Provoking the Arts in Singapore
The time to reinvigorate the Singapore arts scene is back again, or at least the talk to add colour and texture to the local arts scene. This talk has been going on for years, since the 1990s if not earlier. Always the arguments would be woven around too much censorship by the government, cynicism about art as a livelihood let alone a career, too little creativity among local artists, and too sterile a culture to let artists and audience appreciate the arts.
All true, but also all wrong at the same time. In the end, if the arts scene is stunted compared to the developments in the region, it is because locals themselves don’t support our own arts community as much as we should despite whatever the government injects funds in the form of building the Esplanade or hosting the Singapore Biennale. Last year’s Biennale attracted 912,897 visitors, which surpassed the organisers’ target of 650,000. By those numbers alone, the arts is more and more mainstream, and also more big name international than local talent. There is no doubt growing appreciation of the arts and the opening up of the arts scene, and it helped that Hollywoodians Ethan Hawke (The Winter’s Tale) and Kevin Spacey(Richard III) made plays more popular to the layperson. Singaporeans might not have been ready for Crazy Horse but we are ready for the audio-visual sensual treat of nude female taiko drummers banging and bouncing away at the Esplanade. But what about censorship?
With the remake of Josef Ng’s Brother Cane and its tired 1993 shock value public snipping of public hair in the Singapore Fringe Festival this month at the Substation by Loo Zhihan, Singapore’s arts scene in terms of censorship has come full circle. We symbolically restarted where we left off, ready to understand that art can provoke or amuse, amongst other emotions to be experienced.
Not all themes are a free-for-all over night despite the continued opening up of the arts scene – sex, race and religious themes are more common now then before as playwrights and artistes are compelled to be more creative in their use of metaphors. Nonetheless, they are still politically and socially taboo, until someone brings back Talaq successfully.
Grand plan for a flourishing arts scene
By Victoria Barker
Monday, Feb 06, 2012
SINGAPORE – Imagine a dedicated arts, culture and lifestyle precinct extending from the Padang to Bras Basah. And how about “no-censorship” zones for the arts, like the Speakers’ Corner where people can speak freely on most topics?
Those were among more than 100 proposals to improve Singapore’s arts and culture scene submitted to the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (Mica) last week.
They were included in a 113-page report put forth by the Arts And Culture Strategic Review steering committee. The report details a grand plan for the country’s cultural development until 2025.
It comes after seven months of public consultation through channels such as telephone surveys and public forums.
The goal is to “make Singapore a nation of cultured and gracious people, (who are) at home with our heritage, (and) proud of our Singaporean identity”, said the report.
Growth in the arts must be driven from the “ground up” by the community, rather than directed by the Government, said the committee’s head and chairman of School of the Arts, Mr Lee Tzu Yang.
He said: “Now, we are asking, how can the community get involved? The next step will depend on whether we can succeed in growth from the bottom up”.
The 19-member steering committee – comprising members from both the public and private sectors – expects a response from the ministry during the Budget debate in Parliament later this month.
Mr Lee, who is also chairman of the Shell group of companies, noted that building upon the work that has been done is key.
This includes arts mainstays, such as the Esplanade and The Arts House, as well as arts-related funding structures, which were developed from reports and plans in 1989 and 2000.
The arts-review committee was convened by Mica in September 2010, and it aims to get eight in 10 Singaporeans catching at least one arts and cultural show a year, up from four in 10 currently.
And the committee is targeting everyone in Singapore, from students to businesses.
Ultimately, it is the perception that people have towards art and culture – that it is expensive, elitist and inaccessible – that must be adjusted, another committee member, Mr Robin Hu, noted.
“We don’t want art to be the privilege of a few but the pleasure of many, if not everyone,” the senior executive vice-president of the Singapore Press Holdings’ Chinese Newspapers Division & Newspaper Services Division said.