognition for our hawker culture speaks volumes of the unique and diverse Singapore heritage. Mr Darryl David earlier spoke passionately and he hopes for more innovative ways to celebrate our hawker culture as a form of our national pride and legacy.
  24. We are indeed proud of our cultural assets, and want to share these with the world. To this end, we will widen our search to put other aspects of our cultural heritage for UNESCO nomination. I would like to share that NHB will embark on a series of public consultations to identify new nominations for the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

    a) We invite all Singaporeans to actively contribute their ideas and suggestions to NHB when more details are announced. 
  25. Besides food, music and films encapsulate our Singapore culture too. Earlier on,  Mr Sitoh Yih Pin spoke passionately in Mandarin, he highlighted the contributions of our local Chinese cultural arts, such as the Xinyao movement and homegrown films. 

    a) We recognise how all these various art forms are enriching our growing Singapore identity. NAC has supported new generations of artists like Joanna Dong and Gen Neo who are producing fresh Xinyao tunes and contributing to renewed interest in this genre. 

    b) Many Singapore films feature covers of Xinyao and Mandarin music. A recent collaboration between local band NEKO Highway and director Mr Anthony Chen produced the theme song of his Golden Horse nominated film, Wet Season.

    Our tangible heritage
  26. Earlier on, Mr Xie Yao Quan asked for greater efforts to enhance our people’s interest and involvement in our arts and culture. Allow me to first share how we will foster among Singaporeans a greater appreciation and participation in Singapore’s tangible and intangible heritage. 

    a) Before COVID-19, our museums achieved a record high visitorship of close to 9.6 million in the year 2019. Although the ongoing pandemic has changed the dynamics of visitorship, we are pressing on with new plans to draw participation and expanding our audiences through virtual platforms. 
  27. As Minister Edwin Tong has shared earlier, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of preserving our National Monuments this year. 

    a) We will hold a special commemorative exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore from June to September 2021. Thereafter, the show will travel to other parts of Singapore for the benefit of all Singaporeans.

    b) It will feature creative renderings by artists and photographers of all our 73 National Monuments, and include past works that celebrate earlier preservation milestones.
  28. This year is also the 25th Anniversary of our Museum Roundtable (MR), a collective established by NHB to spur a museum-going culture.

    a) The Roundtable has enabled smaller private museums like The Intan, which promotes Peranakan culture, to be heard, which has widened the exchange of insights and views from larger organisations.

    b) To coincide with International Museum Day on 18 May 2021, NHB will launch a series of tours to encourage the public to explore lesser-known museums, and a roving exhibition on the Museum Roundtable will be held in November 2021.

    c) We encourage the public to continue supporting and visiting our museums.
  29. One of this year’s highlights is the re-opening of the Changi Chapel and Museum (CCM) and Reflections at Bukit Chandu.

    a) Changi Chapel and Museum, which documents and reveals experiences of Prisoners of War and civilian internees, will re-open in May 2021, and Reflections at Bukit Chandu which commemorates the courage and resilience of the Malay Regiment in the Battle of Pasir Panjang, will reopen in the second half of 2021. 
  30. To ensure the continued relevance and accessibility of our museums, we have plans for three heritage centres to be refurbished.

    a) First, the Malay Heritage Centre will be closed for redevelopment in early 2022. Its galleries will be updated with new content on the diverse Malay community and Kampong Glam precinct. 

    b) The Singapore Philatelic Museum that is currently being redeveloped, will reopen next year in 2022 as a dedicated children’s museum with interactive exhibits and storytelling sessions.  

    c) Come 2023, we can all look forward to a refurbished Peranakan Museum, which will present a more inclusive definition of Peranakan culture.

    Inspiring Singaporeans through the arts and heritage

  31. Besides rejuvenating our tangible heritage, MCCY will recognise and celebrate the intangible heritage created by our arts and cultural talents, and enhance the public’s appreciation of this legacy.
  32. Ms Cheng Li Hui will be glad to know that MCCY will establish a dedicated Cultural Medallion Gallery to showcase the works of our talented Cultural Medallion winners in the Arts House at the end of this year.
  33. The Cultural Medallion is Singapore’s highest artistic accolade that recognises individuals for their artistic excellence and contributions to our cultural landscape. 

    a) We have many homegrown talents to be proud of. Since the start of this award, 128 distinguished artists – from the visual and literary arts to music, theatre and dance, across all various arts forms – have won this distinction.

    b) Last year, I met our year 2020 Cultural Medallion recipients, Mr Sarkasi Said and Dr Vincent Leow. Like the recipients in past years, they have made a lasting impact on our arts and cultural ecosystem.
  34. Last year, NAC engaged over 50 Cultural Medallion recipients on how to better support our arts and culture sector, and as a result the idea of the Cultural Medallion Gallery was born. 

    a) Besides the physical exhibits, NAC and the National Library Board will create an integrated and comprehensive national digital repository documenting the work of our Cultural Medallion winners, and this will give Singaporeans valuable insights into Singapore’s cultural history.
  35. Ms Sylvia Lim earlier had asked about the arts fraternity’s response to arts spaces.

    a) Our arts spaces have grown over the years. NAC seeks to ensure that these are used optimally and efficiently; that we provide fair access and inclusive opportunities for as many as possible in the community – especially new groups and younger practitioners; and that these spaces are regularly updated and upgraded to remain relevant to prevailing needs.

    b) NAC had conducted extensive consultations ahead of the launch of the Framework for Arts Spaces scheme in 2010, and Our SG Arts Plan in 2018. In all these engagements, the arts community acknowledged that arts spaces should benefit more artists, especially new and upcoming talents. This view was also reflected in the Arts Plan.

    c) The importance of ensuring that our arts spaces benefit the wider community underpins NAC’s efforts in building a pipeline of diversified spaces. This is so that more practitioners can utilise multi-tenanted spaces for art making, capability development and audience engagement.

     

    Conclusion

  36. Without a doubt, our arts and culture are a source of pride uniting Singaporeans from all walks of life.
  37. As we position the arts and culture sector for recovery, we will continue to safeguard livelihoods, retain and reinvigorate capabilities and talents – and with determination, pivot to new platforms with wider audiences through digitalisation.
  38. Together, we can turn the corner and bring our arts and culture to higher ground – where talents, creativity and our identity as a Singapore people emerge even stronger.

 

Last updated on 08 March 2021