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SIFA 2017 ends with rousing applause and higher engagement; Fourth and final festival under Founding Festival Director, Ong Keng Sen

Keeping true to the vision of its Founding Festival Director for 2017 SIFA, there were increased participatory experiences this year such as open kitchens, open homes,  including a public forum (art as public interests) opening for the festival. The festival with over 281,000 audiences and above 85% sales, reached 63,000 audiences more than the 2016 edition of SIFA as it gives value to respecting diverse interests in Singapore.

The final and fourth edition of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) helmed by Founding Festival Director, Ong Keng Sen drew to a fitting close in the early hours of Sunday morning with the Red Carpet Gala of a short movie that exemplified innovation and the participatory process, and the festival theme of Enchantment.

Directed by Singapore film-maker, K. Rajagopal, the short movie - Lizard on the Wall featured audiences present at the filming in July 2017 as cast members, and celebrated a much-awaited mode of moviemaking pioneered by SIFA with audiences of The O.P.E.N. –the pre-festival public engagement initiative.

Engaging audiences through intimate participation, thought-provoking encounters and new ways of engaging with art, were some of the distinctives of SIFA 2017, which stretched over eleven uninterrupted weeks from 28 June till 9 September. This was very much in line with the promise Ong made to the public and audiences five years ago – to open up possibilities, create a public space of thoughts and feelings, provide intelligent heartfelt alternatives, expand our world and embrace ownership for all who want to be part of SIFA.

Curating SIFA 2017 around the theme of Enchantment in the light of the current global situation, Ong said: “I recognised that we needed to set aside apathy, self-pity and believe that we can still connect to things that matter. With growing populist sentiments, excessive control, we need to remain engaged. It’s about ethical generosity, and being opposed to cynicism in this age of disenchantment. I looked to creating enchantment through the works – because when one is enchanted with life, one would still desire to create a better world for all of us to live in.”

Through many highly innovative engagement platforms, artists pushed boundaries, and offered audiences new trajectories and experiences, introducing them to new realities through compelling dialogue and contemplation.

There were 111 unique events in the distinctive creation of Singapore expressions, across 19 commissions, and seven international productions, many of which were Asia-Pacific premieres. Together these reached over 218,000 audiences, the widest reach recorded in the past four years since the festival was relaunched in 2014, with overall sales of 85%!

In his welcome speech at the midnight screening, Ong gave an overview of the strength of SIFA from 2014 – 2017:

  1. Believing that Art can be accessible, to reach all communities,
  2. Creating an O.P.E.N. Society with public engagement, respecting diversities in a civil society
  3. Collaborating with global partners in the international discovery of Art
    - Showcasing DISCOVERY for the international arts scene
    - Inspiring confidence in Singapore as an INTERNATIONAL STAGE
    - Initiating QUALITY Singapore and international commissions
  1. Investing and trusting in Singapore artists

 

Looking Back: A Four-Year Journey

Following recommendations made by the Singapore Arts Festival Review Committee for the arts industry to take the lead in organising Singapore’s pinnacle national arts festival, Ong was appointed Founding Festival Director by the National Arts Council for four editions in 2013. Since then, the Festival has grown from strength to strength – engaging diverse audiences with the ideas, issues and themes of the Festival.

Each year’s curatorial theme was carefully chosen to reflect global trends as well as issues that matter to Singapore as a fast-growing nation and its place in the world; as the programme focus alternated between international and local productions in each of the four years.

In 2014, the first SIFA took on a broad world view, exploring 20th century legacies of science, politics, history and society at large through the lens of the arts. The overarching theme, Legacy and the Expanded Classic offered a programme line-up that included performances by acclaimed Asian and European artists. It also saw the launch of The O.P.E.N. (Open, Participate, Enrich, Negotiate), a pre-festival of ideas, styled as a popular academy presenting a curated selection of events through diverse platforms that connects audiences with SIFA at the start of each Festival season, directing audiences to consider a breadth of issues and perspectives inspired by the annual theme.

This lead to the theme of POST-Empire in 2015, in celebration of Singapore’s 50th anniversary through an exploration of the nation’s relationship with the past and present, 50 years after leaving the then British Empire. 12 Singapore commissions marked this edition – the largest to date, together with a line-up of seven foreign productions. Audiences were presented with thoughtful works that included exploring Singapore monuments through augmented realityborder crossers from 19 different countries telling their stories; and in a lighter vein, laughing at ourselves and our foibles through HDB heartland comedy. It was also in 2015 that Open Homes was launched, offering 30-minute performances in living rooms across Singapore by home owners.

The theme in 2016 – POTENTIALITIES – looked at the potential to develop in the future and the power of individuals to transform society. That year, SIFA moved towards becoming a creations Festival, where 15 productions were commissioned for the Festival; then, the highest number to date. More than 50% of the productions were collaborations between Singapore artists with international names, and the investment of supporting and developing artists, rather than simply shopping for productions around the world set SIFA apart in a crowded landscape of arts festivals in Asia.

Every edition of SIFA since 2014 has sought to engage audiences on a deeper level, provoking thought and reflection, with opportunities to question issues through the arts. “Our main contribution has been to invest in and endow the imagination of our audiences.” said Ong.

The legacy that Ong will leave behind is two-pronged.

One – a community of arts audiences and civil society that has been robustly challenged to explore new experiences and ponder on the complexities of global and Singapore issues; humanity; sexuality; media; violence in our relationship with each other and with nature; memories that shape our future, politics, socio-economics and even seemingly mundane issues that affect our own backyards.

And two – a community of arts practitioners that will be further inspired to explore and push new boundaries, to venture into new terrain with a daring new spirit, and to use the arts to expand worlds, rather than to flatten it, because the possibilities are limitless.

SIFA Moving Forward

Come 2018, SIFA will move forward with a new team led by Festival Director Gaurav Kripalani. For greater impact and a more intense festival experience, the Festival will be condensed over three weekends in an earlier part of the cultural calendar, from 27 April to 13 May 2018.

As SIFA enters its 41st year and a new phase of evolution under Kripalani, the new team is committed to building on the strengths of the Festival and will continue to programme high-quality productions that are accessible and encourage dialogue and discourse. There will be continued long-term engagement with local artists and arts groups, as well as collaborations with international artists. While Kripalani and the Arts House Limited team brings new perspectives to the Festival, the core purpose of the festival remains – to inspire diverse audiences with great artistic experiences.