Drop in performing arts attendance but overall arts activity up

While overall arts activity in Singapore remains on an upward trend, 2012 saw a drop in attendances at performing arts and heritage events despite the bustle of the scene.

This is according to the 2013 Cultural Statistics report, which was just released by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

The Cultural Statistics report has been published annually since 2008, and it provides an update on Singapore's arts and cultural landscape. It includes statistics on genres such as dance, music, theatre and literary arts, as well as heritage events like museum exhibitions. This latest report compares arts participation patterns and other variables from 2003 to 2012.

Appreciation for the arts remains strong - ticketed attendances at performing arts events have been rising steadily over the past decade, from slightly under a million in 2003 to nearly two million last year, with ticket sales nearly doubling in the process from $700,000 in 2004 to $1.2 million last year.

But a year-on-year comparison between last year and the all-time highs of 2011 revealed a drop in ticketed attendance from 2.07 million to 1.95 million and a similar drop in gross takings from $102.9 million to $80.6 million.

The ministry explained this in a press release, saying that "this was due to the market adjusting itself after the initial spike of popular musicals, such as The Lion King and Wicked, brought in by the integrated resorts when they first entered the scene".

Actress and Nominated MP for the arts Janice Koh says it is fair to argue that attendance figures will stabilise at a point that is sustainable - although what that point is still remains to be seen.

She had observed the large jump in attendances from 2010 to 2011 following the opening of the integrated resorts at Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, which were bringing in long-running and best-selling musicals, "a more mass and mainstream fare that would attract people - both locally and from the region - who don't necessarily normally go to the theatre and who are attracted to big-name shows".

But what remains key, she feels, is the ability to sustain high-quality programming across the board.

In terms of the heritage sector, while overall visitorship to members of the Museum Roundtable - including private museums - remained strong, there was a drop last year in visitorship to National Heritage Board (NHB) museums. The Asian Civilisations Museum, for instance, saw a decrease from 813,100 visitors in 2011 to 526,297 visitors last year.

This runs in tandem with the drop in non-ticketed attendance for heritage events organised by the NHB, to which the ministry said: "This was a result of the NHB's shift from large-scale events to more targeted ones with better quality of engagement."

These numbers in the Cultural Statistics report come prior to the move in May this year to make NHB museum entry free for Singapore citizens and permanent residents.

The Straits Times had reported that museum visitorship rose by almost 19 per cent in the first month after entry charges were scrapped: about 287,600 people visited NHB museums and heritage institutions within that month, compared to about 241,800 people during the same period last year.

Another finding of the Cultural Statistics report: significantly fewer reported visual arts activities in Singapore, dropping steadily over the past two years despite the presence of big name art fairs such as Art Stage Singapore and the opening of the Gillman Barracks arts cluster last year, with exhibitions dropping from a high of 999 in 2010 to 675 in 2012.

Emi Eu, director of the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, says that this could be due to multiple factors.

She says: "I think that the visual arts is still underappreciated by the public, and it's still a challenge because the visual art we offer in Singapore is mostly contemporary art, except for the museums, and I think that no matter how many visual art programmes we offer, the target market is still much smaller than that of the performing arts."

The continued need for education is key, she feels, to bolster the growth and appreciation of visual art here. She adds that visual arts organisations also tend to be much smaller (e.g. individual galleries), with less manpower to run publicity campaigns, as opposed to larger companies in the performing arts that have marketing departments.

Overall, the picture is still a rosy one of relatively robust growth.

Government funding for arts and culture has continued to grow, increasing by about 10 percent from 2011 to $478.8 million in 2012, and the economic value of the arts and culture sector is on the upswing - its total nominal value-added has increased steadily from about $821 million in 2003 to almost $1.3 billion in 2011.

corriet@sph.com.sg