The Singapore Perspective

Govt arts funding comes with rules attached

The Government is the common source of funding for the arts in Singapore, but an ongoing concern is the way in which state funding comes with strings attached.

Arts practitioners have decried the denial or withdrawal of funds for works that challenge the establishment as an instrument of censorship. The Government, however, has argued that taxpayers' money should not be used to support works that go against perceived national values.

There have been numerous high-profile cases of arts groups or artists losing funding due to an unwillingness to compromise on artistic expression.

In 2011, theatre company Wild Rice had its funding under the National Arts Council (NAC) Major Grant scheme slashed due to its Singapore Theatre Festival, known for its local plays with a tongue-in-cheek take on political themes. Wild Rice went on to land sponsorship for that year's festival from international fund manager Man Investments.

In 2015, the NAC withdrew an $8,000 grant for artist Sonny Liew's satirical graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, because its content "potentially undermines the authority or legitimacy" of the Government. The public attention garnered by the grant withdrawal worked in the book's favour - it went on to become a bestseller.

Arts practitioners have called for the funding of the arts to be insulated from social or political pressures. During a parliamentary exchange last year, Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun argued that the arts have intrinsic worth, and should not be viewed only in terms of the political purpose they serve.

Minister of Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu responded that there remains a need for "rules of engagement to safeguard the social harmony that we cherish".

Olivia Ho

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'Govt arts funding comes with rules attached'. Print Edition | Subscribe