Budget debate: $12 million top-up for arts and culture support

The $12 million is in addition to the existing $75 million Arts and Culture Resilience Package. PHOTO: ALAN NG

SINGAPORE - Another $12 million in aid will support recovery in Singapore's arts and culture sector.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong announced the top-up in Parliament on Thursday (March 10) during the debate on his ministry's budget.

It is in addition to the existing $75 million Arts and Culture Resilience Package (ACRP), which was first announced in 2020 to help the sector through the Covid-19 pandemic and which Mr Tong said will be fully utilised by the end of this financial year.

Schemes under the package include the Venue Hire Subsidy, which offers arts companies a stepped-down rate of 30 per cent.

The subsidy supported more than 1,700 live performances and other cultural events in 2020 and last year. It will be extended for another three months till June 30.

The National Arts Council will introduce a new Sector Transformation Fund, focused on projects that improve audience experiences, organisational efficiency and revenue streams. This fund will also support projects previously funded by the Organisation Transformation Grant (OTG) if they have potential for further gains.

The quantum for the OTG will be bumped up to $40,000 from $30,000.

The National Heritage Board (NHB) will incorporate this grant into its schemes for the heritage sector to cater to larger-scale and longer-term projects.

The grant will also be offered to business associations to encourage transformation in historic districts. The first window for applications opens in May and the second in November.

Mr Tong said the ministry is focusing on three key areas: Digitalisation as a key enabler; supporting self-employed people with skills acquisition and better work environments; and building vibrant spaces that keep up with emerging trends and better meet practitioners' needs.

Ms Low Yen Ling, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, as well as Trade and Industry, highlighted Singapore Art Museum's new Tanjong Pagar Distripark (TPD) space as an example of the latter. It attracted more than 17,000 visitors during Singapore Art Week in January.

She added that the NAC and the Singapore Land Authority's partnership to refurbish arts and culture sandbox spaces at 52 to 56 Kampong Java "will offer artists of various disciplines an affordable place to focus on their experimental and creative process".

"NAC will seek views from the arts community on the use of these spaces in the first half of this year," she said.

Grant schemes introduced over the past two years under the ACRP will be streamlined. The NAC has included the Capability Development Scheme for the Arts and the Digital Presentation Grant in ongoing grant schemes, while the Self-Employed Persons Grant will be incorporated into the existing Presentation and Participation, and Capability Development grant schemes.

The Government is also topping up the Cultural Matching Fund with $150 million in its ongoing effort to encourage cultural philanthropy.

Mr Tong said: "The top-up will encourage cultural philanthropy and enhance the sustainability of the arts and heritage sectors."

This is the second top-up for the fund, which was launched in 2013 with $200 million. It provides a dollar-for-dollar matching of private cash donations to arts and heritage charities. The first top-up of $150 million was in 2017.

To date, 111 arts and heritage charities - over two-thirds of those in Singapore - have applied to the fund at least once and received over $300 million in grants.

The number of applicants has increased by almost 50 per cent, from 56 in 2014 to 83 last year.

Mr Tong said: "We want to sustain the momentum of giving, and to encourage charities to keep up fund-raising efforts and forge a relationship with their own ecosystem of donors."

He acknowledged the difficult time experienced by the arts and culture sector as the pandemic shut down live venues. "We navigated it through financial and targeted support. But we know, ultimately, audiences are the lifeblood of the arts. Therefore, the resumption of arts and culture activities in a safe manner has been a priority for us."

He also reiterated the Government's commitment to supporting the sector: "We must act proactively to protect and sustain a thriving and innovative arts and culture sector. If this becomes an unintended casualty of the pandemic, we will lose a sense of who we are as a nation, and what makes us special and sets us apart as a people."

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