Arts groups tighten belt

Despite not being successful in applying for a grant, I Theatre is still going ahead with its bird-themed production Poultry Tales (above, in a rehearsal picture) at the end of this month.
Despite not being successful in applying for a grant, I Theatre is still going ahead with its bird-themed production Poultry Tales (above, in a rehearsal picture) at the end of this month.PHOTO: LITTLE DAY OUT

Some arts groups that no longer get sustained funding from the National Arts Council are relooking their operations

The show must go on for arts groups who are no longer receiving multi- year grants from the National Arts Council (NAC) starting this year.

NAC released the recipients of its Seed Grant and Major Company scheme two weeks ago. These help support the operations of emerging and professional arts groups here.

New names were added to the list, including 20-year-old Malay performing arts company Sri Warisan and ground-up community arts movement Superhero Me.

But there are also arts groups taken off this year's funding list, for different reasons.


We are in a challenging position. But we are committed to our work and give ourselves two years to better our operations.

ARTISTIC DIRECTOR KAVITHA KRISHNAN of dance company Maya Dance Theatre, a Seed Grant recipient until 2015. Its application for Major Company funding was unsuccessful both this and last year

There are companies, such as children's theatre specialist I Theatre, that applied for the fund, but were unsuccessful.

I Theatre's artistic director Brian Seward says: "We were banking on getting the grant, which covers administrative costs and certain outreach programmes we do. Our productions barely cover costs."

The group used to receive $250,000 a year as a company under the Major Grant scheme (renamed the Major Company scheme after a review last year). It has seven full-time staff on its payroll.

  • Other grants


    What: NAC gives out eight other grants besides the Seed and Major Company grants and each has different objectives. For example, the Production Grant is for performing, visual, literary or multi-disciplinary arts projects. The Arts Fund provides support to artists and groups interested in engaging the community.

    Quantum: Various. For example, the Production Grant typically starts at $50,000, though funding is given for up to 50 per cent of a realistic budget for individuals and non-profits.

    When: Application dates vary



    What: This fund by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth is for projects that bring the community together and promote the Singapore Spirit and values. It is managed in collaboration with National Arts Council, National Heritage Board and National Youth Council.

    Quantum:Up to $20,000 or 80 per cent of qualifying expenditure for one-off projects, with increased amounts for longer-term projects.

    When: Next application window is from Saturday to May 15



    What: Groups with new and innovative concepts with strong tourism potential can apply for this fund by Singapore Tourism Board. Previous recipients include music and arts festival Neon Lights and Singapore Art Book Fair.

    Quantum: Up to $150,000 a project or up to 50 per cent of qualifying costs.

    When: Next application deadline is on May 1



    What: The Singapore International Foundation gives out this grant for arts and cultural works presented overseas. Projects that promote awareness of social issues can also fall under its Art For Good category.

    Quantum: Unknown

    When: The next application cycle for projects commencing from Aug 1 closes on May 1



    What: Groups cannot apply for this anonymous grant, which is disbursed seemingly at random. Five artists and arts groups received funding from this mysterious "ninja" last year, including playwright Joel Tan and multi-disciplinary performing arts company Bhumi Collective.

    Quantum: Unknown, but previous projects have received between $400 and $1,000


Seward will meet NAC in the coming weeks to discuss how the company can carry on with its activities.

Likewise, dance company Chowk Productions has to find ways to make up for the $80,000 a year it used to receive under the Seed Grant. Its Major Company scheme application was unsuccessful.

Both companies have shows later this month that will go on as usual.

I Theatre is putting on bird- themed production Poultry Tales from April 29 to May 14, while Chowk is mounting a contemporary take on traditional odissi dance, Pallavi In Time, on April 21 and 22.

Dance company Maya Dance Theatre has, for the past year, relied on ad-hoc project funding. It was a Seed Grant recipient until 2015. Its application for Major Company funding was unsuccessful both this and last year and it will have to cut the salaries of its three full-time dancers.

"We are in a challenging position," says artistic director Kavitha Krishnan. "But we are committed to our work and give ourselves two years to better our operations."

It also hopes that NAC will consider giving an "interim grant" to help companies that have exhausted the three-year Seed Grant, but are not able to receive Major Company funding.

NAC says "the funding for arts companies is a competitive process". Groups are assessed on their artistic and programme excellence as well as organisational capacity.

"Applicants are assessed on their submitted proposals, details of past performance and financial reports, as well as insights from the external assessment panel comprising specialists in their respective fields," says the council's deputy chief executive officer Paul Tan.

Seed Grant recipients can get funding for a maximum of only three years, as the grant is intended to help them kick-start their operations. Most established arts groups typically aspire to become Major Companies.

But the Seed Grant and Major Company schemes are not the only funding sources available to artists.

NAC gives out eight other types of shorter-term funding for arts groups here. These include the Production Grant which supports the production, presentation and marketing costs of different kinds of arts projects. It typically starts at $50,000, though the actual amount of funding given out depends on the project's requirements.

Other bodies also give grants.

For example, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) gives out grants for projects that bring the community together and the Singapore International Foundation funds many artists presenting work overseas through its Singapore Internationale grant.

Arts groups here can also appeal to corporates and individuals for donations. Those with charity status can tap on MCCY's Cultural Matching Fund, which matches donations to eligible arts and heritage groups on a one-to-one basis.

There are also groups which are missing from this year's list by choice.

NAC observes that some Seed Grant groups choose not to become Major Companies "as they may prefer not to formally constitute themselves or desire more time to build up their organisations".

One of them is the Musicians Guild of Singapore, a Seed Grant recipient from 2014 to last year.

Board member Rani Singam says it opted not to apply for Major Company funding "as we do not have full-time management to run the guild" and that it will rely on NAC's other grant schemes.

"We believe the NAC will continue to support the guild where possible," she says.

Singapore Wind Symphony, a Major Grant recipient last year, also opted to "take a break" from the scheme this year. It might apply again in the future.

"The grant comes with certain requirements. Sometimes, for a budding company, it's not always easy to meet those kind of KPIs," says the symphony's music director Adrian Tan, referring to Key Performance Indicators.

He also notes that it is not easy for companies to raise funds on their own.

Grants aside, perhaps there is also hope for support from the public.

Last week, The Straits Times reported that Chowk founder Raka Maitra was thinking of closing the three-year-old dance company after receiving word that it would not get Major Company funding.

After the article was published, she received countless messages of support. One person also made a small donation to the company.

Maitra is now more determined than ever to keep the company going. "So maybe it's a good thing. When you get dealt a blow, you can bounce back stronger. Suddenly, money is not everything."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2017, with the headline 'Arts groups tighten belt'. Print Edition | Subscribe