How arts groups and freelancers are coping with Covid-19: Going digital and looking to the future

The SCO has been offering music online since February and will introduce another series, #RoomforMusic. PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - As theatres go dark, artists and companies are trying to find alternative ways to engage with audiences.

Both the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) and Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) have started offering fresh as well as archival content online on their Facebook and YouTube channels.

The SSO recently announced its #SSOPlayOn initiative, which offers newly recorded and archival concerts online every week.

SSO chief executive officer Chng Hak-Peng, 47, says: "While online concerts do not earn us ticketing income, it is in our mission to share the love of music. We believe the arts is important especially at a time like this, to help lift spirits.

"It also allows us to sustain some employment for freelancers like technical crew and freelance artists."

The SCO has been offering music online since February and will introduce another series, #RoomforMusic, in which musicians will play short pieces from their homes.

Chinese music group The Teng Ensemble has also pivoted to digital for the moment, recording music to offer to hospices and hospitals now that the musicians are unable to do live gigs. The company has invested in a new digital camera and lens in order to shoot better content for online broadcast.

Teng's creative director, Mr Samuel Wong, 37, says Teng's Facebook page has some 34,000 followers, and adds: "Teng has translated digital audience to physical audience."

From post-concert polls, the company found that online followers came to their live shows.

Teng co-founder and executive director Yang Ji Wei, 39, says digital is a way to build a relationship: "They will not give you (money) now, but that doesn't mean they will not come to watch you after the pandemic is over."

Actress Cheryl Chitty Tan says she is trying to find out how to get accredited for SkillsFuture. The 31-year-old, who is also a vocal coach, is also thinking about getting training for her acting.

Actor Oliver Chong hopes to "upgrade myself, build contacts, and research possibilities to migrate my works to online platforms".

The plight of freelancers has inspired three theatre veterans behind the Pasar Glamour fund-raiser to set up Pasar Glamour Art Aid. Janice Koh, Pam Oei and Petrina Kow are hoping to raise $100,000 to offer "immediate financial assistance to freelancers working in the live performing arts scene" with their campaign which begins today (Apr 7).

The Necessary Stage general manager Melissa Lim, 43, points out that schemes such as the capability development grant privileges those with resources. She says: "In a situation where they are struggling to even feed themselves and their families, or to pay their mortgages, what is the chance that they can consider skills development and fork out a significant sum of money for courses at this point?"

She adds that this crisis offers a chance for the sector to look at building regulations and safety nets for arts gig workers. "Can there be a minimum wage for arts workers across various job scopes? Can there be mandatory hiring requirements and entitlements to protect freelancers? Can it be made a hiring requirement that freelancers in the arts must sign a legally binding contract before they render services, and one that protect both hirer and freelancer?"

Beyond handouts, she also suggests that the Government offer project-related funding "to encourage companies to embark on new and innovative projects, so that we can hire freelancers now left stranded in the market".

SCO executive director Terence Ho, 50, wants to champion a national online arts platform. He says: "Can our arts productions, concert productions be consolidated on a pay per view site? Now we have Can we have an platform which lets you listen, view, take a lesson and donate."

The lengthy course of the coronavirus pandemic seems never-ending at the moment, but Mr Ho says: "This thing will blow over. It's an opportunity for us to rethink and reoffer how arts and culture should run."

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