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A confident nation through vibrant arts, sports and youth sectors

Speech by Mr Baey Yam Keng, Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth at the 2018 Committee of Supply debate
08 March 2018
1. Mr Chairman, with your permission, I will display some slides.

2. Minister and SMS highlighted the role of MCCY in bringing our nation together, and partnering citizens to make Singapore a better home, and a caring and inclusive society.

3. Looking forward, we aim to build a buoyant Singapore, a nation that is confident in our future. Through our work in the arts and sports sectors, and our continued investment in our youth, our people can be confident that this is a place we can lead fulfilling lives and pursue our dreams.

A vibrant and distinctive arts scene

4. Mr Kok Heng Leun suggested that we review our achievements under the Arts & Culture Strategic Review (ACSR). Launched in 2010, the ACSR builds on the foundations laid by the Advisory Council on Culture and the Arts and the Renaissance City Plans. Its 2025 vision is for Singapore to be a nation of cultured and gracious people, at home with our heritage, proud of our Singaporean identity by (i) bringing arts and culture to everyone, everywhere, every day, and (ii) building capabilities to achieve excellence.

5. Since the ACSR recommendations were released in 2012, we introduced a range of initiatives to increase accessibility to arts and culture, and invested in excellence. The arts scene is more vibrant today, with more Singaporeans recognising the value of the arts to the individual, community and our larger Singapore society, and more agreeing that the arts help to improve our lives. We believe our efforts have borne fruit, and thank Mr Kok for his suggestion. We will review and share how far we have come under ACSR and the areas for improvement at its midway point.

Enhancing arts sectoral plans to inspire our people, connect our communities and position Singapore globally

6. Mr Kok and Dr Lim Wee Kiak also asked about our strategies and plans to further develop the arts sector. Indeed, there is more that we can do. We are reviewing our plans in the literary, performing and visual arts this year, to outline the strategies for each art form as we head towards 2025. We have already started engaging the arts community, including Mr Kok, on the broad direction of these plans. We will continue to grow opportunities in audience development, community arts, arts education, capability development, internationalisation, as well as research and documentation. Further details will be shared by the end of this year. 

7. In the meantime, we have already started to work on a few areas. 

More focus on the vernacular for literary arts

8. Our efforts in the literary arts scene have resulted in a strong talent base, especially in English, and more platforms for our writers to reach their readers. However, there remains much room for us to promote the Chinese, Malay and Tamil literary arts.

9. I will speak in Mandarin. 我们将捐赠一套新加坡文学书籍給所有中小学,这些都是以我国四种官方语文创作的文学作品。我们的中小学生将能在学校阅读本地作家的作品,如虎威的《外公的小房间》、黄淑君的《谢谢萤火虫》和艾禺的《不见了的蓝色气球》等。我们希望孩子们从小接触这些新加坡文学作品,能培养他们对本地文学持久的兴趣,这些本土故事也将成为他们成长过程中的共同回忆。

Digital technology to advocate for Singapore music

10. 我们将通过数码科技鼓励公众更关注和支持本地艺术,包括新加坡歌曲和音乐。国家艺术理事会下个月将推出一个推广本地音乐的新平台, [聆听65]。通过这个网络平台 ,公众能够认识到不同音乐流派、不同语言、不同年代的新加坡音乐作品。 [聆听65] 会是一个老少咸宜的音乐平台,有我父母年代的经典歌曲如 “歌迷王子” 黄清元的《总有一天等到你》和潘秀琼的《情人的眼泪》;还有像我这个岁数的听众熟悉的梁文福的《一步一步来》和陈洁仪的《家》等。年轻人也会听到耳熟能详的时下流行歌曲像蔡健雅的《说到爱》、孙燕姿的《漂浮群岛》和林俊杰的《黑夜问白天》。通过 [聆听65] ,我们能接触来自350多名新加坡音乐家的作品,继续推动新加坡音乐的发展。 

11. Mr Chairman, music is an integral part of Singaporeans’ lives. Hear65 a national music movement that will be launched next month in collaboration with local music media company Bandwagon – will profile home grown music talents to Singapore and international audiences. Users can look forward to an online, interactive platform that showcases music performed by local artists such as The Quests, Anita Sarawak, Taufik Batisah, Vanessa Fernandez, Shabir Alam and Gentle Bones. Hear65 will feature access to music on streaming platforms and crowd-sourced reviews of the featured content. Hear65 will also partner private and public sector stakeholders such as the Esplanade to create more buzz around Singapore music.

Activating spaces for public art

12. In the area of Visual Art, we would like the public to enjoy our artists’ work as part of daily life. Using artworks to enliven our urban landscape is one approach, as Dr Lim has pointed out. For SG50, we commissioned three public artworks in the Civic District under the Public Art Trust. In commemoration of Singapore’s Bicentennial next year, two new signature public artworks will also be commissioned in community spaces. We will continue to commission one signature public artwork per year thereafter, under the Trust.

13. Beyond this, we have freed up more sites for artists to create public artwork in our neighbourhoods. To date, more than 30 sites have been secured, including spaces in town centres and sports centres in Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Bukit Panjang, Clementi and Woodlands.  The initial list of sites will be released in the middle of this year. I encourage interested venue owners to get in touch with NAC if you have suitable spaces that can be included. Likewise, we encourage artists to consider these sites, and submit proposals through the Public Art Trust website. 

14. We will also launch public art trails and guided tours beyond the Civic District and Central Business District. For example, we will have more public art programmes as part of the Arts in Your Neighbourhood series. The March edition is currently taking place in Ang Mo Kio featuring performing arts activities and four new public artworks, on top of its existing visual arts programme. 

Confidence in our people – supporting our arts practitioners to excel

15. Dr Lim asked about Government support for freelancers. In our 2016 Arts and Culture Employment Survey, nearly half of the respondents indicated that they work primarily on a freelance basis. We agree that more can be done to enhance professional support for independent artists, to help our freelance artists grow meaningful careers. In 2017, MOM and NAC consulted freelancers and key employers to gather their feedback. 

16. We have developed a Support Framework that fosters fair and progressive employment conditions, and meets our freelancers’ professional development needs. NAC and NHB will be the early adopters of MOM’s Tripartite Standard for Contracting Self-Employed Persons. We will also encourage arts groups and institutions within the wider culture sector to implement these measures.

17. Independent artists raised a wish list for better access to resources, training and networking. We will therefore set up a national resource centre, in both physical and digital forms, dedicated to supporting the needs of our arts freelancers. The centre will conduct training programmes, as well as provide resources and services on individual rights and responsibilities, career development and finance.

The role of arts education

18. Mr Kok spoke about how arts education should involve creative interventions to address societal issues. I agree that the arts has the potential to do so. We have therefore piloted structured student visits to our arts and heritage institutions over the last two years. Starting this year, museum-based learning is recommended as a core learning experience in the revised primary art syllabus. We will continue to work closely with MOE to help our young develop a stronger appreciation of our history, and our national identity, through the arts and culture. By focusing on positive and enjoyable experiences for our children, we can also develop appreciation for the arts across a lifetime, and help us continue cultivating new artists, audiences and arts champions.

19. On top of our work with students, we have refined our funding support from 2017 to include the promotion of arts accessibility, development of new audiences and building appreciation for the arts across communities. We recognise that these areas may not be a priority for all artists and arts groups, but will continue to encourage and support those keen to focus on them. 

Closer collaborations between institutions and artists for greater sustainability

20. I agree with Mr Kok that there is a need for sustainability of the arts sector. Through the Cultural Matching Fund and NAC’s efforts to raise fund-raising capabilities in the arts sector, we seek to tap multiple sources of support for arts groups and artists. The ability to raise and manage funding is a critical aspect of sustainable arts groups, regardless of size. We also agree that our major institutions play an important role, and provide a variety of platforms for artists, including those engaged in more experimental work. We hope that our artists will carry on working closely with our institutions.

Embracing ASEAN and its rich cultural diversity

21. Ms Sun Xueling, Mr Kok Heng Leun and Mr Henry Kwek all spoke on ASEAN. Our chairmanship of ASEAN this year is an opportunity for us to deepen our appreciation of ASEAN’s rich cultural diversity. We will roll out a series of initiatives to showcase the arts and heritage of our ASEAN neighbours. 

22. For example, The Asian Civilisations Museum has designated 2018 as the “Year of Southeast Asia”, and will feature programmes and exhibitions in line with the theme. Singapore will also host residencies for artists around the region, just as our neighbours will host ours.

23. We will also celebrate the close cultural ties with two ASEAN partners – Malaysia and Indonesia – through bilateral cultural showcases. These initiatives complement ongoing efforts to support Singapore artists’ development through participation in regional and international festivals, trade fairs, biennales, and overseas training programmes.

24. One example of this support is the return exhibition of local artist Zai Kuning’s work “Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge”. We were able to preview this piece as a work-in-progress, before it represented Singapore at last year’s Venice Biennale. Singaporeans will have the opportunity to view it when TheatreWorks presents it from April.  It is a culmination of Zai’s ongoing body of work over the years to investigate Malay history and culture, and Singapore’s relationship with the larger Riau Archipelago. We are proud of how our Singapore stories are travelling around the world, and remain committed to supporting our artists in such pursuits.

Strengthening ties in ASEAN through our youth

25. Mr Chairman, youth is another key focus for our ASEAN Chairmanship. By 2020, almost half of ASEAN’s population will be under 30 years old. This underscores the importance of empowering our youth to appreciate and realise the potential of ASEAN’s youthful demographic in driving the region’s future.

26. Today, MCCY, MOE and our economic agencies provide opportunities for our youth to build a greater appreciation of ASEAN. For example:

• the National Youth Council hosts bilateral youth leaders’ exchange programmes with Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.

 •MOE provides our students opportunities through exchange and immersion programmes, cultural exchanges like the annual Singapore Youth Festival and through sports like the annual ASEAN Schools Games;

• IE Singapore runs the Young Talent Programme, an initiative for youth to have international immersion experiences to better prepare them for global careers in future. The programme has supported Singaporeans to take on overseas internships and hybrid work-and-study programmes. Since last year, the programme has focused on fast-growing Asian markets, including South East Asia.

27. So I urge our youth to take up these opportunities in the region, as we work with MOE and economic agencies to ensure even greater access to these regional opportunities. For our chairmanship, MCCY will launch three initiatives to empower, engage and nurture the many diverse groups of youths in ASEAN. 

28. First, we will renew the Singapore-ASEAN Youth Fund. The Fund supports ground-up initiatives by ASEAN youth in areas such as leadership development, community service and entrepreneurship. Since the establishment of the Fund in 2007, we have supported many meaningful and sustainable projects, which have benefitted over 22,000 ASEAN youth.

29. Second, we will host an ASEAN eSports tournament this year, encompassing a regional League of Legends tournament. As a highly popular and trending activity among youth, eSports has tremendous potential, as an innovative means of engagement, to connect ASEAN youth through shared experiences of competition, sportsmanship, and fun.

30. Take the example of Amos Ker, a professional gamer playing Vainglory, a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA). Amos has bagged numerous regional awards and even competed internationally in Hollywood. Through the various tournaments, Amos has made many friends from different countries and acquired a confidence to lead and share his experience with aspiring competitive gamers. Today, Amos is the captain of Team Impunity, a local eSports team. He is also pursuing a Diploma in Game Development, under scholarship at the Informatics Academy.

31. The ASEAN eSports tournament will be the first of its kind in the region. It will be part of a larger celebration of our vibrant ASEAN youth during the first weekend of August at the Singapore Sports Hub, bringing together the SHINE Festival for Youth and GetActive! Singapore. Our youth at home can look forward to a diverse array of opportunities and performances in eSports, live music, dance and sports; I encourage our youth to showcase their talents, represent Singapore on the regional stage, and build new friendships with our ASEAN neighbours.

32. Third, we will introduce the ASEAN Youth Fellowship programme, an annual platform for young leaders across 3P sectors in ASEAN to interact with and better understand one another, creating a closer-knit ASEAN community. These ASEAN Youth Fellows will be spending a week together in Singapore in the second half of this year, discussing key issues and opportunities in respective home countries as well as the greater ASEAN region. Youth of Singapore will also have the opportunity to interact with this next generation of leaders. Beyond our chairmanship this year, we hope to build a network of ASEAN young leaders to take the ASEAN community forward as a strong and united body. 

Nurturing confident and resilient youth

33. In addition to ASEAN youth initiatives, MCCY is nurturing our youth to be more confident and resilient. Mr Melvin Yong asked for an update on the progress of the MOE-OBS mixed school cohort camps. While the design and development of OBS@Coney is underway, MOE and MCCY started phasing in students for the MOE-OBS Challenge Programme in 2017. Each week, secondary 3 students from different schools are given the opportunity to team up into expedition groups and interact with peers from different backgrounds.

34. Last month, I met with two such participants - Nur Syarafina from Edgefield Secondary School and Andre Loh from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent). Both of them were at first intimidated by the challenging tasks at OBS, as well as the initial “awkwardness” of working together with peers from other schools and different backgrounds. This “awkwardness” soon melted away, as the two worked with team members to conquer kayaking expeditions and challenging ropes courses. They remain in touch with their new friends, and I am told that a group of them even met up over the recent Chinese New Year period.

35. Over the course of 2017, the MOE-OBS Challenge Programme brought together 6,000 youths like Andre and Syarafina, from different schools to work together and overcome challenges in the outdoors. The outcomes from the inaugural programme have been positive thus far, with our youths becoming more confident, resilient and making new friends. Over 80% of students surveyed are also keen to attend another OBS course. About 90% reported better appreciation of diversity and being better at working with peers from different backgrounds. We will continue to gather feedback from future participants and refine the programme.

Confidence and pride in Team Singapore

36. Alongside vibrant arts and youth sectors, our people can be proud of a thriving sporting scene.

37. Our athletes have worked hard in making Singapore a proud sporting nation. Team Singapore broke new grounds in 2017, with excellent results at the 29th SEA Games and 9th ASEAN Para Games in Kuala Lumpur. Both contingents put in historic away Games performances, bringing home a remarkable 188 and 50 medals respectively. Our young Team Singapore athletes also won a record 18 medals at the 2017 Asian Youth Para Games in Dubai.

38. Our athletes bring the nation together and exemplify the Singapore Spirit – a “can-do” attitude, the relentless pursuit of excellence and determination to overcome all challenges.

39. Fencer Lau Ywen is one such example. In early 2017, she sustained three hairline cracks in her lower back, putting her out of action for several months. But she did not let this setback get her down. With the help of conditioning coaches, physiotherapists and performance analysts from the National Youth Sports Institute, she made a swift and full recovery in time for the 2017 SEA Games. She went on to win Gold in the Sabre event. This is just one of many inspiring stories of our athletes. We wish them all the very best as they continue to train hard and do Singapore proud on the world stage.

Review of High Performance Sports System

40. Mr Darryl David asked how we are helping our Team Singapore athletes achieve even greater success. The Government is committed to supporting our athletes’ aspirations and will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure that with our High Performance Sports (HPS) system, our athletes can achieve their best. We are working with various National Sports Associations (NSAs) to be more professional in organisational governance and technical expertise. We will also continue to enhance areas such as:

• talent identification and development;

• coach development through CoachSG;

• sports science and medicine capability; and

• athlete support systems - in terms of carding, support for Major Games’ preparations, scholarships as well as career and education opportunities.

41. Following a review of past competitions, we will be introducing customised support for selected Team Singapore athletes in the lead up to major games over a rolling two-year period.  It will begin with $2 million set aside this year to cover the upcoming Asian Games and Asian Para Games. This is over and above the existing funding for NSAs, carded athletes and spexScholars. This will give games-bound athletes greater assurance and encourage more to train full time, as they strive for success at these competitions.

One Team Singapore

42. To supplement the Government’s efforts in improving our HPS system, the One Team Singapore Fund (OTSF) was launched in October last year. Now, Singaporeans can directly contribute to the high performance sports system by pledging support to this fund. In just a few months, over $1.5 million have been raised for the OTSF so far. The Government is providing one-for-one matching of up to $50 million for these donations, over 5 years. We look forward to more donations to the OTSF, as efforts to raise awareness of the fund ramp up this year. Importantly, the fund also provides impetus for NSAs and Team Singapore athletes to deepen their engagement with their respective fraternities, as well as the wider community.

Developments in football

43. Mr Ganesh and Mr Faisal Manap asked about developments in local football. To raise the standard of play amongst our National Teams, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has announced a revamp of the S. League to address four key areas – youth development, capability development, cost efficiency, and building a vibrant football culture. Specifically, the FAS has updated S. League match rules to provide younger players with more match exposure. It has taken steps to raise player professionalism, such as cracking down on smoking and placing more emphasis on fitness. The FAS is also working on raising coaching standards. On SportSG’s end, the ActiveSG Football Academy is collaborating with FAS to build the youth development system. As with other NSAs, SportSG will work in partnership with FAS to review its strategic plans for football annually against the funding it receives, to ensure the continued development of Singapore football and the revamped S. League.

44. We note that the football fraternity has responded positively to the plan of FAS. We expect the FAS leadership to continue engaging and working closely with clubs, stakeholders and fans, as Mr Faisal Manap says, current and ex-footballers. We look forward to improvements in the standard of Singapore football and the performance of our National Teams. The new S. League season kicks off at the National Stadium on 31 March and we wish them all the best.


45. Mr Chairman, just as teamwork is crucial in sports, it is only by working hand-in-hand that we can realise our shared goals for Singapore, be it in the arts, youth or sports sectors. Together, we can be confident of making Singapore our home where we can all lead fulfilling lives, and pursue our dreams.

Last Updated: 09 March 2018

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