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Creating common spaces for everyday art

10 September 2018

Motion for Adjournment by Kok Heng Leun (Nominated Member): Addressing issues that limits artistic expression in everyday places


Minister Grace Fu: Deputy Speaker Sir, I thank Mr Kok for his observations and suggestions to increase artistic expression and engagement in Singapore.

Arts and Culture in Singapore

1. Mr Kok referred to the many opportunities for art in public spaces beyond the conventional gallery, theatre, or studio. In fact, he has mentioned several examples of how forum theatre has been able to engage the public in multiple locations in Singapore, having good engagement on topics that can be difficult, can be emotional, and can be sensitive at times. That is in fact the best testament of how art has been able to be carried out in public with trust, with good conversations and with mutual understanding. So I’m glad that he’s indeed affirming that this has taken place in Singapore. He also noted that the Singapore Night Festival organised by the National Heritage Board (NHB) has done well to balance accessibility and security.I agree with Mr Kok that Singapore’s arts and culture scene, including art in our public spaces, is indeed vibrant and thriving. Aside from the Night Festival, there are many, many other opportunities for Singaporeans to enjoy art in everyday spaces in the city centre, as well as in our heartlands.These include NHB’s Singapore Heritage Festival, National Gallery Singapore’s Light to Night, the National Arts Council’s (NAC’s) Arts in Your Neighbourhood, and People Association’s (PA)’s PAssionArts. I’m sure PAssionArts is quite familiar to many of the members sitting around the House, because it is taking place in every constituency in Singapore – in everyday spaces, in hawker centres, in void decks, in community centres, in parks. These offerings are part of the over 100 arts and cultural events available each day1, and which 74 percent of Singaporeans agreed that they were proud of in the 2015 Population Survey on the Arts.

2. Mr Kok also spoke about the spaces that are currently available for public art.The Government has embarked on a variety of efforts to increase public art over the last 30 years. These include the Urban Development Authority’s Public Sculpture Masterplan and Art Incentive Scheme, the Land Transport Authority’s Art in Transit Programme, NHB’s Public Art Tax Incentive Scheme, and the NAC’s establishment of the Public Art Trust (PAT) in 2014 with a $10 million seed fund from the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY). And under NAC’s Busking Scheme, over 250 buskers have been endorsed since 2017. They include the father and son duo, Mr Mashruddin Saharuddin and Nizaruddin, who were featured at this year’s National Day Parade, and whose performances have enlivened city life and energised urban spaces.

3. I am pleased to update that NAC has secured over 50 sites around Singapore for public art, from a shophouse wall in Boat Quay to an open area near a HDB block in Tampines.NAC will continue to identify more of such spaces, and work with site owners to make them available for artists to showcase their work. Together with spaces for street art at Goodman Arts Centre, Aliwal Arts Centre, and *SCAPE, these sites will help augment our arts and cultural offerings, and add vibrancy to our city.

Role of Government

4. MCCY remains committed to making the arts and culture accessible to everyone, and to working closely in partnership with arts practitioners as well as enthusiasts, hobbyists, and volunteers. We want to create an environment where more Singaporeans, and not only trained artists, can appreciate and participate in the arts, so that the arts are an integral part of all our lives.In 2017, PassionArts involved some 50,000 art participants and volunteers, about 30 arts groups, and 300 organisations including schools, voluntary welfare organisations, religious groups, community groups, and hospitals in more than 65 heartland locations. At this year’s PAssionArts Festival in July and August, a memorable experience was the Animal Art workshop where three-generational families and neighbours came together to create and paint on wooden planks. This is an example of how art in everyday spaces, in everyday places, and in everyday lives, can help build the connections which Mr Kok referred to, and which my Ministry also seeks to develop between Singaporeans.

5. We are also stepping up efforts to engage our youths who are the future generation of artists, patrons and supporters of the arts.To do this, we provide opportunities for talented youths to showcase their work. At the recent Night Festival, I had the pleasure of interacting with two groups involving students from the Singapore University of Technology and Design and their work – Hyperbands by Kopi/O  and Orbit by LiteWerkz. Their enthusiasm demonstrated how we must continue to support our youth in pursuing their passions, including by expressing themselves and showcasing a part of our Singaporean identity through the arts.

Common spaces for everyday art

6. The Government supports art in everyday spaces because we are aware of its ability to shape common experiences and to spark shared interests. And if done well, this can help Singaporeans develop stronger bonds, and bring us together as a people.

7. At the same time, however, we are mindful that our public spaces serve a wide range of needs of Singaporeans. We need to be sensitive and respectful of the different perspectives, values, and way of life in our multi-cultural and multi-generational society. It is MCCY’s role to ensure that we promote the arts and raise arts excellence in a way that gains strong public support for arts and culture across the board. Therefore, in promoting public art, we must strike a careful balance between the artists, and the stakeholders who own or use the premises.For example, park users may appreciate the occasional band performance, but prefer to keep the park quiet and serene at other times.Therein lies the need to consult different stakeholders as a matter of respect and basic courtesy - those who own and use the space should also have a say. I am sure that Mr Kok can see the merits of this approach, as he has often advocated for acknowledging diversity in views, in this case from different users of public spaces, including non-arts practitioners. He too has noted the importance of how public art should not flout the law or create public disorder.

8. Mr Deputy Speaker, I will elaborate on how the Government supports art in our common spaces that add to the enjoyment and experience of Singaporeans and enhance our physical landscape, while taking the considerations I have outlined earlier.

9. First, the Government through NAC commissions key public art works. The first three commissions under the Public Art Trust (PAT) were conceived to commemorate Singapore’s Golden Jubilee. Another two new public artworks will be commissioned in community spaces to commemorate Singapore’s Bicentennial next year. NAC plans to commission one additional public artwork each year thereafter. In other words, we are actively supporting, financing, and cultivating artists to bring public artworks, sculptures and installation art to public spaces.

10. NAC has made efforts to involve the arts community in good public art projects through its grants.For example, OH! Open House, a recipient of NAC’s Major Company Scheme funding, curates art walks that bring art into unexpected, everyday spaces such as HDB flats.

11. Second, the success of the arts in Singapore is the result of a strong and mutually-beneficial partnership between the Government, the corporates and individuals. NAC not only encourages private donations for new public art, but also engages key partners for their support such as in securing new sites for this art.For example, the PAT advises both site owners and artists on best practices in commissioning, installing, maintaining and decommissioning public artworks.

12. Third, to present public art that is relevant to Singaporeans from all communities and walks of life, we must continue to bring art closer to the community through thoughtful programming and outreach. The initiatives of our arts groups like the national orchestras and Mr Kok’s own Drama Box in the heartlands are good examples.

13. The PAT commissioned a Stop and Smell the Ang Mo Dan! exhibition with NAC’s Arts In Your Neighbourhood initiative in March this year. The site-specific works by four Singaporean artists included talks, live painting sessions and hands-on craft activities for residents and non-residents of Ang Mo Kio to learn about the rich history and hidden characteristics of this neighbourhood. These activities reached over 190,000 people, and demonstrated how public art can engage and bring communities together when it is carefully curated.

14. As a result of the combined efforts of the government, private, public, and people sectors, today, a wide range and diversity of visual and performing arts have enlivened our public spaces. The Government will continue to develop our policies so that Singapore is home to diverse and distinctive arts that are accessible to and inspire our people, and connect our communities.

1 Source: Singapore Cultural Statistics 2017

Last Updated: 11 September 2018

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