Coronavirus: Weathering the storm

$55m top-up to keep arts sector afloat

Many shows had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus, including the Singapore International Festival of Arts' dance theatre production Revisor. PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS
Many shows had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus, including the Singapore International Festival of Arts' dance theatre production Revisor. PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS

The arts and culture sector, hit hard by measures to slow the spread of Covid-19, will get a $55 million support package in a bid to save jobs, as well as to encourage groups to improve their skills and go digital.

This is on top of the $1.6 million set aside earlier to help arts groups improve skills and ease expenses amid the coronavirus outbreak.

"We will provide additional support to major companies and leading arts groups which are integral to our vibrant arts scene," Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament yesterday.

He said this funding will "help safeguard jobs and retain capabilities in our local arts ecosystem".

Many arts groups had to cancel or postpone their events of late because of the pandemic, with casualties including the Singapore International Festival of Arts and The Finger Players' play Citizen X.

Tighter measures are also in force. All entertainment venues, including theatres, must close till April 30. Festivals, concerts, exhibitions and other events have been postponed or cancelled, and gatherings outside of work and school have been limited to 10 people or fewer.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said the National Arts Council's Capability Development Scheme for the Arts will be enhanced to "deepen skills and support the professional development of arts organisations and practitioners". This scheme will support a wider range of people and groups up to the end of the year.

Furthermore, efforts to digitalise content will get a boost through a new fund by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, National Arts Council and National Heritage Board.

Freelancers can also benefit from a Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme - part of a separate $1.2 billion set aside - which will give eligible self-employed people $1,000 a month for nine months.

Ding Yi Music Company's assistant conductor Dedric Wong, 33, thinks the measures are a big help. The Singapore Chinese chamber music company has had to cancel about 10 events such as concerts, gigs and school outreach.

Mr Wong, who said the group organised an online concert earlier this year, is glad there will be more funding for such initiatives. "A digital concert could cost more than a live concert - there are five to eight cameras at different angles."

He hopes arts groups will band together to organise online shows - a view shared by Nominated MP Terence Ho, who has suggested running a digital arts festival.

But artist Terence Tan, 39, doubts people would be willing to pay for these online events. He thinks more can be done to help the arts community tide through the virus outbreak.

Earlier this week, he started a petition with the hashtag #Support MADEinSG - calling for more government support for those in the media, arts, design and entertainment industries. It has about 200 signatures so far and asks, among other things, that the Government suspend rent, mortgages, evictions and utility bills for companies in these industries for at least six months, or until social distancing and travel restriction policies are removed.

"Even after the pandemic fades away, people won't rush back to the theatres immediately," said Mr Tan, founder of community arts group Artsolute. "Everybody has been drained financially - they are not going to be paying $30, $50, $100 for tickets any more. The arts (community) will feel the effects for a long time.

"Comedies, sketch shows, poetry nights, what will happen to all of that? What happens to all our backstage crew, to our theatre production people - those in light, sound - who now have no work? Gallery people and production managers are worried - (the help) is not enough."

Read Mr Heng's full speech here.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2020, with the headline $55m top-up to keep arts sector afloat. Subscribe