Members of the arts community in Singapore on Wednesday (18 November) conducted a virtual town hall meeting with five Arts Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP) candidates for the public to learn more about each of them and what they have to offer if nominated for the role.
Read on to find out a little more about each of the five candidates.
One of the five candidates is George Leong, a music producer and exco-member of the National Instructors and Coaches Association (NICA) and founding director of SingPop Music Limited.
In his introduction video, Mr Leong said he felt an ‘urgent need’ to step up to help the local arts community recover in a post-COVID world.
Noting his involvement in various ground-up initiatives, Mr Leong then talked about the three key areas he would focus on if nominated as an NMP.
First, support for post-pandemic recovery for the arts as the pandemic has severely impacted businesses and livelihoods.
This includes working with the government to ensure “sufficient and fairer” distribution of funding and support, advocating for greater government buy-ins to raise the international profile of Singapore’s arts and culture, forming a marketing and PR task force for the industry, consolidating supporting between agencies and ministries, and maximising existing trade and cultural agreement with other countries.
“I believe these are the main pillars to rebuild a healthier and sustainable arts ecosystem as we exit and recover from this pandemic,” said Mr Leong.
He also stated his intention to champion support for freelancers in the art, event and music sectors, noting in particular the difficulties many of them face now due to COVID-19 restrictions and the economic downturn which have led many to seek alternative revenue streams.
Next, he went on to talk about intellectual property rights, noting that the arts community has to strengthen its capabilities to prepare for digital communications.
The two areas he highlighted specifically are amending the Copyright Act to facilitate use and introducing performers’ rights into the Copyright Act to protect performers.
Another candidate is arts industry veteran Audrey Lim who has been everything from a radio DJ to screen and stage actor, as well as event producer and promoter.
She also has experience in the legal side of the arts industry, having trained with Rajah and Tann’s entertainment department.
Drawing from her experience working as a freelancer and in partnership with bigger companies, Ms Lim pointed out two main issues.
First is the betterment of the position of self-employed practitioners, technicians and support teams in the arts and media eco-system.
“Freelancers are isolated from the conversations that have been going on and are going on between the three bodies: The community, the policymakers, and leadership,” said Ms Lim.
“Even though freelancers in this arts and media scene form upwards of 45 per cent of the ecosystem, which is higher than the national average of freelancers which is about 14 per cent of people, we seem to be not included in the discussions — which make for a very very difficult situation for freelancers everywhere,” she added.
Noting that there is a “massive deficit” in terms of a port of call for freelancers to air their grievances, it has led to policy makers “guessing” at what is needed to support the community.
Ms Lim has also been involved in co-drafting surveys targeting the music community and presenting those findings to the former Minister of Culture, Community and Youth, packaging information on grants and policy updates, and facilitating dialogue between the community and policy makers.
“After many Zoom meetings with arts administrators, I wish to bring that research-focused, community-grounded, service-oriented mindset further up the policy ladder more directly, zooming in on greater audience education and uplifting creative freelancers,” she noted on the Arts NMP 2020 website.
“Building on the work of previous Arts NMPs, I wish to bridge the gap Audrey Wong identified between creative freelancers and policymakers. The livelihood issues of invisible, “non-essential” freelancers have worsened with Covid-19 and need urgent attention,” said Ms Lim.
During the town hall, Ms Lim also touched on audience awareness to help more people understand what goes into the production of various pieces of art.
Next up is photographer and social media strategist, Benjamin Matchap, who was also a parkour coach.
Having worked in production for years with an “infamous” production company, Mr Matchap said he saw many talented people quitting the profession as they were not compensated regularly, in contrast with the long hours they had to put in.
“I feel that Singapore is a country that has a lot of talent, and we’re always talking about growing, grooming talent and creating talent, but I think the area that we fail to focus on is keeping and maintaining that talent,” he said.
Highlighting the high burnout rate in the arts industry which is perpetuated with every generation of talent, Mr Matchap said he wants to focus on strengthening protection for both freelancers and full-timers.
He added that the current climate has led to many full-timers who had already overworked to take on even more work as companies slow their hiring of freelancers.
Another area of focus he noted, which is personal to him, is to provide better protection for athletes as well who want to chase their passion in the arts.
He detailed his struggles back when he was a parkour coach trying to get recognition for the sport from various governmental bodies but kept being shuffled between the sports and arts councils.
Another candidate is playwright, editor, arts writer and poet Nabilah Said. She also has experience in journalism, having formerly been an arts correspondent for The Straits Times and is the current editor of arts media company ArtsEquator.
Ms Nabilah has also worked in the National Heritage Board and the Singapore Arts Museum.
On the website, Ms Nabilah noted her interest in “listening to the voices in the community, and reflecting back a considered calibration of urgent issues on a national stage”.
“My primary priority will be to help the industry rebuild as it comes out of the pandemic, while also communicating the intrinsic value of the arts to the country,” she said.
During the town hall, Ms Nabilah emphasised that if nominated, she would like to work with policymakers to come up with a roadmap to manage the impact of the pandemic on artists in Singapore.
This includes looking at protections and support available for freelancers, how to better safeguard the sector, and bringing in the Arts Resource Hub and other players into the discussion.
Next, Ms Nabilah talked about audience recultivation and improving access to the arts—for parents and caregivers, those who cannot leave their homes, and those outside of Singapore.
She added that she would also like to address deep and systemic issues plaguing the industry.
“For example, how can we articulate the intrinsic value of arts and culture in a way that all Singaporeans can understand and resonate with? It sounds simple, but it’s really not,” Ms Nabilah explained.
Finally, she touched on the loss of space in the arts and the effects of that in the long term.
Ms Nabilah continued: “Within the industry, I’m also interested in fixing what is broken, what is also perhaps allowed to fester, what are the little micro-tears that we have learnt to live with over the years.”
In her introduction on the website, Ms Nabilah also said: “Given my positionality as a young Malay woman and an artist, I will also speak up for minority and disenfranchised communities and fight for a more equal, accessible and compassionate society.”
“With the younger generation, I am particularly interested in encouraging critical discourse, and an active engagement in shaping our collective future,” she said.
Last but not least is Terence Tan — a producer, artist and painter. He has also volunteered as part of former NMP Audrey Wong’s team to call for better working conditions.
More recently when the pandemic began, he advocated the protection of artists’ livelihoods as well.
Mr Tan has also garnered experience working within the local and international arts communities doing community-development based works.
“We definitely need a lot more connection and reform,” said Mr Tan, noting that through his work, he has noticed how much artists have lost due to the pandemic.
Expanding on the blueprint he is working on, Mr Tan says there first needs to be relief for the arts communities, followed by prevention measures to avoid the same problems from recurring.
Only then comes the point of transformation, said Mr Tan, where the arts and the state can have an “interdependent” relationship instead of arts being dependent on the state.
Mr Tan called for a dedicated ministry for culture and the arts instead of being lumped together with other sectors under the Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth, and to redesign the National Arts Council’s relationship with the arts industry.
Arts NMP 2020
An online signatory campaign is now live. Members of the public are invited to indicate their support for the arts NMP 2020 candidates here by Friday (20 November).