Seasoned busker forced to spend S$2k on flight back to Singapore to renew permit; NAC defends physical auditions for ‘fairness’ sake

Seasoned busker forced to spend S$2k on flight back to Singapore to renew permit; NAC defends physical auditions for ‘fairness’ sake

Jonathan Goh, a Singaporean busker who has been performing since 2014, recently took to social media to express his frustration that he had to spend almost S$2,000 to fly back to Singapore just to renew his busking permit.

On 13 April, Mr Goh published a lengthy post on his Facebook account, detailing the difficulties he faced in renewing his permit.

Previously, experienced buskers were granted a two-year permit, but Mr Goh said the National Arts Council Singapore (NAC) changed it to a one-year validity for everyone after lifting busking restrictions last year.

5 minutes physical audition

Despite being a seasoned performer who has been invited to various festivals locally and internationally, Mr Goh is required to undergo a physical audition for five minutes in front of a panel of judges to assess his street performance skills.

This audition takes place in the National Library Building, which is unlike the environment in which he typically performs, and he added that busking requires more than just busker’s good skills, as it also involves the understanding of crowd control, gathering, and engagement.

“The people on the panel are hired by the NAC, but I have never seen them in the street, and I question how much they know about busking to determine someone’s street worthiness at a totally different environment in such a short time.”

While the NAC busking team has talked about using technology and the internet to enhance the busking experience, Mr Goh feels that the audition process is “outdated”.

He understood the need for new buskers to audition physically to prove that they have an act that can work.

While he understands the need for new buskers to audition physically to demonstrate their skills, Mr Goh questions why experienced buskers like himself are still required to renew their permits annually and undergo the audition process.

Can’t the audition be done online?

Mr Goh suggested that there are many ways to assess someone’s street performance skills, as demonstrated by the Australian Melbourne busking scheme.

He also pointed out that when applying for scholarships or grants from the NAC, applicants are required to submit a portfolio of their work, and the interview can be conducted online. He questions why the audition process for busking is different.

“The auditions are always full because there are many people who want to busk, and at the same time, experienced buskers have to renew their permits,” Mr Goh said.

Mr Goh expressed disappointment that despite sharing his ideas with the NAC for years, changes are only made when there is public outcry.

“If things continue as they are, it will only become more challenging for me to busk in Singapore, and I may need to bring my craft elsewhere. ”

“Don’t get me wrong; I am proud to be a Singaporean and being the only Singaporean street act in London Covent Garden I’m always proud to share that I am a street performer from Singapore,” Mr Goh added.

NAC spokesperson defended physical auditions to provides “fair and open opportunities for everyone”

According to Mustshare News, an online media outlet in Singapore, the NAC has responded to Mr Goh’s criticism through a spokesperson.

The spokesperson defended NAC’s decision to hold physical auditions for their busking scheme, saying that it provides “fair and open opportunities for everyone”.

NAC says it holds four auditions every year and attracts around 300 aspiring buskers across different demographics, including children as young as nine and seniors above the age of 80.

The spokesperson acknowledged that certain groups like seniors may not have the necessary equipment for video conferencing, and the council believes that it would be fairer if all acts could “come into the same space and share their talents.”

The spokesperson also claimed that physical auditions provide a more “consistent and conducive environment” for applicants to share their acts, the spokesperson claimed.

Assessing buskers indoor due to ‘practicality’ concern

In response to Mr Goh’s question about assessing buskers’ skills in an indoor environment, the spokesperson explained that external conditions could affect the applicants’ acts.

For example, it would be unreasonable for an applicant to reschedule their audition due to unforeseen weather conditions.

Furthermore, having a large group of applicants wait outside on the streets for a five-minute audition would not be ideal.

NAC’s spokesperson: panel of three judges, made up of industry professionals with a mix of expertise

The NAC spokesperson also explained that for each cycle, the council selects a panel of three judges, made up of industry professionals with a mix of expertise, including music producers and venue partners.

The judges are tasked with assessing the aspiring buskers’ acts holistically, with the aim of creating interesting artistic encounters for the public on the street.

To achieve this goal, the judges consider multiple broad criteria, such as the performers’ competency and skills, audience engagement, confidence, and the innovativeness of their performances.

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