National Population Survey on the Arts sees drop in Singapore arts attendances in 2013

The Singapore Dance Company performing their chinois version of The Nutcracker in 2013. The National Arts Council's 2013 National Population Survey on the Arts found that while more people recognised the importance or the value of the arts, arts
The Singapore Dance Company performing their chinois version of The Nutcracker in 2013. The National Arts Council's 2013 National Population Survey on the Arts found that while more people recognised the importance or the value of the arts, arts activities and attendance levels fell across the board as compared to 2011. -- PHOTO: SINGAPORE DANCE THEATRE

The National Arts Council has released its 2013 National Population Survey on the Arts, the eighth such survey it has done to study Singaporeans' consumption and engagement with the arts.

While more people recognised the importance or the value of the arts, arts attendance levels fell compared to the previous survey in 2011.

Last year, live attendance at arts events returned to 2009 levels with 40 per cent of the population attending at least one arts performance that year, a drop from one in two in 2011. Arts offerings had peaked in 2011 and 2012 with the highly-publicised openings of the Integrated Resorts (Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa) in 2011, which boasted 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 in 2013 - 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 arts council notes that slower economic growth in 2012 and 2013, compared to the more "buoyant conditions" of 2010, might have been another factor leading to Singaporans reducing their spending on arts and culture. Singaporeans also cited family commitments and a preference for other activities over choosing to spend their time attending arts events.

Mirroring this trend, the sharpest declines in attendance were seen for those married without children (a drop of 13 percentage points). There were also sharp declines in participation for those above 65 years of age (a drop of 11 percentage points) and those married with older children (a drop of 11 percentage points). Generally, arts attendance and participation rates were higher among younger Singaporeans (aged between 15 to 24), and those who had higher incomes.

The proportion of respondents who said they were "interested" or "very interested" in the arts also decreased from 36 per cent (2011) to 28 per cent (2013). The arts council interpreted the drop as "a reversion to a pre-2011 trend where the proportion of those who were not interested in the arts typically outstripped those who were."

All the same, more Singaporeans are recognising the value of the arts in their everyday lives. 76 per cent of the respondents said that the arts gave them a better understanding of those from different cultures and backgrounds (compared to 68 per cent in 2011); 71 per cent felt it helped them to express their thoughts, feelings and ideas (67 per cent in 2011); and 58 per cent agreed that the arts expressed who they were as a society and country (49 per cent in 2011). Respondents also felt that the arts gave them a greater sense of belonging to the country, and inspired them and helped them to be more creative.

There were also more people interested in the literary arts, with the number of people reading literary works jumping from 10 per cent to 16 per cent of the population compared to 2011. Heritage (19 per cent) also replaced Theatre (17 per cent) as the most popular genre among arts attendees, but one must take into account a revised definition of heritage activities for the 2013 survey, which was expanded to include historic districts, buildings, monuments and festivals organised by heritage-related institutions.

Ms Kathy Lai, the council's chief executive, says: "It is encouraging to note that more Singaporeans see the value and benefits that the arts can bring to their lives... 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."

The 2013 survey interviewed 2,015 Singaporeans and Permanent Residents between December 2013 and March 2014. The survey, which is commissioned by the arts council, aims to take a comprehensive snapshot of the current level of interest, attitudes and perceptions towards arts and culture activities, as well as audience habits and their influencing factors - in order to help arts practitioners, partners and industry players with information to help plan their programmes.

The full report can be accessed at www.nac.gov.sg.