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Arts in the Lion City

Singapore theatre community responds to decision by National Arts Council to cut funding for W!ld Rice

Arts Funding: A Statement from the Singapore Theatre Community

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: From Audrey Wong’s facebook note here


NAC cuts funds to company
Adeline Chia, Straits Times, 6 May 2010

The National Arts Council (NAC) has cut the annual grant given to local theatre company Wild Rice even as it celebrates its 10th anniversary.

It will get $170,000 this year, down from $190,000 the year before. It is the smallest annual grant that the company has received from the council.

Artistic director Ivan Heng says the council told him funding was cut because its productions promoted alternative lifestyles, were critical of government policies and satirised political leaders.

In April last year, Wild Rice staged an all-male version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest, which had a sold-out two-week run at the Drama Centre. It was given an advisory of ’16 years and above’ by the Media Development Authority because of its all-male cast.

It also organises the OCBC Singapore Theatre Festival, a biennial festival showcasing local scripts, some of which take on political issues in a cheeky way.

Heng, 47, tells Life! he is disappointed with the council’s decision. ‘Shouldn’t NAC be funding people’s experience of theatre? What does support of the arts mean? What does moving into a more progressive society entail?’

He says he will continue to create works that are true to his beliefs. ‘This is what artists do. We question how we live our lives in Singapore.’

In response to queries from Life! about the funding cut, the council’s director of arts development, Ms Elaine Ng, says in a statement that ‘all artists and arts groups are aware of NAC’s funding guidelines for grant applications’.

‘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.

‘In the past few years, NAC has had dialogue sessions with Wild Rice on funding matters. We informed Wild Rice that it will continue to receive funding for projects which meet the guidelines.

‘Funding of Wild Rice or any other arts companies will continue to be guided by our funding guidelines. NAC respects the choices made by the group regarding artistic direction and content and will help it according to our guidelines and policies.’

The $20,000 cut is unlikely to affect Wild Rice’s operating costs significantly. The costs are expected to run to $4.67 million this year, because of its 10thanniversary celebrations. The company is mostly funded by its ticket sales.

The arts community is dismayed by the news. The Necessary Stage’s artistic director, Alvin Tan, 47, says: ‘It’s disappointing to hear this, because we’re supposed to go into the age of opening up, with the integrated resorts opening and so on.

‘NAC is sending a strong signal to what you can put on and what you cannot, what is favoured and what is not. It harms diversity, which is what the arts scene needs.’

TheatreWorks managing director Tay Tong, 47, finds the move regressive. He says: ‘Over the last few years, there has been some acceptance of differences. Now this is a kind of U-turn, because funding is affected.

‘Is this current management, not only the NAC, but the ministry, becoming more conservative?’

Arts Nominated MP Audrey Wong, 41, agrees. She says: ‘We have been getting mixed messages about the arts. We are trying to make Singapore a dynamic arts city to attract foreign talent and keep people rooted. Once you announce that you are opening up, it is hard to close the door and go back 20 years.’

She adds that ‘satire has always been a part of the arts’.

‘Throughout history, whether it’s cartoons or Shakespeare, there is satire of society in all its forms,’ she says.

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