Boost Republic's soft power by relaxing arts regulation

I welcome the commentary by deputy Life editor Clarissa Oon, urging the Government to liberalise the regulatory regime for the arts in Singapore ("Time to review arts regulation"; Oct 8).

Another impetus to review arts regulation could be to elevate the Singapore brand and its soft power.

In the Engaging Cities: The Growing Relevance Of Soft Power To City Reputations In Asia-Pacific report released last December, Singapore performed well against all but two soft power metrics: arts and literature, and music.

The report found that "Singapore's contribution to the arts, literature, and music scenes have yet to capture the imagination of those who live outside the city", that the arts, literature and music scenes are key dimensions of "soft power", and that soft power is of "particular importance" to cities as it reflects the ability to "gain competitive advantage by projecting influence at home and abroad".

I wonder what the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) makes of the report, and how the ministry plans to improve Singapore's arts, literature and music scenes.

Given that the ministry has a new minister, Ms Grace Fu, who was formerly Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, I am hopeful that the ministry understands the importance of soft power and how the arts can contribute to it.

The report also noted that the ability of a city to retain talent "hangs on its willingness to foster a more diverse, affordable and inclusive environment in which ideas can be challenged and different perspectives embraced".

Indeed, this is a pertinent point, with Ms Oon also warning of a brain drain due to the unpredictable and shifting "out of bounds" markers in Singapore.

Considering this, I look forward to the MCCY championing freedom of expression and advocating a relaxation of censorship laws in a bid to improve the arts, literature and music scenes in Singapore, and thereby raising Singapore's soft power.

Moving forward, I hope the Government, and society at large, will be less paranoid about the arts.

As Ms Oon wrote in her commentary, the arts "can be safe spaces for us to confront ugliness and differences, without which we would be poorer as a society".

Bryan Kwa Jie Wen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline 'Boost Republic's soft power by relaxing arts regulation'. Print Edition | Subscribe