Arts and culture sector to get $55m boost to save jobs, improve skills and go digital as part of supplementary budget

In the past few months, many arts groups have had to cancel or postpone their events due to the pandemic PHOTO: ST FILE

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

This is on top of the $1.6 million that had earlier been set aside to help arts groups improve their 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 as he announced a Supplementary Budget on Thursday (March 26).

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

In the past few months, many arts groups have had to cancel or postpone their events because of the pandemic, with recent casualties such as the Singapore International Festival of Arts and The Finger Players' play Citizen X.

Tighter measures will soon come into force. From 11.59pm on Thursday till April 30, all entertainment venues, such as theatres, must close. Festivals, concerts, exhibitions and other events will be 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 in Thursday's speech that 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 larger range of people and groups up to the end of the year.

SkillsFuture Singapore will also extend its enhanced course fee subsidies to the arts and culture sector from April 1. A 90 per cent absentee payroll rate to employers who send their workers for training will kick in from May 1. These measures apply to eligible courses that start this year.

Mr Heng added that government agencies such as the National Arts Council will waive rent for two months for eligible tenants - up from half a month as previously announced.

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

More details will be announced at a later date.

Ding Yi Music Company's assistant conductor Dedric Wong, 33, thinks the measures are a "big help".

The Singapore Chinese chamber music company has been badly hit by Covid-19, and has already cancelled about 10 events such as concerts, gigs and school outreach.

Mr Wong, who noted that they organised an online concert earlier this year, is glad that 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 #SupportMADEinSG - 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, the founder of community arts group Artsolute. "Everybody has been drained financially - they are not going to be paying $30, $50, $100 for tickets anymore. 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."

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