Singapore Budget 2015: Traditional arts sector to receive $25m in funding

SINGAPORE - Some $25 million in funding will be pumped into the traditional arts over the next five years, said Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sam Tan on Thursday.

The funds will be used to foster audiences both at home and abroad, and to improve research and documentation of traditional Asian art forms.

"It is… important for us to build inclusive communities that interact and play with each other, regardless of race, language or culture. This is something the traditional arts can do," said Mr Tan in Mandarin in Parliament, during the Committee of Supply debate.

He gave the example of flute player Tan Qinglun from Ding Yi Music Company who taught himself how to play the Indian flute, and went on to perform in a sold-out fusion concert at the Esplanade last year.

Hence, his ministry will continue to invest in the traditional arts, with plans to back such programmes for the young. The National Arts Council will also support such arts groups in documenting their history and practices, he said.

After consultations on the ground, the ministry is also looking to revitalise the ageing Stamford Arts Centre as a "centre with a focus on the traditional arts". Restored in 1988 from an old primary school, the centre now houses nine arts groups, with late theatre pioneer Kuo Pao Kun's company Theatre Practice as its anchor tenant.

The Straits Times understands that the redevelopment work will take place in 2016.

Traditional arts groups here hailed the moves as much-needed in a sector often overshadowed by its contemporary peers.

"We need more resources to research other art forms, to develop a proper Malay dance syllabus in schools, and send our dancers to Malaysia and Indonesia to expose them to cultural dance in other countries," said Mr Azrin Abdul Rahim, executive director of Era Dance Theatre, a Malay cultural dance troupe. His company already receives a grant from the arts council.

Mr Mohan Bhaskar, who heads the Indian Bhaskar's Arts Academy, says that his company could use the extra funds to do more community outreach and offset the cost of renting theatre venues for productions. Rental payments alone take up half of the company's revenue.

" If we can free up funds, we can do more community engagement work, especially with seniors. We are the last in pecking order for sponsorship as traditional arts are not the most popular art form around," he says.

The company, which currently has a studio at Stamford Arts Centre, hopes to move to a bigger space. "Our priority is to have a centre to ourselves, for our teaching and performing wing. Both functions are important. They allow us to groom a new generation of Singaporean performers," says Mr Bhaskar.

jianxuan@sph.com.sg