Over the past two years, the global COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on our health, society, way of life, and livelihoods of many.
It is in times like these when people and societies reflect on what we consider important to our survival and well-being. That arts, culture and heritage are essential to society should never be in doubt, particularly for a young country like Singapore. They contribute to the building of a confident nation — where the human spirit can flourish, kindling pride and rootedness in the nation. They are vital in maintaining a cohesive society — bringing together different communities through common spaces and by embracing and celebrating differences. Through the arts, we foster a caring people as we share and reflect upon common experiences and highlight needs across diverse communities, including the underserved.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Singaporeans were already placing more importance on arts, culture, and heritage. The 2019 Population Survey on the Arts by the National Arts Council (NAC), for instance, found that seven in 10 Singaporeans had attended arts events, and 80% of respondents expressed a sense of pride in the arts, a four-percentage point increase from 2017. Pre-COVID, visitorship to national museums and heritage institutions rose from 5.12 million in 2016 to 5.78 million in 2019. During the pandemic, many Singaporeans turned to digital arts to reflect, relax, and connect with others — 88% of Singaporeans consumed arts digitally in 2020, up from 75% in 2019.
The resilience of the arts and culture community was sorely tested during the COVID-19 crisis. To support our arts and culture practitioners during this period, the Government rolled out numerous initiatives, including the $75 million Arts and Culture Resilience Package (ACRP), to safeguard jobs and livelihoods and protect talent in the sector. The ACRP and broad-based support schemes supported over 900 arts and culture organisations, and created over 13,000 work and training opportunities for arts practitioners, during this trying period. As we loosen restrictions and move towards a “new normal”, we will continue to support the arts and culture sector in recovering from the pandemic.
The impact of COVID-19, and the pace of change of the world around us, means that it is not sufficient for us to recover to where we were before, as the world has not stood still. Instead, we must look to climb to new heights by building on our strong foundations and capitalising on exciting new opportunities, such as the intersection of technology and culture. To do this, we must make the economics of the sector work. Locally, the 2021 Singapore Cultural Statistics revealed that the direct nominal value-added contribution from the arts and culture sector was $1.84 billion in 2019, up from $1.55 billion in 2013, a significant increase which shows how much the sector is growing, and that there are ample opportunities for local arts, culture, and heritage professionals.
Global cultural hubs, such as London or Tokyo, are able to maintain vibrancy and innovation in their cultural landscapes through sophisticated ecosystems including government funding, philanthropic support, and competitive business landscapes. By improving our own creative and cultural ecosystem, we will be able to create good, sustainable jobs and income for our practitioners, as well as improving tourism and our international standing.
Achieving this requires us to work hand in hand with our partners across the public, private, and people sectors.
We are actively supporting our arts and culture practitioners in braving new frontiers, and in making the concomitant changes in organisational structure and direction that are needed to address these new opportunities. In February 2022, we launched the Arts and Culture Digital Roadmap to support arts and culture organisations in digital adoption. NAC and the National Heritage Board (NHB) are also working on the next iteration of Our SG Arts Plan and Our SG Heritage Plan, which will set the stage for the next phase of our development as a global city for arts and culture. To support these transformation efforts, the Organisational Transformation Grant (OTG), part of the ACRP, and NAC’s new Sector Transformation Fund will help arts and culture organisations engage in long-term transformation and development. In addition, a new university of the arts will be formed by an alliance between LASALLE College of the Arts and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts to train a new generation of cultural professionals, with skillsets that will set them in good stead for the changing world around us.
We are also looking into the supporting factors which enable our practitioners to do their good work. For instance, earlier this year, we announced a $150 million top-up to the Cultural Matching Fund to encourage cultural philanthropy and enhance the sustainability of the sector. This will supplement the already generous efforts of individuals and companies to support the arts and culture scene, such as Singtel’s support for Esplanade’s new waterfront theatre. On the infrastructure front, we are looking into how we can create more spaces for arts practitioners to experiment and innovate. Again, we are working with the private sector on this — for example, with the support of Mapletree, we have opened the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) at Tanjong Pagar Distripark, turning a former industrial warehouse into a location for experimental arts exhibitions and programmes.
The challenges we have faced over the past two years have showed the resilience and adaptability of the arts and culture community. Practitioners and audiences alike have had to adopt new ways of engaging with their crafts, but our commitment towards building a confident nation, cohesive society, and caring people remains unchanged. By working together, I am confident we will be able to answer these challenges as we continue to nurture a thriving arts and culture sector.