Mailbag

Politics in play in funding

I refer to the articles that have been published regarding my comments that the arts in Singapore would be stronger if the Government stopped funding it, and if the arts community sought private funding instead.

It is fair to say that a vocal segment of the arts community has rejected my suggestion.

One objection that has emerged is that local arts philanthropy is too undeveloped to replace Government funding. This is a self-defeating argument.

Arts patronage and philanthropy will never develop if the arts community does not engage actively with corporate and private patrons.

In other developed countries where private funding of the arts outweigh government funding, artists group together to form non-profit groups that then raise funds from private entities and corporations.

In Singapore, I have suggested that the Government can also aid in this in the beginning. I am glad local outfits such as SingLit Station have done exactly this, rather than passively waiting for Government handouts. 

Another objection is that private funding would mean that some art forms and content that appeal only to a niche audience would not get funding. This does not hold water. If a niche audience is passionate enough about it, it should support the artist with its wallet. If the art form or artist cannot even obtain this, then public money should not fund it.

Regardless, if the arts community rejects my suggestions, then it should not object if the Government evaluates its projects via a political prism.

A government is made up of a political party that was elected based on its political platform and values. These values, which the majority voted for, will permeate every decision the Government makes in its term of office.

One cannot reasonably expect the Government to use public funds to fund projects that are at odds with the very political values and narrative it was democratically elected for. This holds true even if, one day, a liberal party in Singapore is elected into office based on a political platform of "diversity of views".

As can be seen in the West, such liberal parties tolerate all views except views they deem anathema to "liberal values". These views they then deem as "hate speech".

In such a situation, one would expect that artists who engage in content deemed as "hate speech" will be denied funding by such a liberal party in Government.

At the end of the day, one cannot divorce politics from how public funds are used. It is the very reason any political party is elected into power.

Calvin Cheng

Former Nominated Member of Parliament

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2017, with the headline 'Politics in play in funding'. Print Edition | Subscribe