Arts events' attendance falls to 2009 levels

The musical Mamma Mia! being performed at the Grand Theatre at the Marina Bay Sands. The latest survey for 2013 found that 40 per cent of the population attended at least one arts event, down from one in two in 2011.
The musical Mamma Mia! being performed at the Grand Theatre at the Marina Bay Sands. The latest survey for 2013 found that 40 per cent of the population attended at least one arts event, down from one in two in 2011.BH FILE PHOTO

Attendance levels at arts events fell across the board from two years ago, a survey studying how Singaporeans consume and engage with the arts has found.

Last year, live attendance at arts events fell back to 2009 levels, with 40 per cent of the population attending at least one arts event, down from one in two in 2011. This was a key finding of the National Arts Council's 2013 National Population Survey on the Arts released yesterday. This is the eighth such survey done since 1996.

Arts offerings had peaked in 2012 with the opening of the integrated resorts the year before, which rolled out blockbuster musicals and boosted the number of arts activities and attendance figures, but this novelty seems to have fizzled out. There were fewer ticketed arts events last year - 3,006 compared to 3,416 in 2011. The council took this to mean that Singaporeans had fewer options available, leading to a corresponding drop in attendance levels. However, the number of non-ticketed or free events leapt from 4,311 to 4,944.

The council noted that slower economic growth in 2012 and last year, as opposed to the "buoyant conditions" of 2010, might have been another factor that led to Singaporeans cutting their spending on the arts. Some in the survey cited family commitments and a preference for other activities over the arts.

The proportion of respondents who said they were "interested" or "very interested" in the arts also dropped from 36 per cent (2011) to 28 per cent (2013).

The council's chief executive Kathy Lai said: "It is apparent from the findings that our audiences are facing many challenges in their fast-paced lives and making it easier for them to access the arts would go a long way."

Responding to the survey, Ms Melissa Lim, general manager of theatre group The Necessary Stage, said that "despite efforts from the arts community to increase engagement and audience numbers, I must admit that it has been a tough fight". She said many groups have had to raise ticket prices to battle rising costs in rental and manpower, which could have deterred arts-goers.

All the same, more Singaporeans are recognising the value of the arts in their everyday lives. In the survey, 76 per cent said the arts gave them a better understanding of those from different cultures and backgrounds, up from 68 per cent in 2011.

TheatreWorks' managing director Tay Tong, pointing to a possible contradiction, said: "People recognise the value of the arts, yet at the same time attendance levels have dropped. So I think the question is about content. Are we content creators no longer challenging audiences? Is it time for us to re-think the kind of content we make, and do we need to push the boundaries a bit more?"

Last year's survey interviewed 2,015 people. The data is aimed at helping arts practitioners and industry players plan their programmes. The full report is available at www.nac.gov.sg

corriet@sph.com.sg