Why It Matters

Right move for arts festival

The Singapore International Festival of Arts (Sifa) could be exempt from licensing requirements from next year, giving the festival and its team greater programming independence.

The National Arts Council said in a statement that "with a cohesive leadership team now in place, NAC will review if Arts House Limited applies for exemption from 2018 onwards". The Arts House runs the annual festival. This was in response to the issue of the festival's independence, brought up by founding festival director Ong Keng Sen in an interview with The Straits Times.

Unless exempted, all arts entertainment events here require an arts entertainment licence from the Infocomm Media Development Authority.

When Sifa replaced the old Singapore Arts Festival in 2014, a review, conducted from mid-2012 to 2013, recommended that an independent company take over the running of the festival from the NAC.

The arts community hoped this would allow the programme to maintain autonomy despite receiving government funding.

Sifa did not have to apply for arts licensing in its first year, but had to do so from 2015, after the Arts House started running the festival. The NAC said the Arts House had not been exempted from licensing because it was a "newly formed company".

If the Arts House gains exemption next year, it would join the ranks of institutions such as The Esplanade, the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre and Singapore Art Museum, which have autonomy over the productions they commission.

On a practical level, the exemption would make it easier for the festival team to plan its programme, commissioning works without worrying if they would ultimately obtain a licence to be staged.

But more importantly, this would allow for fewer constraints in subject matter and perhaps more cutting-edge performances - a move in the right direction for a maturing arts scene and Singapore's pinnacle arts and cultural event.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline 'Right move for arts festival'. Print Edition | Subscribe