Parliament: Govt should do more to support the arts industry, says MP Carrie Tan

MP Carrie Tan called for more government investment in development of the arts. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The arts sector has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and needs more support from the Government, MP Carrie Tan told Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 6).

Highlighting the struggles of arts workers, the MP for Nee Soon GRC suggested enhancing the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), as well as extending income support to freelancers who did not qualify for the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs).

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 proportion of 14 per cent.

"Chronic income pressures on arts workers as well as other workers, come from a lack of regulations on a group of employees called 'permanent casuals'," said Ms Tan, referring to freelancers who have not benefited from JSS or Sirs.

"Although 'permanent casuals' might work full-time or part-time, they are paid hourly with no health or leave benefits."

In her speech, Ms Tan also called for more government investment in the development of the arts. She suggested crafting a wage framework, in consultation with workers in the sector, "so that artists are not subject to the devaluation of their work and a race to the bottom to get jobs". She also proposed providing artists and entertainers with business mentorship and marketing training.

A lack of stable income has forced some people in the sector to seek other jobs, she noted.

"If we continue to do nothing more for them in terms of financial support during this time, they may be lost to other sectors, to the long-term detriment of our arts and entertainment industry. An entire sector may be at risk of being wiped out."

Ms Low Yen Ling, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, responded by outlining the various forms of support available to arts workers - from broad-based measures, such as the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), to the $55 million Arts and Culture Resilience Package (ACRP). By the end of August, ARCP funding had created more than 6,000 work and training opportunities and supported more than 900 digitalisation projects and programmes, she said.

She added that the Capability Development Scheme for the Arts has supported about 600 training opportunities, of which around half were for freelancers. Meanwhile, the Digital Presentation Grant (DPG) for the Arts has supported more than 300 projects and provided around 4,500 work opportunities, of which about 1,100 were for freelancers.

Responding to Ms Tan's remark that some arts workers have benefited from neither the JSS nor Sirs, Ms Low said the MCCY is helping workers engaged by cultural institutions - including the Esplanade and Arts House Limited - to apply for government support schemes they are eligible for. Freelancers can also make use of the NAC's Arts Resource Hub, she added.

On the ACRP's Digitalisation Fund, which prioritises productions that have been rated General, Ms Tan urged the House to reconsider this.

"Parental controls on online media platforms exist for a reason, for parents to be involved and exercise the necessary control over children's media consumption. This should not be a responsibility that is shifted over to the state, with costs that the arts and entertainment sector ends up bearing, to the detriment of an industry's vibrancy and sustainability, " she said.

Replying, Ms Low said: "Unlike live performances, which are subject to classification ratings under IMDA, online content is easily and generally available with no age segregation. This makes it prudent for the DPG to underwrite productions rated General."

She said the NAC has also continued to provide funds through its regular grant schemes and commissions. These have been enhanced to include digital works and presentations, and could include works with a higher rating.

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