Arts festival reaches more than 200,000 viewers

Art Studio by Nine Years Theatre performing during the Singapore International Festival of Arts 2017. PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS

SINGAPORE - The Singapore International Festival of Arts (Sifa) ended its run last Saturday (Sept 9) with a record-high reach of 218,000 viewers.

Overall sales were at 85 per cent for the festival, which had 111 unique events. Of these, 19 were works it had commissioned.

Outgoing festival director Ong Keng Sen, who has helmed the annual affair since its first edition in 2014, says the numbers validate his team's programming decisions.

He says: "The festival has put a mark on the fact that art is important. Through the last five years, we've been told that art is elitist and we have to create events that are not too highbrow. Art is accessible and we need to believe in that."

Last year's festival had an attendance of 155,000, bolstered by a giant art-and-video installation in The Meadow @ Gardens by the Bay, created by Israeli architect Ron Arad. In 2015, the attendance was 62,000.

This year, audience numbers include those who caught the festival's Facebook Live video streams of full events, such as O.P.E.N. Kitchens and O.P.E.N. Homes.

In these productions, volunteers around the island opened their homes and kitchens to strangers. They performed personal stories or taught guests to cook their favourite recipes.

The festival, which began on June 28, put the audience front and centre with such interactive events.

About 300 people signed up to be extras in Lizard On The Wall, a film shot by acclaimed local film-maker K. Rajagopal, inspired by Singaporean novelist Balli Kaur Jaswal's book Inheritance. The final film was screened at a gala event closing the festival last Saturday evening.

Most shows on the main stages were almost sold out, including Art Studio, a theatrical adaptation of the novel of the same name; Becoming Graphic, featuring comic artist Sonny Liew; and Ong's reworking of Trojan Women with the National Theatre of Korea.

Ms Renette Lee, 21, bought a $45 O.P.E.N. Pass, which guaranteed access to all events in the O.P.E.N., a season of workshops and performances from June 28 to July 30 that led into the main festival season.

She caught three films screened during the O.P.E.N. Films segment, danced as an extra in Lizard On The Wall and also watched the first night of Art As Res Publicae, a public forum on what sort of content is permissible on stage.

She signed up to make bamia, a Middle Eastern stew, with father-daughter cooks Nabila Talib and Abu Talib. During the event, complete strangers shared their memories of food and cooking.

"All the events were enjoyable, but O.P.E.N. Kitchens still warms my heart when I think about it," says Ms Lee, who is doing a degree in sociology at SIM Global Education, in partnership with the University of Buffalo. "We all didn't know each other one another, but we sat down to eat together. It was warming to know how food can bring people together."

From next year until 2020, Sifa will be helmed by Gaurav Kripalani, artistic director of the Singapore Repertory Theatre. The festival will be condensed into three weekends, from April 27 to May 13.

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