PLATFORM

Art Goes On

by Tallulah Lu
27 Oct 2020

The commitment to support the arts through the National Arts Council continues as the entire artistic community goes through difficult and challenging times.

"These are indeed extraordinary times,” says Paul Tan, Deputy CEO for Planning & Corporate Development at the National Arts Council. “COVID-19 has severely affected all aspects of the Singapore economy, and our arts and culture scene has not been spared.”

For one, he points out that there has been an unprecedented closure of concert halls and theaters. “While many of us are missing the experience of live shows, audiences have migrated to digital platforms and found ways to connect with others while enjoying the online offerings from our arts groups.”

Artists and arts groups are awakening to the possibilities of these innovative platforms both as pragmatic and creative responses to this difficult situation, Tan highlights, “and NAC is here to support this pivoting as we foresee that digital experiences and technology will continue to play a growing role in the arts in the near future. It could be through blended delivery, whether it is complementing physical experiences or offering unique touchpoints for audiences anytime and anywhere”.


(Related red: Championing the arts)

  • ACCELERATED DIGITALIZATION
  • STRONG SUPPORT
  • REACHING OUT
  • BEYOND THE PANDEMIC
  • NEEDS RESPONSIVE

Accelerated Digitalization

Central to the NAC’s five-year SG Arts Plan is a commitment to driving this transformation. From the time that the Plan launched in 2018, Tan says the NAC has been working closely with their stakeholders to encourage innovation in content creation and presentation, and to gain new competencies in digital skills. “COVID-19 has accelerated this digitalization strategy,” he points
out.

For instance, in April 2020, when NAC realized the need to aggregate homegrown Singaporean arts content online, as the circuit breaker confined most Singaporeans to their homes, they quickly embarked on the #SGCultureAnywhere campaign to bring the best of Singapore’s arts and culture to audiences here and abroad. “We have also actively pursued digital partnerships and commissioned arts groups to support the sector and profile Singapore arts and artists,” he adds.

Over the first half of the year, art-led contents have been uploaded on various online platforms for public viewing. “The Singapore Symphony Orchestra successfully launched its three-month digital concert season SSOPlayOn! from April to June, followed by opening its 2020/21 Season online, using a live stream format and pay-as-you-wish model. Similarly, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra launched its #DabaoSCO series in February, offering some 24 of its past full-length performances online, and has premiered digital chamber concerts in August and September,” Tan enumerates.

“Our theater groups put up iconic works such as Wild Rice’s Emily of Emerald Hill, Falling by Pangdemonium, and The Necessary Stage’s Those Who Can’t, Teach,” he continues, “while the National Museum of Singapore launched the digital edition of its exhibition An Old New World where audiences could enjoy an immersive video experience while navigating the exhibition virtually.” Meanwhile, NAC’s efforts have included over ten commissions and partnership projects to date, such as From the Living Room, an online series which showcased a diverse range of music and dance performances by some of Singapore’s best performing artists, over six weeks in May and June.

  • ACCELERATED DIGITALIZATION
  • STRONG SUPPORT
  • REACHING OUT
  • BEYOND THE PANDEMIC
  • NEEDS RESPONSIVE

Strong Support

“The government’s support for the arts community has been generous,” Tan claims. “Some of the nationwide schemes such as the Job Support Scheme (JSS) for companies and the Self-employed Income Relief Scheme (SIRS) for freelancers have helped protect livelihoods and provide a measure of financial stability. The arts industry has benefitted from this. More specific to the sector, the $55 million Arts and Culture Resilience Package (ACRP) has meant more targeted support measures.”

These include new grants specifically developed to help arts organizations and artists with funding and training, he says. One grant is the Capability Development Scheme for the Arts (CDSA), which encourages skills upgrading across various disciplines; another is the Digital Presentation Grant for the Arts (DPG), which supports artists and arts organizations presenting their work via digital formats. NAC has also stepped up the commissioning of new works so that many arts groups get opportunities for meaningful work which can reach out to more Singaporeans and uplift our spirits during this challenging period.

Freelance arts practitioners have also turned to the Arts Resource Hub for training guides, best practices, and online talks such as financial literacy workshops and legal clinics, that serve as resources for career planning. “We are also exploring how we can match freelancers to more work opportunities through the portal,” Tan says. “Finally, the government has announced venue rental subsidies for arts and culture groups, so we hope this will help lower costs as artists return to their work and actively think about digital recordings of their work.”

Streets of Hope is one of the largest presentations of homegrown artists, lining the Civic District and beyond with their artworks to lift the spirits of Singaporeans. Image courtesy of National Arts Council
  • ACCELERATED DIGITALIZATION
  • STRONG SUPPORT
  • REACHING OUT
  • BEYOND THE PANDEMIC
  • NEEDS RESPONSIVE

Reaching Out

According to Tan, NAC champions and supports the arts which inspire audiences, connect communities, and speak to us as a nation. It partly translates to annual support for the arts in Singapore, from grants to rental subsidies and programs, that amounts to almost S$100 million. “The fact that delivery of content is moving to digital formats doesn’t fundamentally change these basic principles of how the arts are supported in Singapore,” Tan emphasizes.

“We will continue to encourage our artists and arts groups who represent a diversity of art form practices; to think about how they should tap on the digital platforms and innovate for the future, given the dramatic changes in today’s environment.

“While the government will strongly support the arts, the NAC also wishes to encourage corporations and individual patrons to co-invest in the arts with us and co-create a future where the arts are integrated into our daily lives. It is important to remind ourselves that the arts are for all of us to embrace and cherish.”

  • ACCELERATED DIGITALIZATION
  • STRONG SUPPORT
  • REACHING OUT
  • BEYOND THE PANDEMIC
  • NEEDS RESPONSIVE

Beyond The Pandemic

A direct offshoot of this is the Sustain the Arts Fund (stART), which was announced in March 2020 as a joint initiative between NAC and the private sector to boost the long-term sustainability of smaller arts organizations. “The Fund aims to galvanize private philanthropic capital to foster a culture of giving to the arts by matching donors with beneficiaries based on donors’ interests. The Fund will also welcome smaller contributions and channel them to deserving programmes and groups while accounting to the public the impact of these donations,” Tan elaborates. “We aim to build up the stART Fund to $10 million by 2022 to support about 100 arts groups and programs.”

As an advocate for arts philanthropy and increasing overall giving to the arts, NAC launched A COVID-19 Rally for Singapore’s Arts in April, as a response to the COVID-19 challenges. “We are inviting corporations, foundations, and the public to contribute directly to Singapore’s homegrown artistic talents, especially those in the newer and smaller groups.” The campaign, which runs until
December 2020, has seen over 40 arts groups of various sizes and art forms raise almost $240,000 via the Giving.sg platform. Individual patrons can choose which arts company they wish to support for this campaign.

Beyond the pandemic, for the long-term sustainability of the arts ecosystem, NAC will also step up efforts to approach corporate and community partners to alleviate the shortage of subsidized arts spaces. Besides giving to the arts financially, private and corporate
patrons who contribute space will provide an important impetus for strong post–COVID recovery.

 

(Related read: A life in the arts)

  • ACCELERATED DIGITALIZATION
  • STRONG SUPPORT
  • REACHING OUT
  • BEYOND THE PANDEMIC
  • NEEDS RESPONSIVE

Needs Responsive

Given the current situation, the NAC continues to watch the impact of the ACRP schemes closely to see how they benefit the arts sector. For instance, due to the strong demand and protracted nature of COVID-19, they extended the deadline for the CDSA and DPG to 14 September 2020, and allow for programs to be completed by 31 March 2021.

“We are also enhancing our regular grant schemes to support digital delivery of programs, and capability development needs in digital technology. We believe that the shift towards digital delivery modes, such as blended presentations involving digital and physical components, will continue in the near future. We are committed to supporting our artists as they venture into this new space,” Tan says. “For the existing companies we fund under the Major Company Scheme, we are also aware of the need to take a holistic view in light of the pandemic restrictions and economic downturn to evaluate the success of a project or a company’s performance. We have assured them we will calibrate our funding approach accordingly.”

As both the pandemic situation and economic downturn evolve, Tan says the NAC will need to be responsive to the needs of the arts industry, while stewarding public monies judiciously. “In the same breath, we will encourage artists and arts companies to plan and even reinvent themselves for an uncertain future ahead, while tapping on the resilience, energy, and creativity that has brought them thus far. Together, we will emerge stronger as an arts and cultural sector that Singaporeans will love and care for even more deeply.”