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Arts and Culture for a resilient and gracious Singapore

SPEECH BY RADM(NS) LUI TUCK YEW,
SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR INFORMATION, COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS,
AT COS DEBATE (MICA), 06 FEBRUARY 2009, 4.55 PM IN PARLIAMENT
 
Arts and Culture for a Resilient and Gracious Singapore
 
1.      Madam deputy speaker, I thank the Honorary Members for their many comments and suggestions on supporting arts and culture. In responding to Members, I will update this House on how MICA, through the Renaissance City Plan (RCP) III, will respond to this economic downturn, use arts and culture to enhance Singapore’s liveability and our reputation as a Global City of the Arts, build capabilities, and strengthen Singaporeans’ sense of rootedness.
 
The State of the Arts
2.      Ms Irene Ng asked if investments in our local artists have borne fruit since the Renaissance City Plan was first launched in 2000.
 
3.      Madam, a key measure of the success of RCP is the vibrancy of our arts and cultural scene. In the last ten years, the number of arts activities in Singapore has quadrupled to more than 27,000 events a year. Over the same period, ticketed attendances have doubled to 1.5 million, achieving ticket sales for arts performances of about $46 million in 2008.  Visitorship to our National museums has also increased by more than seven-fold to almost 2.5 million. The diversity in our cultural landscape is enhanced by a range of private sector initiatives in various creative fields such as Old School at Mount Sophia for the arts and Mint Museum of Toys for the heritage sector. MICA will continue to work with EDB to identify suitable sites in Singapore to support the development of more clusters for private museums and art galleries.
 
4.      RCP’s reach can also be measured by the degree of participation in arts and culture amongst Singaporeans. Today, one in three Singaporean attend at least one arts events annually, treble the participation rate from a decade ago. Gratifyingly, the strongest growth in arts attendance has been amongst HDB 1-3 room flat dwellers and those with “O”-level education and below.
 
5.      Madam, through funding under RCP, our artists and institutions have made notable achievements in artistic excellence. Over 500 artists and arts groups have been supported by NAC to participate in international events and collaborations in the last five years. Singapore’s major arts institutions like the Esplanade and events such as the Singapore Arts Festival now attract the participation of some of the world’s most promising artists. These programmes and blockbuster exhibitions in our Museums have enjoyed favourable reviews and become regular features in international journals such as the International Herald Tribune and Time magazine as well as in our local media.
 
6.      Singapore’s efforts to establish itself as a global city for the arts have not gone un-noticed. In a recent 15 Jan 09 Forbes article on the World’s Culture Capitals of which 10 locations were singled out for special mention, Singapore was the only one in Asia and it declared that “while many perceive Singapore as a sterile business centre, its cultural presence in the East is now undeniable”.   
 
Challenges and Opportunities Stemming from the Economic Downturn
7.      Ms Penny Low and Mr Gautam Banerjee expressed concern about MICA’s funding to the arts and culture during the economic downturn. Ms Low highlighted the importance of MICA continuing to fund the arts in anticipation of a future upswing. Mr Gautam also emphasised that, to be a global city, Singapore must continue investing in arts and culture despite the downturn.
 
8.      We understand the difficulties that local arts groups will face and are committed to sustaining the arts during this downturn by maintaining our level of funding support. Indeed, this is a good time to reflect and identify new opportunities for the next phase of growth. MICA will adopt four strategies that we believe will strengthen the arts and cultural sector. They are:
a.       developing Singapore’s distinctiveness and excellence as a centre for Asian arts and heritage;
b.      building capabilities and developing talent;
c.       enhancing our cultural institutions and infrastructure towards supporting artistic excellence; and
d.      strengthening our engagement with the community.   
 
9.      Madam, these four strategies are aligned with MICA’s three desired outcomes for RCP III, namely Distinctive Content, Dynamic Ecosystem and Engaged Community. Over the next year, MICA will inject an additional $8 million to support arts and culture initiatives, over and above the average annual RCP III funding of $23.25 million.
 
10.    Let me now elaborate more on how MICA intends to implement these strategies.
 
Strengthening Singapore’s distinctiveness and excellence
11.    Be it plays, novels, music, artworks or dance, a nation’s collective body of creative works reflects its heritage and values and helps define its national identity. The generation of such distinctive content is at the core of the creative process. MICA will support the creation of original artistic content through new or enhanced commissioning and residency schemes.
 
12.    NAC will launch a new initiative, the International Residency Scheme, this month. A total of $2M will be allocated for this initiative over the next five years, both to attract regional artists to collaborate with local artists in Singapore as well as support local artists abroad. Depending on the success of this programme, MICA will consider scaling it up.
 
13.    NAC will also invest $3.5M over the next five years through the recently-announced Arts Creation Fund to further build a body of new works with a local and Asian flavour that will appeal to the domestic and international audience.
 
14.    Mr Baey Yam Keng asked if NAC will continue to invest in the development of traditional arts in Singapore.  The traditional arts are a distillate of our communities’ rich heritage and a cornerstone for developing works that are distinctively Singaporean. About $1.5 million is already disbursed annually through direct financial assistance to traditional arts practitioners. Starting from 2008, NAC revised its grants framework to give more attention to traditional arts and cultural groups such as the Bhaskar Arts Academy, Chinese Calligraphy Society and Majlis Pusat. Traditional arts activities will also be incorporated at key community arts platforms. For instance, in 2009, the North West District Arts Festival (DAF) will focus on ethnic arts with large-scale Malay and Indian opening events.
 
Building Capabilities
15.    Beyond the development of distinctive content, MICA will take a more comprehensive approach to building capabilities for the entire arts and culture sector, including content creators, arts business and specialised services.
 
16.    Under the Heritage Industry Incentive programme which was launched last year, NHB has allocated $8 million over five years to support innovative private and people-sector led projects that contribute to the heritage industry. NHB will provide seed funding for content, capability and business development. Local company VeeV Interactive is one of the early recipients of HI2P co-funding and they are currently producing an internet TV documentary on Singapore’s Pioneer Artists.
 
17.    Madam, talent development must remain a key priority during these difficult times. I am therefore grateful for Dr Ong Seh Hong’s strong support for MICA’s continued provision of arts scholarships and bursaries during this economic downturn. In the last five years, NAC’s financial assistance for scholarships and bursaries has increased by 30%. In FY 2008, slightly more than $1 million worth of local and overseas scholarships and bursaries was awarded to 71 recipients.  
 
18.    NAC’s Major and General Grant framework also provides funding to grow leading arts companies and support skills upgrading and research. We strongly encourage arts professionals and organisations to capitalise on these scholarships and training grant opportunities. NAC gave out approximately $7 million in grants in 2008. One recipient of the NAC Major Grant, T'ang Quartet has gained international renown and was invited to perform in the UNESCO Award Ceremony in Paris.
 
19.    Over the longer term, MICA recognises that talent in the arts should be nurtured and developed from an early age. The School of the Arts (SOTA) exemplifies MICA’s commitment to this ideal. Ms Fatimah Lateef asked about SOTA’s future plans, financial assistance and foreign student intake.
 
20.    SOTA has operated from its interim campus at Goodman Road since 2008 and will start its next academic year in 2010 at the new premises at Kirk Terrace.  SOTA aims to nurture not just the next generation of artists but also creative leaders in all fields, hence the intent of its balanced and broad based curriculum. For the 2009 academic year, SOTA has embarked on its Artistically-Gifted Programme to offer more intensive training to the top 5% of its cohort. 
 
21.    Through the Ngee Ann Kongsi’s generous donation of $12 million over 6 years, SOTA is able to offer its students school-based bursaries and scholarships, in addition to the MOE Edusave Scheme scholarships and bursaries. For the academic year 2009, 10 SOTA-Ngee Ann Kongsi Scholarships and 40 Bursaries have been given out.
 
22.    SOTA also appeals to students from diverse backgrounds. Of its current student population, more than 90% of the students are Singaporeans and all three racial groups are well represented.
 
23.    Dr Ong Seh Hong asked what international exchange programmes were in place to encourage cultural cross-sharing in our schools. This year, SOTA will introduce international student exchanges for its Year 3 students and continue its collaborations with international schools like the Chicago Academy for the Arts. NAFA is currently negotiating an academic collaboration with Guangxi Arts Institute in China, while LASALLE holds student exchanges with overseas academic institutions such as Tokyo University of the Arts. I want to add that the presence of foreign students in these schools also allows such cultural exchanges to take place on a daily basis.
 
Enhancing Institutions and Infrastructure
24.    Our next strategy is to enhance our cultural institutions and infrastructure, as well as other platforms for Singaporeans to celebrate our community heritage and identity. MICA and Tote Board will enhance funding for the development and recurrent costs of selected heritage institutions, such as the Malay Heritage Centre, the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and the proposed Indian Heritage Centre. The development funding will be raised to 95% and the recurrent funding will be raised to 99% with the remaining costs to be funded by the community. The community heritage institutions will highlight Singapore's links with the region, and commemorate the contributions of our local communities.
 
25.    The new National Art Gallery will be housed in the former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings, and will focus on Singaporean and Southeast Asian art. The NAG’s detailed architectural design will be finalised in 2009 and it is expected to be open to public in 2013.
 
26.   Ms Thio Li Ann had asked if a legal history gallery could be set aside within the NAG. There are currently no plans for such a gallery, as there is already a legal history gallery in the new Supreme Court, which chronicles milestones in Singapore's legal history. Nonetheless, showcasing the history of the City Hall and former Supreme Court buildings will be an integral part of the visitor experience at the National Art Gallery.
 
27.    Other heritage institutions also play an important role in documenting and preserving our national legacy. I would like to thank Ms Irene Ng for mentioning the important role the National Archives plays as a keeper of Singapore’s historical and nation-building records. Indeed, NAS played a quiet but significant role in supporting Singapore’s successful claim to Pedra Branca. The NAS is complemented by the Heritage Conservation Centre which is the conservator of our national collection of artworks and artefacts.
 
28.    In the light of our growing collection, Government funded the building of a second archives repository which opened in Feb 2006, to meet the storage needs for the next 15 years. The electronic records system which NAS developed has enhanced public access to archival records. Incidentally, it has also been adopted in overseas markets, including the Middle East. Allow me to illustrate one example, in 2008, when Greendale Secondary School made a video documentary, Punggol Story, extensive archival resources such as photographs, government records and oral history interviews from NAS were used in its production.
 
29.    For arts infrastructure development, NAC will reconfigure some Arts Housing Scheme properties to provide more flexible-use space to support the art creation process. This scheme is currently being piloted at Telok Kurau Studios and Telok Ayer Performing Arts Centre. Under the RCP III, as we had recently announced, $180M has also been committed to the redevelopment of Victoria Theatre (VT) and Victoria Concert Hall (VCH) to upgrade the existing space and provide more spaces for commercial and rehearsal needs. By re-energising both the venues, we will be able to attract more varied performances and audiences as well as provide more spaces for incubation of works. The restoration and renovation work will commence in mid-2010.
 
Engaging the Community
30.    Madam, the fourth area of opportunity is to engage the community more broadly and deeply to strengthen Singapore’s multi-cultural social fabric, foster a deeper sense of Singaporean identity and raise the quality of life of all Singaporeans. We will step up community outreach efforts to broaden access to the arts.
 
31.    Despite the economic climate, MICA will continue to uphold the quality and diversity of cultural offerings which audiences here deserve and expect. Besides the Singapore Arts Festival in May and the HeritageFest in July with more than a million participants, major upcoming events include an exhibition on Emperor Kangxi at the ACM in March, the Latiff Mohidin and Wu Guanzhong exhibitions at the SAM in March and April respectively and the Flemish Masterpieces at the National Museum in July.
 
32.    NAC’s $5M Arts for All Community Engagement Plan,launched in Oct 2008,encourages the community to develop a greater sense of ownership of the arts.  It is committed to the principle of arts for everyone and will bring enlivening leisure options into the heartlands.
 
33.    The plan comprises two pillars: ArtReach and ArtLink. Under ArtLink, NAC will partner other social organisations such as SCORE to connect specific sectors of the population with artists, so as to integrate arts into alternative spaces such as prisons and hospitals.
 
34.    ArtReach is a broad-based programme which aims to increase access to quality arts experiences for the community. It encourages the public to go beyond being passive audience to being participative art-makers.
 
35.    One new ArtReach initiative launched last year is the Community Participation Grant. Ms Fatimah Lateef asked for further details about the use of this Grant.
 
36.    The Community Participation Grant provides funds to community arts projects which involve the public working alongside trained artists in the creation process. The Grant provides up to $50,000 funding per recipient within a given financial year, and is open to NGOs, CDCs, community-based arts groups and artists.
 
37.    Since the launch of the Grant in April 2008, a total of $86,000 in grants has been awarded. One grant recipient is The Necessary Stage for its three-year programme, “Theatre for Seniors”, to nurture a spirit of community and the arts amongst senior citizens through theatre workshops.
 
38.    NLB too, will be focusing on the community’s needs in the years ahead. NLB will work with WDA and the CDCs to make its venues available for affordable public courses in areas of skills development, career change and job fairs.
 
39.    NLB will also expand its services to reach out to seniors, the disadvantaged and youth. For seniors, NLB will focus on the social engagement of seniors, providing easy access and promoting awareness of library services to encourage active participation of seniors. It intends to collaborate with other senior citizen-centric organisations to develop seniors into independent and self-reliant library users making full use of the range of library services available. For children with special needs, NLB will reach out to them with its mobile bus MOLLY, while needy children will continue to be catered for by the kidsRead service.   For adults who are home-bound, NLB has launched its ‘Project Deliver Me’ program, where volunteers deliver books and AV materials directly to their homes.
 
40.    For youths and the IT savvy, NLB will engage them through greater online capabilities like NLB’s library blogs. Mr Low Thia Khiang asked about why some features of online search were unavailable from home and whether the cost of recovery of outstanding fines was justifiable.
 
41.    NLB’s eResources enable users to retrieve 800,000 eBooks, 600 eMagazines and 25,000 audiobooks online for free. In addition, NLB currently subscribes to 4 electronic newspaper aggregators who make available local and overseas e-newspapers to their subscribers. I understand that the 4 vendors are currently in negotiations with SPH to make SPH newspapers available for on-line access by library members at their homes. In the meantime, SPH newspapers are available for on-line access by library members at the library premises.
 
42.    As was announced on 8 Jan, from 1 Apr 09, any library member with unpaid fines and fees would have their borrowing privileges suspended till outstanding fines are paid up. This change is aimed at promoting greater public responsibility in the use of library materials and so that small fines do not snowball over time. Since this policy change was first announced, around 80,000 members have paid up their fines, totalling $160,000. Mailers will be issued from 2 Feb to over 670,000 members with outstanding fines totalling $7.29 million, or about thirty times the amount estimated to be spent on administrative costs.  In the last exercise, NLB recovered more than 16 x the administration cost. Mailers will clearly detail fines amount and payment options, which include NETS, cheque and EZ-linkcard for ease of payment.
 
43.    Another means of engaging the community is through encouraging greater ownership for arts and culture. A growing number volunteer their time and talent to support events like the Biennale and Arts Festival. With regard to donations, our cultural institutions have received about $40 million per annum in private cash and in-kind contributions and a significant portion come through major donations. We should consider how we can make it more convenient for those who wish to make small donations to come forward.
 
44.    To facilitate this, MICA will make it easier for the public to lend their support to arts and culture through small donations. An online Cultural Philanthropy donation portal will be rolled out in the latter half of 2009. 
 
Encouraging a Gracious Society 
45.    Finally, let me come to the topic of a gracious society. Ms Ng has reminded us that our people are the lens that people view us. Ms Irene Ng asked what the Singapore Kindness Movement will be doing to encourage graciousness in society.
 
46.    Madam, inculcating graciousness is a lengthy and painstaking process and ‘Project Gracious’ is not a one-off event with a 2010 deadline. It represents a national, long-term initiative to foster a culture of gracious living among Singaporeans. It will involve broad-based public education complemented by deeper community engagement across all sectors of our society. Project Gracious builds on the sustained effort that began in 1979 with the ‘Courtesy Campaign’.
 
47.    ‘Project Gracious’ will steer away from being overly prescriptive and will instead advocate that graciousness is about our way of life and the values that shape our social conduct.   This reminds us that it is values that add value to our lives and what we do. Where previous efforts focused on specific behaviours, the effort now is to internalise enduring and endearing values that will motivate how we respond under various circumstances.  
 
48.    Lessons on kindness are most effective when it is caught, rather than taught. The SKM will reinforce values taught to our children by first promoting them amongst adults so that children can learn by example. This programme will be introduced in pre-school centres bringing together parents and children.
 
49.    I am pleased to mention that 114 schools have already expressed interest in training workshops on starting kindness initiatives for teacher mentors and student leaders. This will start next month.
 
50.    Besides the educational institutions, the SKM is working with both public agencies and private companies to promote graciousness in the workplace, neighbourhood and in public places. There are also plans to leverage on events where new citizens can be encouraged to participate in this national effort.  
 
Conclusion
51.    In conclusion, Mr Speaker sir, how the whole arts and cultural community responds to these testing times will determine our shared future. MICA is committed to providing support for arts and cultural development despite the economic downturn. The arts community must be committed towards professionalism and excellence. Together, we will be able to build a creative and culturally vibrant Singapore, the best home for our people.
 
52.    The economic downturn may be challenging times, but therein too, lies opportunities. Initiatives such as the Art Creation Fund will help develop distinctive content reflecting our unique geographical and cultural context, and articulate what national identity means to us. Distinctive content alone is not sufficient. A comprehensive creative eco-system is needed to provide supporting services which can produce, market and distribute this content to audiences. The new capability and industry development schemes which I have touched on under the Renaissance City Plan III will respond to the needs of our arts and heritage organisations at various stages of the creative process. Both these efforts will prepare Singapore for a new phase of cultural growth in the future.
 
53.    Sir, as we shift our focus towards engaging the community as active participants, arts and culture will become more interactive, providing greater opportunities for different segments of the community to mingle, exchange ideas and better understand each other. We will thus use the platform of arts and culture to strengthen our community bonds and rootedness, and in so doing, develop a more harmonious and gracious society. It is this inclusive and cohesive society which will help tide us over these difficult times.

Show latest news, more from February 2009.

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