Both corporates and individuals can play a part in supporting local artists.
The arts scene in Singapore has undoubtedly become more vibrant. More Singaporeans are appreciating the arts whether in performing, visual, or literary. According to the Ministry of Culture Communication and Youth (MCCY), attendance at arts and culture events hit a record 13.6 million in 2018.
It is encouraging to see a crescendo of fresh voices on the arts scene. SingLit festivals and Singaporeans bagging prestigious international awards are good signs that people are starting to pay attention.
The arts helps us to broaden our perspectives, enrich our lives, and bring people together. Not only that, art plays an important role in promoting culture and strengthening our national identity.
Singapore’s arts scene also contributes to a more inclusive society. Special-needs artists have painted murals to brighten our city. Migrant workers have penned stories and poems and published books launched at Singapore's first migrant literature festival in December last year.
Initiatives such as Arts in Your Neighbourhood, Art Reach, and Silver Art focus on bringing the arts to Singaporeans of all ages and from all walks of life, including seniors and low-income families.
By engaging with the arts, individuals in our workforce and communities will have opportunities to nurture empathy and be stirred to explore their own creative abilities. It builds the next generation of all-rounded and innovative thinkers and provides alternative voices to help shape the future of the country.
Yet it remains difficult for Singaporeans to pursue artistic careers full-time and sustain themselves financially. Some have to work odd jobs to supplement their income. This, despite government efforts to increase public participation in the arts, better technology in making art accessible and a more appreciative public.
Why is that?
There are a number of reasons. Foremost is the mindset of Singaporeans. Many parents still do not encourage their children to pursue the performing arts as a vocation, perceiving it as a “dead-end” career with little material reward, a few outstanding ones exempted.
Take buskers, for example. They continue to be stigmatised by some as people who cannot find a "real" job. Yet many do so out of a passion to share their music with the public.
Something within the Singaporean psyche appears to condition many of us to believe that local art is of lesser value than those from overseas. Greater recognition and appreciation is often accorded to international artists. This bias can be seen in Singaporean artists often being deemed as “struggling” until they “make it” on the international stage.
But there are encouraging signs. Corporate support provides the lifeline for many local artists.
United Overseas Bank Limited (UOB) has championed art in Singapore through its flagship arts competition, the UOB Painting of the Year, and through a range of outreach initiatives. UOB also supports visual arts programmes at Pathlight School, Northlight School, and Little Arts Academy, which enable children with special needs and underprivileged children to receive quality education in the arts and help them better integrate into society.
JCDecaux Singapore sponsored media spaces at bus shelters to promote local arts events and Orchard Turn Developments offered space to home-grown artists to showcase their work at shopping mall Ion Orchard.
Last July, SKM and Raffles City Singapore launched an exhibition featuring 200 40cm-tall Singa the Lion figurines hand-painted by individuals, including President Halimah Yacob. The exhibition brought together members of the local community to share their Singapore stories and visions on kindness. The campaign raised S$300,000 which benefitted six charities under President’s Challenge 2019.
Last year, The Straits Times reported that donations to Singapore's arts and cultural scene rose for the first time in three years, with in-kind giving at an all-time high of S$24.5 million. These funds enable arts organisations and professionals to hone their craft and flourish, ensuring our arts ecosystem gets the continuity and sustainability it needs.
Individuals can also play their part by donating or contributing their time, passion, and skills to the arts.
Charity begins at home. Kindness must start within our own community. To encourage local works and appreciate local talents, we need to change our mindset and believe that local art can be just as evocative, important, and valuable as those created overseas.
By supporting local artists, we can create a more vibrant and inclusive community with a shared understanding and appreciation of our uniquely Singapore culture.
Dr William Wan is a Justice of the Peace and General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM). He was a senior partner of a regional law firm and a managing director of a psychometric company headquartered in the USA.
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