Singapore Writers Festival

More people paid to enjoy new programmes

Harvard professor Michael Sandel's lecture on morality and market forces was the most well-attended ticketed event.
Harvard professor Michael Sandel's lecture on morality and market forces was the most well-attended ticketed event.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The recently concluded Singapore Writers Festival reached an audience of nearly 20,000 people - the same as last year - but more among these paid to attend classes, lectures or workshops at the annual literary event.

Revenue for the festival, which ran from Oct 30 to Nov 8, went up 80 per cent compared with last year, according to a statement released by the National Arts Council yesterday. The actual amount was not revealed by press time, but 39 events this year required tickets costing between $20 and $50 each, compared with 18 such events last year.

Festival organisers this year charged for workshops for children, which were free last year, and also added ticketed performances that went beyond author readings and meet-and-greet sessions.

Bestsellers included an overnight showcase of music, drama and visual arts at The Arts House, What I Love About You Is Your Attitude Problem, curated by Huzir Sulaiman of Checkpoint Theatre.

The event, the first of its kind at the festival, was sold out, with 420 tickets snapped up at $50 each.

Festival director Yeow Kai Chai, a poet and former Straits Times journalist, said: "I hope this year's festival has achieved a mindset change: that it is for everyone, from the literarily inclined to the unconverted who might have found picking up a book intimidating in the past and now realise that the festival is inclusive and welcoming." This was his debut year at the helm.

The event ran annually for four years until last year under deputy chief executive of the National Arts Council Paul Tan.

Mr Yeow said the next edition of the festival would continue to have such multidisciplinary events, but added: "Our guiding principle is quality, not necessarily quantity."

This year also saw the best-attended ticketed event in the history of the festival since it began as a biennial event at The Arts House in 2007.

More than 1,300 people paid $35 each for Harvard professor Michael Sandel's lecture on morality and market forces held at the University Cultural Centre on Nov 5. The number of people outstripped that at a lecture given by Freakanomics author Steven Levitt in 2011, which was attended by 630 people.

Festival organisers recorded a participation of 19,700 people in the 310 event programmes this year, compared with 19,500 at 280 events last year. Separately, about 11,000 took part in pre-festival events such as schools outreach programme Words Go Round, compared with 11,600 last year.

During the festival period, 39 events were ticketed, 105 required a $20 Festival Pass for entry and the rest were free. About 6,700 people attended ticketed events, 7,000 attended festival pass events and 6,000 turned up at free events.

In total, ticket sales went up 30 per cent even as festival pass take-up rates dipped slightly - about 3,000 were sold or given out this year, compared with last year's 3,200.

Barista Callyn Tan, 38, bought a Festival Pass this year and attended six panels. Her favourite was Inter- national Criminal Minds on Nov 8, featuring thriller writers such as Sophie Hannah from Britain.

She said: "I love mysteries and people doing evil or just plain dubious things. This brought together writers from the United Kingdom, Norway and Japan and a lawyer from Singapore, which was really interesting. A layered talk with so many interesting new perspectives."

The next edition of the festival will be from Nov 4 to Nov 13 next year.

•Additional reporting by Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

•The Straits Times was the official media partner of the festival.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2015, with the headline 'More people paid to enjoy new programmes'. Print Edition | Subscribe