Parliament: Financial aid timely but arts sector needs help to prepare for post-Covid 19 world

PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Wage supplements of 75 per cent for April and 25 per cent for the next eight months, raising the grant amounts arts companies can apply for, and rental waivers for two months for tenants on properties owned by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).

These are just some of the ways the $55 million Arts and Culture Resilience Package will be divvied up. The financial aid comes just in time to relieve a hard-hit sector which has lost millions in box office revenue in the first quarter as performing venues are shut to facilitate social distancing.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said in Parliament on Tuesday (April 7): "Since the onset of Covid-19, we have heard many calls for help from the arts and culture sector. They are worried about their livelihoods and careers, as all events and activities have been cancelled or postponed."

Hence the financial aid, which aims to "support workers, stabilise businesses, and build economic and social resilience in these unprecedented challenging times".

Two National Arts Council (NAC) initiatives were also highlighted by Minister Fu: the Capability Development Scheme for the Arts (CDSA) and a new Digitalisation Fund which aims to support 200 new projects and create more than 1,000 opportunities for arts practitioners.

While the idea behind the CDSA is good, industry players have expressed doubts about its usefulness at this time. The training grant offers reimbursement only after the course, and many culture workers may not be able to afford to fork out a sum for training, especially when they need to pay for food and rent.

The Digitalisation Fund is a step in the right direction, as it offers job opportunities.

But digitalisation can be taken further. Nominated MP and Singapore Chinese Orchestra executive director Terence Ho has floated the idea of a nationwide digital platform for the arts, where audiences can go to watch content, take lessons and donate to the arts.

A Netflix for Singapore arts content is a good idea for generating an alternative revenue stream for the more established arts groups, which have a ready supply of archival and new material. A paid streaming service for the arts can also be a way for audiences to stay in touch with Singaporean artists and donate to their favourite groups.

 
 
 

Financial aid is great, but it is bound to be short-lived while revenue losses for the sector are expected to continue far longer into 2020. Audiences are unlikely to rush back to theatres even if venues reopen after the "circuit breaker" month. New content will take time to rehearse and stage. And arts groups are also anticipating a harder fund-raising slog as other businesses recover from the impact of Covid-19.

Building an infrastructure that broadens the arts industry's revenue streams will be helpful in the long run, but it is an ambitious idea that needs to be supported by multiple government agencies.

This crisis can also be the opportunity for the arts sector to grow in unexpected ways, and the NAC should not just support current sustainability but also spearhead new ways into a brave new post-Covid 19 world.