Parliament: Shows, festivals to go digital amid Covid-19 as Govt pumps $55m into arts and culture sector

Theatre companies, orchestras and countless others have had to cancel their events.
Theatre companies, orchestras and countless others have had to cancel their events.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - The coronavirus pandemic shows little sign of abating but the show will go on for the Singapore Heritage Festival in June - with a digital twist.

Instead of hopping around the island, festivalgoers can open their computers and smartphones and experience the festival from the safety of their homes, through virtual tours and culinary workshops.

The heritage festival is one of several projects that will benefit from a new Digitalisation Fund for the arts and culture sector, which has been hard hit by measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Theatre companies, orchestras and countless others have had to cancel their events, chalking up losses in excess of $2.6 million.

The Digitalisation Fund is part of the Government's $55 million Arts and Culture Resilience Package, which will also defray the cost of rent, wages and training, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said in Parliament on Tuesday (April 7).

The Fund will help make museums' exhibitions and collections accessible on virtual platforms. It will also support the digital presentation of large events such as the Singapore Writers Festival and Arts in Your Neighbourhood in November, as well as Singapore Art Week in January, for example, by commissioning new works.

Additionally, it will cover a Digital Presentation Grant for the Arts scheme, which offers groups or individuals up to $20,000 for each project. These would be presented in a digital form, or via a digital medium, from May onwards.

"While some ideas may only be possible to execute after the 'circuit breaker' measures, I encourage arts and culture groups and practitioners to prepare and submit their grant proposals now, so that they can bring their best work to Singaporeans once the situation improves," said Ms Fu during the debate on the supplementary budget.

She was referring to the restrictions put in place to reduce the spread of the virus and these include closing schools and most workplaces as well as a ban on dining-in at restaurants, from Tuesday to May 4.

Ms Fu also said the "NAC also welcomes proposals which include creative means to develop digital projects while fully working from home."

Her ministry, she added, aims to generate demand for the arts and culture sector, support more than 200 new digital projects, and create more than 1,000 opportunities for cultural and related practitioners once the social distancing measures are relaxed.

 
 

The $55 million support package was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament last month as part of the Resilience Budget.

It comes on top of the $1.6 million from February's Unity Budget, set aside for a one-time capability development grant scheme and a subsidy scheme to reduce rental and associated costs.

ANOTHER THREE KEY SUPPORT MEASURES

The latest support package covers three key measures aside from the digitalisation fund.

One, the enhanced Jobs Support Scheme will give eligible companies a 75 per cent wage subsidy for the month of April, on the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages of each local employee on their payroll.

The scheme was first announced in Budget 2020 in February, and was meant to offset 8 per cent of the wages of every employee who is a Singaporean or permanent resident for three months, up to a monthly cap of $3,600.

It was boosted in the Resilience Budget in March, providing a 25 per cent subsidy of the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages of each local employee in businesses, for nine months, with more for those in the food services, tourism and aviation sectors.

The latest Solidarity Budget, announced on Monday, enhanced the wage subsidy to offset 75 per cent for wages for this month, the month when the circuit breaker measures take effect.

Two, rental waivers are available for eligible tenants of MCCY-owned properties, such as those in commercial retail, F&B tenants, volunteer welfare organisations, social service agencies, and registered charities. Two months' rent will be waived.

All non-residential tenants on government-owned properties who do not qualify will have their rent waived for one month.

Three, the one-time enhanced Capability Development Scheme for the Arts, which helps with training, will offer more funding than previously promised. Applications close on June 30.

The National Arts Council's Major Companies and Seed Grant Companies can now apply for up to $20,000, while other arts and culture organisations can get up to $6,000. Both are double the amounts announced earlier.

Individuals can apply for up to $1,000, up from $600.

All this comes on top of other government measures such as enhanced absentee payroll and course fee support, and the Self-Employed Person Training Support Scheme and the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs).

Ms Fu's listing of the various help programmes comes after Nominated MP Terence Ho made several proposals in Parliament on Monday.

 
 
 

Mr Ho suggested the Government could do more to support freelance artists, for instance, by commissioning new works.

He also proposed launching a digital arts festival, encouraging people to donate to arts groups through Giving.sg, and creating an "Arts.sg" online platform to collate works and spread awareness of Singapore's arts scene.

Freelance multimedia artist Brian Gothong Tan, 39, who has seen his income fall by about 70 per cent due to Covid-19, is happy with the support measures.

His multidisciplinary theatre production - Lost Cinema 20/20, an Esplanade commission which was cancelled last month - has benefited from the Digitalisation Fund. The fund covered the cost of filming the performance, which will be streamed online.

Mr Tan, who also plans to make use of the Capability Development Scheme for the Arts to enrol in a course in 3D software, said: “We’re all worried. We don’t really know when the virus is going to go away, and how we will recover from (its impact).

“Now we know the value of being online - it’s not a luxury anymore, it’s a necessity. It’s time to band together and rise up.”

TRAINING AND TEMPORARY JOBS IN SPORTS SECTOR

Ms Fu also outlined efforts that have been taken to further support employment in the sports sector, as part of the #SGUnited Jobs Initiative.

"We have identified more than 500 temporary job opportunities for various roles in the sports sector to support our national sports associations, sports centres, academy and clubs as well as to support digital and exercise-science related capabilities," she said.

"While many of these jobs will not be available while circuit breaker measures are in place, we are preparing them now so that we can start hiring as soon as these measures are relaxed."

She added that her Ministry has been working to build up the range of Continuing Coach Education (CCE) courses to improve the skills of coaches and instructors, adding that they could avail themselves of more than 3,000 training opportunities by end-2020.

"This is in addition to the more than 2,000 ActiveSG SkillsFuture training opportunities currently available to coaches and instructors. These courses are either free or well-covered by training grants from SkillsFuture," said Ms Fu.

"We will progressively make more training programmes available to individuals in the sports sector. We will also set aside $100,000 for the Coach Development Grant, up from $30,000 in previous years, to cover coaches' registration and course fees when they sign up for CCE courses."