MCCY looking into further Covid-19 support measures for arts, sports sectors: Edwin Tong

The play Late Company by theatre company Pangdemonium. PHOTO: PANGDEMONIUM

SINGAPORE - More help is on the way for the arts and sports sectors, with the Government looking into further support measures to cushion the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong on Tuesday (Jan 19) said his ministry is exploring measures that will be designed to allow people in both sectors to gain skills that can "sustain them in the immediate future and beyond, in a post-pandemic world".

"The packages that we are looking at, which we're still exploring, will have some of these features to be future-proof and future-ready for people in both industries," he said.

The Government last year rolled out the $55 million Arts and Culture Resilience Package (ACRP) and the $50 million Sports Resilience Package (SRP) to help people in both sectors, which, like others, have been hard hit by the pandemic and closure of venues.

In an interview where he took stock of his ministry's work over the past year and set out its priorities for the year ahead, Mr Tong said the ACRP has provided more than 13,000 work and training opportunities, of which more than 5,000 were for freelancers.

The scheme has also supported more than 1,400 digitalisation projects and programmes by local artists and organisations.

The $55 million package also includes a one-time operating grant of either $75,000 or $50,000 for arts and culture organisations to defray costs. This is expected to benefit 225 organisations, Mr Tong said.

Under the SRP, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) had set aside $13.5 million in operating grants to help eligible businesses offset operating costs. It has received more than 120 applications for the grants, which are capped at $15,000 per month.

The SRP also includes a "blended" initiative - which sets aside $5 million for organisations to hold "phygital" hybrid events. This will support an additional 100 events, and reach an estimated 450,000 participants, Mr Tong said.

Asked for details on the new measures being planned for both sectors, he said operating grants will remain a key component. The aim is to prop up businesses that would be sustainable were it not for Covid-19 restrictions, he added.

The measures are also being designed to ensure key aspects of talent are retained, he said, citing the need for both stage crew and performers. "We do have to look at (it) very judiciously and make sure that as an ecosystem, (they're) able to survive.

"We are going to be applying those principles in any subsequent measures we may feel is needed."

There will also be help for freelancers, whom Mr Tong said play a special role in the sports and arts sectors by lending a "degree of spontaneity and inventiveness to the industry".

"And so in times when they are in difficulties like these, I think we have to help them, and programmes will be designed to give as much assistance as we can to them as well," the minister said.

Freelancers form a significant portion of the arts ecosystem in Singapore. The National Arts Council's 2016 Arts and Culture Employment Study found that 47 per cent of those surveyed were freelancers - higher than the national average across sectors of 14 per cent.

Mr Tong noted that public and private museums and galleries received about 9.6 million visitors in 2019, while 15.6 million attended arts and culture events - both record highs.

Covid-19 put paid to that uptrend in 2020.

Moving to other highlights, he said the inscription of Singapore's hawker culture on the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity sent a message that the country is committed to preserving and enhancing this culture.

The MCCY will also begin a review of the Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Act, which governs the use of national symbols, on Jan 30.

About 50 Singaporeans have volunteered to give their views, and more people will be roped in to give their views over time, he added.

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