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A living plan for the future

Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister For Culture, Community And Youth, & Second Minister For Law, At The Launch of Our Arts Plan (2023-2027) on 5 Sep 2023


  1. Good afternoon to all of you and thank you very much for being here at the launch Our SG Arts Plan. For myself, and my colleagues at NAC and MCCY, this is a very significant and important milestone.
  2. Art, in all its forms, has always been an integral part of any society. And certainly, it is not different in Singapore. Art is about you and I; it is about all of us. Reflecting the heart and soul of each of us as individuals, and collectively, as part of one nation. Art is also powerful – able to bring people together in ways that few other movements can, transcending fault lines, disagreements, and differences. Art enriches our lives, challenges our assumptions, and changes perspectives. Sometimes, it helps us see a better side of ourselves. And also ignites our passions. And it continues to add to the vibrancy and sustainability of our creative economy.
  3. One of the highlights of my portfolio at MCCY is the unique privilege of being in the front row; being able to witness the development of arts and culture in Singapore. To be very much a part of the exciting and diverse developments, as I see the arts scene evolve. Over the past few years, I have witnessed first-hand many performances and exhibitions by our Singaporean artists. I have also spoken to many and visited them in their natural habitat where they work. And I am struck by their sense of purpose and passion – single-minded, dedicated, very focused. And it tells me that we have so much more to offer, because their work is top-class; I’m sure all of you will agree with me that we have tremendous talent in Singapore. As long as we can organise ourselves, have a plan, and develop our arts, our artists, and audiences, to ensure that we reach the best we can do. At the same time, I have also seen the severe impact that COVID had on our practitioners. On a more sombre note, there are lessons in there for all of us, about how we need to become more resourceful and resilient, so that we can weather another storm, if one does come along. And that is why we have the Arts Plan, for us to build a plan to sustain a strong creative economy, for there to be sustainable jobs and careers, in the arts.
  4. A bold, forward looking, and timely plan

  5. Let me say a little more about the Arts Plan, starting with a little bit of history with the first plan, from 2018.
  6. In 2018, NAC launched the inaugural Our SG Arts Plan. This was the first iteration of a co-ordinated, structured road map, developed in consultation with our arts community – to drive the arts in Singapore forward. The plan then had three dimensions – to inspire our people, connect our communities, and position Singapore globally. We put in place both the hardware as well as the software that made the arts more accessible to Singaporeans, developed the arts sector, and also expanded and pushed boundaries on our international presence and profile. In many ways, we have seen the benefits of that Arts Plan come to life – our arts sector has seen a steady growth in terms of arts groups and visitorship, and the landscape has become a lot more varied, more diverse, more exciting, and a lot more vibrant.
  7. But the world has also changed a lot in the last 5 years. In the middle of the last 5- year plan, COVID happened, and changed some of our paradigm assumptions. We have had to respond quickly, oftentimes without full visibility, and on the fly.
  8. We had to evolve, stay ahead of the curve, in order to serve Singapore’s interests better; having a sharp focus on some key priorities as well as maintaining a clear eye on developments in the region and overseas so that we can keep pace. Allow me to touch on a few initiatives over this period of time.
  9. NAC has strengthened its role in leading and championing the arts, and we have increased our focus on growing the audience. We have supported our arts infrastructure through funding, which has steadily increased over the years. We also understand that spaces and places are important to our artists – and we have been providing subsidies and affordable shared spaces for them to work and make their art. We have also facilitated the co-location of arts organisations in retail spaces, bringing down costs and allowing it to be more accessible to the public. We have redeveloped our arts spaces, such as the Stamford Arts Centre to support the growth of traditional arts.
  10. Our Arts have also gone beyond our shores. And it is important for us that our artists gain international recognition. Hence, we support our artists and practitioners as they are presented on key and very important international platforms. This includes the Singapore Pavilion Presentation at the Venice Biennale, where just last year, we saw a record-breaking turnout of 240,000 visitors, despite overseas travel having barely resumed.
  11. And there is increased sector wide support for our freelance art professionals. This was one of the lessons we learned during COVID – that we have a rich, vibrant group of freelancers, who add creative verve to our arts world. They had a hard time during COVID. So we moved quickly to set up the Arts Resource Hub and organised support for the freelancers and Self-Employed Persons. We also provided arts Self- Employed Persons with resources such as a jobs portal, a training directory, and access to co-working spaces for a sustainable practice. Some of these that we developed during COVID are now permanent features, to ensure that the freelancers and self-employed persons will continue to be supported, even outside of COVID.
  12. We have moved very fast, and continue to do so. One view could have been – the 2018 Arts Plan was disrupted by COVID, so let’s get it back on track and see it through for another 2-3 years; we could have done that.
  13. But we also saw that the last couple of years have really seen significant shifts in our operating environment – and some of these shifts have become permanent. This could affect the way we, as audiences, consume and appreciate the arts. It could also impact the way artists present their work. And technology has impacted the arts ecosystem in a completely unprecedented manner, with the arts and tech coming together in the Metaverse to create not just new artforms, but also new platforms.
  14. So we decided to make the move now, consolidate our efforts so far, and redouble our focus towards a refreshed strategic road map for arts development, so that we can meet that future challenge head on, and try and deal with it directly. It is therefore timely that we now launch the second edition of the arts plan. My colleagues and I believe that this will be a bold and forward-looking plan that will empower our arts sector to seize new opportunities as they present themselves. Allow me to outline some of the key highlights in the Arts Plan 2.0.
  15. First, the Arts Plan recognises that our arts sector has continued to mature – and that is very good for our arts development, very good for Singapore. Over the years, the arts sector in Singapore has expanded, becoming more diverse and playing a larger role in our economy, as it must, in order to stay sustainable. Today, the sector consists of a good mix of different professionals, from established groups to up-and- coming artists, as well as those who are employed in adjacent creative industries such as film and media. The new arts plan will focus on bringing our flourishing arts sector to the next level as we move forward. So the first of three thrusts under Our SG Arts Plan (2023 – 2027) is to build A Creative Economy. This thrust will focus on developing an arts sector defined by excellence, innovation, and close collaboration within the broader ecosystem of the larger creative industry. There must be a strong value proposition for the arts to be sustained, to remain economically viable. Artists must be able to secure jobs and develop a strong career in the arts.
  16. Second, we hope to bring the arts into our everyday spaces. Many Singaporeans now welcome the infusion of arts into their daily lives, and actively seek out art experiences in places where they live, work and play – not just in museums, galleries or studios. Riding on this positive momentum, we will further develop Singapore into A Distinctive City as the second thrust under the arts plan. This thrust will focus on building a city where spaces, structures and streetscapes will be infused with the arts. Singaporeans can look forward to greater presence of the arts, sometimes in places where they travel, injected into their everyday spaces.
  17. Finally, Singapore will increasingly face socio-economic tensions. We will see increasing threats to our unity in the form of culture wars, xenophobia, and economic stressors, amongst others. I think the arts will play a big part in helping us to counter this, strengthening our communities and building strong ties across our society. And one way is through our shared appreciation of arts and cultural experiences. As an open, multi-cultural and diverse society, the arts will continue to play an increasingly important role, an essential one, in serving as the glue that holds us together. Therefore, the third and final thrust of this Arts Plan is to achieve A Connected Society. The thrust will champion accessible and quality arts initiatives that deepen our shared national identity, turning the arts into a strong ballast for our society.
  18. Key distinguishers of Our SG Arts Plan (2023 – 2027)

  19. Taken together, these three thrusts – A Connected Society, A Distinctive City, and A Creative Economy – form the bedrock of Our SG Arts Plan (2023 – 2027). But this plan is more than just a plan. It is more than just a policy statement. This is a statement of our belief in the power of the arts. The plan represents a paradigm shift in not just what we do, but the thinking behind what we do, the philosophy behind how we would like to see the arts develop in Singapore. Think of it as moving beyond the immediate arts space – how do we move and engage the rest of society and the economy and our community, in this Arts Plan. And infusing the arts into other aspects of society, expanding the influence of the arts and promoting its impact on the lives of all Singaporeans. Each of the three thrusts also represents how the arts can intersect with and contribute to the society at large, be it in areas of identity, liveability, or economy.
  20. The plan demonstrates our commitment and dedication to public engagement through the creation process. NAC has made it a point to engage widely, we consulted deeply. Many came back to us and gave us words of advice and suggestions, told us about their aspirations. We are indeed very heartened, and we feel a heavy responsibility of stewardship to make all these aspirations come true. You told us what mattered, the challenges that you faced, and also the opportunities you can see on the horizon for the arts in Singapore, and what we can do individually and collectively as a country for the arts.
  21. This plan also exemplifies the spirit of the Forward Singapore exercise. The Government, the arts community, and the public came together. We did not always agree, but we were all very focused on making sure that the contributions were constructive, and the direction was always forward.
  22. I would like to add that this plan is far from being just a policy document; it is a reflection of our core values, a manifestation of our aspirations, and a blueprint for the future. More importantly, it also embodies the values of inclusivity, partnership, and growth.
  23. Inclusivity

  24. First, inclusivity is really the cornerstone of this Arts Plan. We recognise that the arts belong to everyone, going beyond the practitioners, industry professionals and the immediate arts ecosystem. We want this blueprint to bring the arts to all Singaporeans.
  25. Let me give an example. NAC is committed in instilling the value of inclusivity in this plan. It will work closely with artists, the community, as well as partners like the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Housing Development Board, as well as SMRT. Singaporeans can look forward to enjoying art outside of the galleries and concert halls, and directly in our everyday spaces. Singaporeans will see many community- based art projects, which will provide an opportunity for the community to come together and make a direct impact on the neighbourhood they live in.
  26. Partnership

  27. Second, partnerships lie at the very heart of this plan. The larger community and strategic partners are crucial if we are to expand and grow exponentially in Singapore. That is why the arts plan is “our” arts plan, as it requires all of us, as a whole-of-nation, to come together, for its success. NAC will forge new partnerships – some of them not usually or typically associated with the arts – going beyond the usual boundaries of the arts community. Take for example our partnership with Marina Bay Sands, to tap on MBS’ industry expertise and networks to bring added value to the arts sector. NAC will also be entering into a strategic multi-year partnership with Mediacorp, to amplify arts and culture to the mass media audience, and develop industry connections for the arts and media professionals. I’m sure this will be a very fruitful partnership.
  28. By joining forces with our partners, we can amplify our impact, create new opportunities.
  29. Growth

  30. Finally, growth is not just an outcome of this Arts Plan, but a key driving force of this plan. The plan will put in place a series of steppingstones to propel the arts in Singapore to new heights of excellence and raise the level of arts consumption. It aims to nurture emerging talents, empower artists, and cultivate our audiences. Also seeking to enrich our cultural ecosystem by developing key enablers along the way on this journey, for our arts to evolve, adapt and flourish.
  31. Our arts professionals make up the heart of our arts sector. The plan will seek to grow a strong talent core through providing support for skills acquisition and professional development. This speaks to the value that we place on the people that I believe are central to the sector. NAC’s Skills Framework for Arts will provide a structured approach to skills development. The framework will signpost key skills and jobs, and provide benchmarks to allow individuals to better plan for skills and career development, thus levelling up the skills and competencies of our practitioners. The more experienced amongst the artists – many of you here – should also see value in coaching and mentoring the younger ones.
  32. Apart from the artists, the audience is of course another important component of the arts ecosystem. Our plan will aim to grow our audience base. We have come up with CATCH, a new digital platform that will aggregate arts and culture content in Singapore. We hope to grow CATCH into that killer app that will be used for the arts and culture in Singapore. Users can also look forward to a curated range of creative experiences tailored for every individual.
  33. Conclusion: A living plan for the future

  34. Years from now, when we look back on today, I would like to think that we did something special. We have put our minds together, and we have come up with a plan that is bold, that will chart the path for our future. And this plan is not meant to be a static, one-time plan. And it should not be seen as one. It is conceived as a dynamic, responsive, and evolving roadmap that will continue to be refined as we go along. NAC will not stop its efforts to continually to seek public input, artist feedback, and work on building more collaborations with various stakeholders, to continue to refine this plan. New art forms will emerge, society will change, and cultural dialogues will evolve. All this must be part of that evolving plan. And the plan must be dynamic enough to take all this on board, so that it will evolve, expand, and transform to respond to these changes.
  35. So I call on all stakeholders to come together and participate in the creation of a dynamic and flourishing arts scene. Regardless of your role – whether you are an artist, audience, corporate partner, philanthropist, policymaker, volunteer, or a mix of all the above – we look forward to working together with all of you to grow our cultural ecosystem. If we come together, there is not much that we cannot do.
  36. I ask for your cooperation as we seek to leverage the power of the arts to create a connected society, make a distinctive city out of Singapore, one that we are proud to call our home, and fulfil the diverse aspirations of all Singaporeans.
  37. Thank you and have a great afternoon ahead.
Last updated on 10 October 2023