From virtual shows to a plating contest, arts fund-raisers roll with Covid-19 times

Theatre company Wild Rice ran a virtual gala set to the theme of "Maskquerade" instead of its annual Rice Ball.
Theatre company Wild Rice ran a virtual gala set to the theme of "Maskquerade" instead of its annual Rice Ball.PHOTO: WILD RICE

SINGAPORE - In less than a fortnight, art-lovers will pace the corridors of STPI - Creative Workshop & Gallery in groups of five, with a map to guide them through the nooks and crannies of the building in Robertson Quay.

As they move through spaces such as a dark room, wood workshop and artists' apartments, they will experience "encounters" designed byfive of 10 Singapore artists - such as Ian Woo, Yanyun Chen and Zul Mahmod, who are orchestrating a series of activities.

This immersive two-hour experience, titled Encounters and priced at $500 per guest, is a key part of STPI's fund-raising programme this year. The non-profit organisation's usual annual gala dinner, where more than 160 guests gather in the gallery for a multi-course meal, was out of the question in the light of the pandemic, and so the organisers racked their brains for a new, novel approach to fund-raising.

The theme of STPI's fund-raising effort this year is Biome, which speaks to how the arts ecosystem is interconnected in a shared climate.

Says STPI Gallery's director Rita Targui: "We are all interdependent, from the artists, to the institutions, artists, gallerists and collectors. We all form this community, and we all need each other."

They are also running on online auction of more than 20 artworks and experiences, donated by artists and galleries based in South-east Asia. The respective artists will receive 30 per cent of the proceeds from the auction, which is on from Friday (Oct 16) to Oct 25.

All donations will be matched by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth's Cultural Matching Fund, and go towards STPI's exhibitions, outreach programmes and artist residencies, Ms Targui says.

An immersive two-hour experience titled Encounters is a key part of STPI's fund-raising programme this year. PHOTO: COURTESY OF STPI

STPI is just one of several arts groups which have had to grapple with how to mount a major fund-raising event in the middle of a pandemic. Some have postponed these events, others taken them online.

Theatre company Wild Rice, whose annual Rice Ball at the Shangri-La Hotel is typically one of the highlights of the social calendar, rolled with the times and ran a virtual gala instead, set to the theme of "Maskquerade". On Oct 3, 500 guests from Singapore and around the world logged into a virtual platform developed for the event.

While enjoying meals delivered to their doorsteps from restaurants such as Odette and Three Embers, the guests mingled in virtual rooms and tuned in to a livestream that resembled a TV show - with highlights such as a backstage tour by Pam Oei, and musical numbers and comedy sketches performed at Wild Rice's theatre in Funan mall.

Wild Rice's virtual fund-raising gala event cost around $200,000 to produce. PHOTO: WILD RICE

"There was a sense of occasion - it wasn't just a Zoom meeting," says founding artistic director Ivan Heng. The gala event, which cost around $200,000 to produce, involved about 80 people on stage and behind the scenes. They raised $650,000 from table sales, donations and a silent auction. Individual seats were available at $1,000, and virtual tables - seating up to 10 - ranged from $8,000 to $25,000.

The Private Museum, which ran a fund-raising gala on Zoom that same day (Oct 3), also had to think out of the box. Guests, who had paid $500 per ticket, tucked into three-course meals delivered from Flutes Restaurant. They also took part in best-plating and best-dressed contests, as well as a live auction, featured works by mostly young and Singapore artists, "to make the price palatable and encourage support for local artists amid the pandemic", Mr Teo said. Aside from artworks, guests also bid for "experiences" such as masterclass and lunch with watercolour painter Ong Kim Seng. More than $150,000 was donated, compared with the $250,000 they usually raise.

Museum manager Aaron Teo says: " It went really well - much better than we had expected."

Submissions for The Private Museum's best-plating competition. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF THE PRIVATE MUSEUM, SINGAPORE

There to lend their support were art collectors Wong Su-Yen and Fermin Diez, who had also loaned paintings by first and second-generation Singapore artists to the museum for an exhibition this year.

"Arts organisations have been hard hit by the pandemic," said the married couple in an e-mail. "Yet, it's fair to say we could not have weathered the circuit breaker period without books, music, art, and movies."

The Singapore Chinese Orchestra is taking its fund-raising gala online on Oct 23. Yueqin Romance, which runs for an hour, will feature a concert livestreamed on Zoom from the Singapore Conference Hall. Donors who give $2,000 or more will receive wine and cookies, and those who contribute $10,000 and above will also receive a miniature yueqin souvenir.

In July, the Singapore Dance Theatre, ran a half-hour virtual fund-raiser where 200 guests tuned in for live performances on Zoom.

Singapore Dance Theatre's virtual online fund-raiser. PHOTO: JACKY HO

One of the silver linings this year, said an SDT spokesman, was that they saved on rent and the cost of catering meals. The $250,000 they raised, after taking costs into account, was higher than last year's sum.

Dance-lovers Marcus Yeung and Yasuko Yeung took part in the gala in a show of support.

Mr Yeung, the chief executive of a tech investment bank, says: "We wanted to see if we could help a bit, financially, but more importantly, cheer them on as well."

Mrs Yeung, a part-time teacher, chimes in: "To be able to see the dancers, all the familiar faces, was really wonderful, because we hadn't seen them for such a long time."


WHERE: STPI - Creative Workshop & Gallery, 41 Robertson Quay (Encounters); online auction

WHEN: Oct 24 to 25 (Encounters). The online auction is from Friday to Oct 25. Make an appointment with to view the works in person from Oct 21 to 23.

ADMISSION: Tickets for Encounters cost $500 per person. Register here for day one, or here for day two.



WHEN: Oct 23, 7.30pm

ADMISSION: Donate at least $500 via cheque or PayNow

INFO: SCO website. Call 6557-4010 or e-mail

To support the other arts groups, visit The Private Museum, Singapore Dance Theatre, Wild Rice.