Why It Matters

Wooing youth to arts events

This year, the Singapore International Festival of Arts offers students $10 front-row tickets to many international shows, including an evening of poetry with Bollywood doyenne Shabana Azmi.

It is a shrewd marketing move. When watching a dance or play or catching a classical music concert is as cheap as watching a movie, more young people might well try the arts for entertainment.

Lower prices are also a good way to fill seats which regular arts-goers avoid for fear of neck strain as they look up at the stage.

There is a limited paying audience for the arts in Singapore. The most recent Singapore Cultural Statistics report from last December bears this out. There were nearly 6,000 arts events in 2016, compared with almost 5,000 in 2015, but total attendance stayed the same, at about 2.8 million for both years. But the paying audience fell by 5 per cent.

Artists know their competition is not the next arts group but Netflix (from $10.98 a month) or movie theatres (tickets as low as $6.50 on weekdays).

Festival organisers are gambling that students who gain discounted access to brand-name arts performances will be so moved by the experience that they graduate to paying full price in the future.

It is a low-risk move as the $10 seats are limited to the front row of any venue, which means the first 20 seats out of roughly 200 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio or almost 30 seats out of just over 1,800 at the Esplanade Concert Hall.

Last year, $10 got any viewer - not just students - into lecture-performances by artists, but tickets for brand-name performances such as a concert by the Kronos Quartet started at $28 for students.

This year, the limited $10 ticket applies even to a jazz concert by Grammy Award-winning British musician Jacob Collier, whose covers of classic pop songs go viral on YouTube. The buzz around him might attract those who do not already have arts events bookmarked on their calendars. Maybe even a student browsing YouTube. And hopefully, over time, the audience for the arts will grow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2018, with the headline 'Wooing youth to arts events'. Print Edition | Subscribe