Speech by Parl Sec Baey Yam Keng for MCCY at the Committee of Supply Debate
Inspiring the Singapore spirit through the arts, heritage and sports
09 Mar 2017
1. Madam Chair, with your permission, I will like to display some slides.
A vibrant arts and heritage sector
Growing our culture scene
2. Minister spoke about our plans to engage more Singaporeans through our arts and heritage offerings. Singapore’s culture scene has indeed come a long way.
3. Mr Kok Heng Leun spoke about the need to take stock of what has been achieved under the ACSR, and our plans going forward to 2025.
4. Our efforts under the ACSR are bearing fruit. More Singaporeans are attending arts events, and visiting our museums and heritage institutions. Our surveys have shown that 8 in 10 Singaporeans attended an arts event or activity in 2015. In the same year, museum visitorship also reached an all-time high of 3.75 million. More Singaporeans also believe in the value of the arts and culture. Nevertheless, more can still be done to make culture a part of everyday life and to ensure that culture is inclusive and accessible for all. We will continue to develop and support programmes that can connect with various segments of Singaporeans.
5. Mr Kok also spoke about involving non-Singaporeans in our arts programmes. Through the Presentation and Participation Grant, NAC recently supported Kapor ChatParty by The Octopus Residency, a ground-up initiative that aims to foster a sense of community in Little India, whether for residents, patrons or visitors.
6. As we broaden community outreach and accessibility, we agree with Mr Kok on the value of arts and culture. This is MCCY’s mission. Over the years, we have expanded the space for artistic expression and divergent views. At the same time however, we need to be mindful of our social and cultural context, and balance this with mutual respect of views and social harmony. While we acknowledge that the arts can be a good platform to teach critical thinking and promote deeper understanding of issues, it is also important for the content and presentation to be context and age-appropriate. We will continue to work with various stakeholders to bridge this understanding so that we can enlarge the common space for artistic expression, and foster better appreciation for the value of the arts.
7. We applaud the work that Mr Kok’s theatre company, Drama Box, has undertaken to address sensitive issues such as race-based tensions, conservation and development, through forum theatre and we hope to learn more from the experience.
8. I would like to refer to Leon Perera’s question. NAC funding guidelines are published and are part of the funding agreement between NAC and the grant applicants. NAC seeks to enlarge the space for the arts to flourish, without compromising on social cohesion and stability. As such, NAC does not fund activities which undermine public institutions, political parties or figures regardless of political affiliation. We believe that confidence in public institutions is fundamental to the future of Singapore.
9. Madam Chair, the ACSR has funded many initiatives to raise arts excellence. In 2015, Singapore returned to the Venice Biennale. The recent Singapore Biennale 2016 which presented 10 Singapore works has just ended with record visitorship numbers of more than 614,000 visitors. In 2016, the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) featured 20 productions including collaborations between Singaporean and international artists such as Brian Gothong Tan’s Tropical Traumas: A Series of Cinematographic Choreographies, which was presented at Ron Arad’s 720° stage at Gardens by the Bay.
10. We will intensify our efforts to raise arts excellence while increasing connection with and accessibility to the arts, and in so doing help nurture a confident people with pride in their culture and heritage.
11. We agree with Mr Kok on the importance of making arts a part of our shared spaces, and are very encouraged by Priyageetha Dia’s creativity to enhance our living spaces. Understandably, there could be concerns from residents that the local town councils need to address. Hence, we encourage young artists to work closely with precinct and space managers to enliven our community. One recent example is young artist Jaxton Su, who worked with the property owner to develop a large scale mural along Race Course Road, which was supported by NAC’s Matchbox Grant. NAC will be happy to facilitate this process.
12. Mr Kok asked for an update of the proposed Traditional Arts Centre. NAC worked closely to support all affected arts groups from Stamford Arts Centre throughout the upgrading process. Most of the affected arts groups have either moved into other NAC arts spaces, or have found spaces through private leases. The last tenant vacated in end-November last year. NAC has completed a feasibility study and will be starting refurbishment works. When the new Stamford Arts Centre is ready in 2018, it is envisioned to be a vibrant space for the performing arts, especially traditional arts. It will bring rich performing traditions closer to the community, and support innovative content creation while deepening its relevance in modern Singapore. One idea is to have a residency programme to help seed new collaborations and compelling content. NAC also hopes to get the local Waterloo community more involved through the incubation of community arts projects.
13. Next, I would also like to address Mr Kok’s point on developing artistic leadership in our major cultural institutions. We agree that it is important to have these institutions represented by individuals who are passionate about the arts and culture. We are privileged to have many distinguished arts practitioners sitting on our various boards. For example:
Dr Meira Chand, author of the story behind The LKY Musical, serves as a Council Member on the National Arts Council;
Mr Gaurav Kripalani, Artistic and Managing Director of the Singapore Repertory Theatre, serves on the board of the National Heritage Board; and
Ms Aidli Mohamed Salleh Mosbit, a highly regarded playwright, director, actor, writer, designer and educator and also Young Artist Award winner, serves on the board of School of the Arts.
14.Besides having a good understanding of the arts and culture, it is important that Board Directors also represent diverse views and offer skills that are fundamental to good governance such as in audit, finance, legal, audience development and philanthropy.
15. Madam Chair, leadership positions in our cultural institutions are critical functions that require not only a good understanding of the arts and culture, but also administrative skills and whole-person capabilities. The Chief Executive and Artistic Director oversee the implementation of our cultural policies and set the programming direction. They are our main interface with the artistic community, patrons and audiences. They are responsible for stewardship and governance of public resources. It is therefore important to identify the right candidate for these key positions.
16. We are cognisant of the need to develop a pipeline of cultural leaders in Singapore. That is why in 2015, MCCY set up the Culture Academy to nurture the next generation of cultural leadership in the public sector.
Support and recognition for the arts
17. We also agree with Mr Kok that producers play an important role in a vibrant arts and heritage ecosystem by helping our artists put their work out. Besides NAC’s Creative Producer Development Programme, our cultural institutions like the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, also play a role in developing such expertise. For instance, the Esplanade co-commissions productions and shares risks with producers to develop a canon of Singapore works. Beyond our shores, the Esplanade and NAC also pave the way for our producers to connect with international markets. This approach helps to develop a pool of producers who can contribute to art-making both locally and internationally.
18. As Mr Kok highlighted, our arts and culture landscape today is a product of the legacy of many artistic pioneers. It is the amalgamation of efforts of not just artists, but also a wide range of other professionals with creative, management and technical expertise. We recognise the contributions of these individuals who have been working tirelessly behind the scenes. They can be great mentors to our future generation of cultural professionals. We will continue to look at platforms to recognise them, and help them share their expertise with the artistic community as well.
19. Mr Yee Chia Hsing asked if it is possible to provide low-cost spaces for artists to showcase their art works or conduct classes. We currently offer a range of long-term housing and short-term rental options at subsidised rates to support our arts sector. The short-term options, in particular, are flexible and cater to different needs. For example, the Greenfield Project located at Block O of Goodman Arts Centre offers multi-purpose and project studios with options for rental, either on an hourly, daily or monthly basis.
20. Beyond government spaces, we partner the private sector to co-locate arts groups in commercial developments under the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)’s Community/Sports Facilities Scheme (CSFS). For instance, Very Special Arts has taken up a space at Changi City Point Mall since 2011.
21. Madam Chair, as we build a strong local cultural scene, Dr Lim Wee Kiak rightly pointed out that we should also share our unique culture with the rest of the world. Given our warm cultural ties with many countries, we have been able to showcase our arts and culture through cultural exchanges and collaborations.
22. In 2014, MCCY established the Cultural Diplomacy Fund (CDF) to raise the international profile of Singapore artists and cultural institutions, and to grow our diplomatic space by showcasing the ‘softer side’ of Singapore.
23. These efforts provide opportunities for our artists to grow. They also profile cultural excellence beyond our shores, strengthen capabilities and develop markets for Singapore’s culture sector. This year, Singapore will be represented at the Venice Biennale with multi-disciplinary artist Zai Kuning’s showcase Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge, a culmination of over 20 years of research on Malay culture and history in Southeast Asia. At the recent Singapore Art Week, visitors to Gillman Barracks had the chance to observe the artwork in progress, when Zai’s studio was open to the public. Works like Zai’s, which will be in Venice from 13 May to 26 November, will help profile Singapore artists both at home and abroad.
24. As Mr Darryl David highlighted, heritage and culture can build and develop a stronger sense of identity in Singaporeans.
We agree, and are working to preserve and promote our heritage in a more comprehensive way.
25. As Minister earlier shared, NHB will be developing a comprehensive national blueprint for our heritage sector. The Heritage Plan for Singapore will set out the national vision and action plans for a museum and heritage landscape that will foster a stronger sense of belonging and identity among our people.
26. One aspect of the Heritage Plan that NHB will be looking at is policy and legislative reviews that will enable us to better conduct the task of archaeology in Singapore. This will contribute towards a fuller picture of Singapore’s history, going much further than half a century of independence.
27. Members may recall the 2015 archaeological excavation at Empress Place. We uncovered some 3.5 tonnes of artefacts from 14th century Singapore, or more accurately, Temasek. The 300 to 500 copper coins from different time periods in imperial China, 12th century Ceylon, and coins used by the Dutch East India Company, suggest that 14th century Temasek had been a well-established international trading hub. In the absence of written records, these artefacts provide clues to the kinds of activities that took place on our island.
28. Mr Kok Heng Leun spoke about the importance of engaging different segments of society on how our heritage is documented, acknowledged and shared. The Heritage Plan aims to nurture an active community which takes ownership of our heritage. We will seek the views of different groups of stakeholders and different segments of society on a wide range of topics such as heritage preservation, heritage education and promotion, and making heritage spaces and programmes more accessible and inclusive.
29. Over the next few months, NHB will continue to hold engagement sessions with heritage stakeholders and partners, including academia, experts, industry practitioners, community and heritage groups, youths, volunteers and educators. Singaporeans will also be invited to provide their views on the Plan later this year at public roadshows, online platforms and other channels. We target to publish the first edition of the Heritage Plan in early 2018, with an update every 5 years.
30. Madam Chair, please allow me to elaborate on the Heritage Plan in Mandarin.
32. 我们将听取社会大众的反馈，探讨如何有规划性地纪录和保存物质和非物质文化遗产，还有常常被忽略的社区遗产。文物局已经如火如荼地展开了这方面的工作。通过文化遗产研究资助金(Heritage Research Grant)，文物局协助学者郭根维探讨、深入地研究九皇信仰在本地的历史，崇拜仪式，宫庙和网络。与此同时，文物局去年也展开了全国性的非物质文化遗产调查。
31. Madam Chair, NHB and MCCY will be embarking on the important task of inspiring the Singapore Spirit through our diverse cultural heritage. NHB will be developing a whole new, comprehensive Heritage Plan for Singapore, that complements the earlier announced Arts & Culture Strategic Review (ACSR) plans.
32. We will gather public feedback, and discuss how to systematically document and preserve tangible and intangible heritage, as well as the commonly neglected community heritage. NHB has already started working on these areas. Through the Heritage Research Grant, academic Dr Koh Keng We conducted research on the local history, rituals, institutions and networks of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. At the same time, NHB also launched a survey on intangible cultural heritage last year.
33. Cultural heritage has always been the microcosm of human development, thus Singaporeans are our best advisors and resources for this blueprint. Besides working with the various government agencies, it is also crucial for NHB to gather ideas from the public through different platforms. We can then share details of this plan with Singaporeans next year. From 2018, the plan will guide the long-term development of our cultural heritage. In this way, we will increase Singaporeans’ participation, deepen ownership of our heritage, and inspire the Singapore Spirit. We will review this plan every five years, so that it will be a blueprint for Singapore’s cultural heritage that truly belongs to us.
Participation and national pride in sports
34. Beyond arts and heritage, sport is another arena where communities can come together as one.
Sports Facilities Master Plan
35. Complementing the programmes offered by ActiveSG, we will continue to expand and enhance access to sporting spaces through the Sports Facilities Master Plan. Every year, millions of Singaporeans make use of public sports facilities, and numbers continue to grow.
36. Mr Melvin Yong spoke about making sports facilities in schools available to public. Under the Dual-Use-Scheme (DUS), members of public can and are making use of facilities like the Indoor Sports Halls and school fields after school hours. As we announced last year, we will continue to progressively open up all remaining indoor sports halls and fenced fields in Government primary and secondary schools by around 2020. Over the past year, we opened up around 50 more facilities for shared use and we are on track to meet our target.
37. Complementing the DUS, the Sports-in-Precinct (SIP) programme also creates accessible play spaces for use by the local community. We initiated a pilot project in Boon Lay. With the completion of Phase 1, residents now enjoy local facilities like this street soccer court and a multi-purpose community lawn court, both laid with an artificial turf. The street soccer court is well-received and enjoyed by the youth, who would otherwise usually play on the more common hard court or at the void deck.
38. Besides Boon Lay, residents in Jurong Spring can also look forward to similar facilities later this year. We will be expanding the programme to include precincts that are not under HDB’s Neighbourhood Renewal Programme. We will initiate around 20 SIP projects across the island by 2020 supported by a budget of $50 million, more residents can enjoy playing sports closer to homes.
Singapore Sports Hub as a sports, entertainment and lifestyle hub
39. Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap spoke about hosting national events at the National Stadium. The Singapore Sports Hub was designed to be an integrated sports, entertainment and lifestyle hub for the community and our athletes. It is a place where we can enjoy shared experiences, and build strong bonds amongst Singaporeans.
40. In just under three years since the Sports Hub began operations, we have seen the National Stadium play host to major events, including the SEA Games, ASEAN Para Games, the National Day Parade, the HSBC Singapore Rugby 7s, the StanChart Marathon Singapore 2016, and concerts such as Madonna and A-mei. The Sports Hub Community Play Days and Experience Sports sessions, which are free to the public, have also been organised to encourage more to come and enjoy the offerings at the Sports Hub.
41. Nonetheless, more can and should be done by Sports Hub Private Limited (SHPL) to enhance the vibrancy of the Sports Hub and improve the quality of its calendar of events and programming. These should include major international events, as well as those that the community can participate in.
42. On the issue of event hiring cost, the operator, SHPL, has indicated that it will seek to keep third party costs for events at the Sports Hub in check. We have communicated to SHPL that they should have transparent and defensible pricing policies that make them attractive as a venue to event organisers.
Support for NSAs
43. Minister earlier shared that we will be enhancing our High Performance Sports (HPS) system. I would like to reassure Mr Ang Wei Neng and Er Dr Lee Bee Wah that we continue to provide significant funding support for our National Sports Associations (NSAs). The Government currently provides about $45M annually in funding to the NSAs, which marks a slight increase over previous years.
44. While SportSG’s funding helps the NSAs to defray part of their operational costs, NSAs are primarily run, organised and funded by their respective fraternity and need to be accountable to their members for their performance.
Revitalising the football ecosystem
45. Mr Ganesh Rajaram and Mr Faisal Manap spoke about the state of football in Singapore, and about the role that FAS and its leadership could play to revitalise the football ecosystem. We note that the development of Singapore football is currently undergoing a significant transition with the FAS due for elections this year.
46. FAS has been under the guidance of a Provisional Council since 16 November 2016 after the term of last Council expired. Until the new leadership is elected, the direction of FAS remains uncertain. We urge the FAS to conduct the election soon.
47. Madam Chair, football has a large following in Singapore, and generates a lot of public interest. The FAS will need to work closely with its stakeholders, including SportSG, as it develops its multi-year strategic plan. The plan must address areas such as youth and coach development, community outreach and participation, and football excellence. We look forward to discussing with the new leadership, its future plans for Singapore football, and how FAS’s plans align with SportSG’s Vision 2030.
48. Mr Ganesh’s point about the importance of strong and competent leadership applies not only to the FAS, but to all NSAs. Our NSAs need leaders who can unite their fraternities around a sound strategic plan for the development of the sport. They must build organisational capabilities that ensure robust governance and effective execution of the strategic plans. They have to invest in and develop professional coaches and officials to help enthusiasts and athletes raise their game. Finally, they need to build a sustainable eco-system for the sport. With strong leadership, good governance, effective management and sound technical capabilities, the sport as a whole can then develop and grow to its full potential.