Arts community unites to save Yahoo group

Volunteers have been galvanised to save the Arts Community Yahoo Group after the Internet giant announced its intention to close down all Groups on Oct 21 and delete all content by next month.

A Facebook page (str.sg/JUt2) has been set up as a placeholder, while grassroots efforts are underway to archive discussion threads and build a new online portal for the arts community.

Currently, the Save ArtsComm Facebook page has more than 900 members. About 20 active volunteers are spearheading various groups to tackle issues ranging from building a new website to brainstorming ways to fund it.

Mr Terence Lau, 41, an Institute of Technical Education lecturer in performance production, who is on the committee to build the new website, said: "The arts community group, whether real or virtual, has always been a source of news, information and a site for meaningful discussion."

The ArtsComm Group, which had about 5,000 members, was founded in 1999 by The Necessary Stage's founder and artistic director Alvin Tan.

He said: "I started the ArtsComm group not thinking it would become so big. It served a purpose as a platform for arts practitioners in Singapore."

The group has not only brought together members of the arts scene, but has also spawned civil activism.

The movement to nominate an Arts Nominated Member of Parliament and the formation of Arts Engage - a network of arts professionals - were seeded in discussion threads in the Yahoo group.

There are also posts by members of now-defunct theatre groups such as Luna-Id, as well as documentation of censorship incidents such as when Tamil drama group Agni Koothu was in 2000 denied a performance licence for its play, Talaq.

Tan, 56, said: "ArtsComm was a family you could go to. Who else would empathise with artists' point of view?"

The Yahoo group also contained more mundane resources, such as freelancers' complaints about late or non-payments and a blacklist of clients who were tardy with payments.

Tan added: "It's a time capsule. It reflects (the) thoughts of the time in the community and among the practitioners."

As such, the collective content housed on Yahoo is an invaluable resource for academics and researchers seeking to understand the arts scene and its history.

Mr Shawn Chua, 30, a researcher who is helping with archival efforts, said the Yahoo group is a "treasure trove of information".

He said: "The response to controversies (especially noteworthy are those around censorship in the arts), vigorous debates about performances and even flame wars that occurred there provided a very rich insight into how people were responding and mobilising within the arts scene, not just to 'art events' but also to current affairs in the world at large.

"It was a fairly democratic space that would have voices from a diverse demographic of people, offering accounts and perspectives beyond those that would be printed in official media.

"The conversations and activism that occur on the Yahoo Groups help to scaffold the infrastructure to the activism that happens offline."

Tan said he is grateful to volunteers who have stepped forward to help, noting that this reflects the community's appreciation of a need for a space for them to meet and share information.

"I'm a believer, since someone told me the Chinese word for 'crisis' also contains the word for opportunity. We're using this opportunity to make something new for the community."


Clarification note: Yahoo is moving Group communication from posting on message boards to e-mail distribution. Groups will be searchable on a website.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2019, with the headline 'Arts community unites to save Yahoo group'. Print Edition | Subscribe