Arts funding: A Statement from the S’pore theatre community

May 13, 2010
Singapore Democrats

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[Released to The Straits Times, 12 May 2010]

We are disappointed by the National Arts Council’s recent act of cutting funds to a theatre company, based on a supposed violation of its funding guidelines.

In the past, NAC would withhold funds based on specific productions. This most recent move suggests that funding cuts are now meted out as a way to penalize those companies which are considered to have transgressed, or are expected to transgress, vague and ill-defined boundaries.

In its statement to the press, a spokesperson for the NAC stated, “The guidelines clearly state that we will not fund projects which are incompatible with the core values promoted by the government and society or disparage the government.”

We are concerned that the NAC’s narrow criteria for arts funding will affect the diversity of theatre produced in Singapore, curtail originality of vision and thinking, and impact on the quality of Singaporean artistic work in the long run.

The idea that there are universal ‘core values’ that are accepted by all Singaporeans is also questionable as these are not clearly defined.

Firstly, what exactly are the `core values’ that are `promoted by the government and society’? There seems to be some confusion between `core values’ and `mainstream values’.

It should be recognized that the theatre itself exists as an alternative to other more mainstream forms of entertainment, such as commercial cinema and free-to-air television. Hence one should not be surprised to encounter alternative perspectives being presented and discussed on the Singapore stage.

Secondly, one should note that the `values’ promoted by the government and by society are not always congruent. There are governments that might promote certain `values’ that serve the vested interests of the state more than they serve the interests of society.

As the NAC is handling and disbursing funds that are accumulated through the contributions from both taxpayers as well as private donors, it is imperative that it puts the interests of the public before the interests of the state. As such, a precondition that works should not `disparage the government’ has no place in its funding guidelines.

The public deserves to have its money channeled towards works of high artistic merit, and this should be the sole criterion for the allocation of funds. As for the issue of protecting minors from excessive sexual and violent content, the licensing arm of the Media Development Authority is already performing this role. For the sake of bureaucratic efficiency, MDA’s duties need not be replicated by the NAC.

Lastly, we will argue that the spectrum of `core values’ must include notions such as tolerance, inclusivity and diversity—the very values that are upheld in a multiracial and democratic country such as ours.

We urge the NAC to revise and update its funding guidelines to better serve the expectations and aspirations of Singaporeans. NAC’s priority should be directed towards developing Singapore’s potential as a world-class city for the arts, and not towards developing the potential of a statutory board—entrusted with public money—as an organ of social control.

We would like to extend an invitation to the NAC for dialogue sessions with the arts community, so that we can further clarify our position. NAC will also have an opportunity to explain its current funding procedures, in the interests of transparency and accountability. We would also like to invite members of the public, especially our audiences who have been supporting our works all these years, to contribute their views.

12 May 2010

Signatories:
Agni Koothu, Theatre of Fire Elangovan, Artistic Director
Cake Theatrical Productions Natalie Hennedige, Artistic Director
Drama Box Kok Heng Leun, Artistic Director
Singapore Lyric Opera Ng Siew Eng, General Manager
Spell #7 Paul Rae
Spell #7 Kaylene Tan
Teater Ekamatra Zizi Azah Abdul Majid, Artistic Director
The Finger Players Chong Tze Chien, Company Director
The Theatre Practice Kuo Jian Hong, Artistic Director
Theatre Training and Research Programme T. Sasitharan, Director
The Necessary Stage Alvin Tan, Artistic Director
The Necessary Stage Haresh Sharma, Resident Playwright
The Substation Noor Effendy Ibrahim, Artistic Director
The Substation Audrey Wong Associate Director
Theatreworks Ong Keng Sen, Artistic Director
Theatreworks Tay Tong, General Manager
Toy Factory Productions Goh Boon Teck, Artistic Director
Toy Factory Productions Justin Wong, General Manager
W!LD RICE Ivan Heng, Artistic Director
W!LD RICE Tony Trickett, Executive Director
W!LD RICE Glen Goei, Associate Artistic Director
W!LD RICE Alfian Sa’at, Playwright in Residence
Tan Tarn How Playwright

Source: Audrey Wong’s facebook