Artists in Singapore have been “disempowered by excessive state funding” till the point where artists are unable to survive without state patronage, said arts researcher Dr Richard Chua on Wednesday (8 October) in a Facebook post.
Dr Chua, who has published several research articles on theatre and culture, made reference to stories he’s read of the struggles of full time artists in Singapore, including two cultural medallionists who are paying S$400 in maintenance fees per month, excluding rental, for art spaced. This is despite them not being able to properly appeal to buyers.
Reiterating that patronage for the arts is “scarce”, Dr Chua stressed, “Singapore’s capitalist stance to everything runs against what art truly stands for.”
He went on to noted that the government is the only consistent patron of the arts in Singapore, but that this model isn’t sustainable.
“The very stance the Singapore government holds to grow economic progress and having to “feed” almost all the artists in Singapore is overtaxing itself to disaster,” he explained.
He then stressed that an open economy means allowing everyone to compete on a level playing field.
“Unfortunately Singapore artists have been disempowered by excessive state funding till the point that without the state, Singapore artists cannot survive,” he concluded.
Dr Chua’s remarks come soon after MP Carrie Tan, in her adjournment motion, appealed to the government to increase support for the arts industry which has been hard hit by COVID-19 on top of gradually decreasing financial support from the state over the years.
Ms Tan noted that government funding for the sector has dropped almost 50% from S$937 million in 2015 to S$458 million in 2018.
Highlighting how much artists have been struggling, the Nee Soon GRC MP suggested that the Job Support Scheme (JSS) be enhanced and extended to support freelancers who do not qualify for the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs).
Those who do not qualify for either schemes struggles a lot more, noted Ms Tan, describing them as “permanent casuals”, adding that this group of workers face chronic income pressures due to a lack of regulations for them.
Beyond extending support to this group of workers, Ms Tan also urged the government to increase its investment in development of the arts, suggesting a wage framework be created “so that artists are not subject to the devaluation of their work and race to the bottom ot get jobs”, on top of business mentorship and marketing training for artists and entertainers.
“If we continue to do nothing more for them in terms of financial support during this time, they may be lost to other sectors, to the long-term detriment of our arts and entertainment industry. An entire sector may be at risk of being wiped out,” cautioned the MP.
In response to Ms Tan’s remarks, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), Ms Low Yen Ling, said that outlined the support available for artists such as the JSS, the Artics and Cultura Resilience Package, and the Capability Development Scheme for the Arts as well as the Digital Presentation Grant (DPG) for the Arts.
She noted that these initiatives have helped create thousands of work and training opportunities, including 600 training opportunities under the Capability Development Scheme for the Arts, half of which were for freelancers.
The DPG has also supported more than 300 projects and created about 4,500 work opportunities for artists, roughly 1,100 of whom were freelancers, said Ms Low.
As for freelancers who do not qualify for either JSS or Sirs, Ms Low suggested that MCCY is assisting artists who are engaged with cultural institutions to apply for support schemes that they are eligible for, and directed freelancers to tap into the NAC’s Arts Resource Hub.
During her adjournment motion, Ms Tan also brought up the ACRP’s Digitalisation fund’s approach of prioritising productions rated ‘General’. Urging the state to reconsider this approach, Ms Tan explained that the responsibility of controlling children’s media consumption should not be shifted to the state.
She explained, “Parental controls on online media platforms exist for a reason, for parents to be involved and exercise the necessary control over children’s media consumption. This should not be a responsibility that is shifted over to the state, with costs that the arts and entertainment sector ends up bearing, to the detriment of an industry’s vibrancy and sustainability.”
Responding to this, Ms Low said that online content is easily available with no age segregation, thus making it “prudent for the DPG to underwrite productions rated General.”