Last year, we grappled with the question, “What value do the arts hold in Singapore?”, sparked by a nationwide poll revealing what Singaporeans thought were “essential” jobs in a pandemic-wrought world. Artists ranked among the bottom few, and the arts were thrust into the spotlight. Many who spoke up for the arts emphasised that it brings a different kind of value – while jobs ranked higher on the #essential workers list help one to earn a living, the arts helps one to live. It comforts, enriches, and breathes new meaning into life.
It is in this light that we ponder the wide-ranging impact of the arts in our Little Red Dot – how it has made waves in small communities and transformed lives across the social spectrum.
What Good is the Arts?
3Pumpkins: Providing exploratory spaces for children from low-income households
At 3Pumpkins’ Tak Takut (Don’t be Afraid of) Children Kids Club (TTKC), children from low-income and transnational families come together and engage in activities like puppetry, music lessons, and storytelling. With the help of arts-trained facilitators, these children find acceptance, support, and freedom to explore their potential in the creative arts.
Charlotte, a 12-year-old child who frequents TTKC, says:
“TTKC keeps the children away from depression and sad thoughts and makes them happy. People feel loved and enjoy the activities it has for them. I personally treat everyone like my own family. TTKC helps me to be more sociable and to know everyone in my neighbourhood better.”
ArtsWok: Engaging the elderly in crucial, but difficult conversations
For ArtsWok Collaborative, their multi-disciplinary arts-based community engagement project, Both Sides, Now, is the heart of end-of-life conversations and planning. Through participatory theatre and engaging residents and artists in co-creating public art installations, it seeks to foster a safe space to broach this taboo subject in our society.
A Both Sides, Now volunteer comments on what was most memorable about her volunteering experience:
“The chance to exchange stories with participants and to my surprise, some of the deepest bits were shared with strangers whom we have just met! Thankful that the event brought people who are interested in the same topic together.”
Aidha: A space for self-expression for foreign domestic workers
Long-stay foreign domestic workers in our midst have also found a space for self-expression in Aidha’s Inside Life Mini-Photography Contest. Contestants submit photos depicting snippets of their daily life or personality, and through an artist’s statement, viewers are led to the window to their soul.
Dazzle Madera Nierva, People’s Choice Award Runner-up, reflects in her artist statement:
“We’re so grateful to have each other. I learn so much from nature and my furry friends. When things get sketchy, anxiety kicks in or uncertainty and fear show up, I know I can not only also look outside from the inside to find what I need but I can look at this beautiful creature flying free and know everything is always going to be ok.”
Unseen Art Initiatives: Engaging the visually impaired through artistic expression
In its endeavour to extend the art experience to audiences of all abilities, Unseen Art Initiatives kickstarted Unseen: Inside Out, a project that engages members of the visually impaired community in vocal and movement techniques. The aim is to create an immersive and sensorial arts installation to be displayed in 2021. In doing so, Unseen Art hopes to provide the visually impaired a space for self-expression, as well as to challenge public perceptions about disability.
Claire Teo, Lead Artist in Unseen: Inside Out, says:
“I want to make arts education more accessible to persons with disabilities. I’m grateful to be the first visually impaired person to have been trained in dance, singing and performing at LASALLE under the school’s theatre-based diploma. My journey as a student prompted me to create curriculums which were accessible to, my visually impaired community.”
When Aspirations Meet Their Limitations
It is undeniable that the arts function as a medium of expression, enrichment, and empowerment. The arts have the power to change lives, and it is heartening to see it gaining ground in many pockets of society through these various ground-up initiatives. Nonetheless, several challenges remain, especially for small arts groups.
Featured in the news are commonly the major festivals and biennales, and less so the quieter efforts done in smaller communities, like that of 3Pumpkins’ Let’s Go Play OutSide (LGPO!) or Unseen Art Initiatives Unseen: Inside Out. Yet, the work done among marginalised communities and people with disabilities are what holds our social fabric together. The arts truly have potential to uplift people from diverse backgrounds and create a more inclusive society
For arts groups like Unseen Art Initiatives whose work thrives on building relationships with their collaborators and participants, it takes effort to sustain the energy and commitment of participants, contributors, and the team in their long-term projects. Founder Alecia Neo shares that this is often juggled alongside the processes of fundraising, project managing, and marketing for each project. Moreover, such intangible, relational work tends to go unseen by audiences who are not directly involved in the work.
As for ArtsWok Collaborative which has been hosting Both Sides, Now, their projects and events are often constrained by access to space, which in turn limits their reach and exposure to more visitors in the community. Programme Manager Angie Cheong also shares that their dependency on short-term grants has them on a continual search for other financial sources.
What Can We Do to Support the Arts?
Spread the word – like, share, follow
Some may feel that only the affluent can afford to support the arts. However, support comes in different forms. Simply sharing about the artworks, resources, events, and fundraisers by arts groups with your own social circles can go a long way towards supporting the arts. By following, liking, and sharing about their work, you help them reach new audiences and find potential supporters – volunteers, donors, and participants alike! Even if you are not able to support them financially, you are helping to increase their visibility so that others can pitch in.
If you have the means, consider donating – even small amounts can make a difference. From providing daily meals to arts volunteers, to developing thought leadership in the arts and supporting critical day-to-day operations of these arts groups, your monetary support certainly goes a long way in keeping them running.
The Sustain the Arts (stART) Fund might be a place to, well, start! It focuses on boosting the capabilities of smaller arts groups so they can continue to effect change in the community, especially amidst the immediate challenges posed by the pandemic.
We know that it may be more challenging to donate in this economic climate, with living expenses on our minds. But if you are able and if you find yourself moved to give financially, do consider donating to make that difference to the artists and their beneficiaries.
Participate in an arts experience, and invite others along
Encourage friends and family to get involved in an arts experience, either in-person or online. A family-friendly option is the Kids Stay Home programme by 3Pumpkins, where children can look forward to learning and playing over projects like nature art, an eco-friendly tiny theatre, or basic kitchen techniques.
If you have the passion and skills, why not consider volunteering your time, resources, or expertise? Integrate the arts into everyday play and facilitate LGPO!’s weekend play dates where you get to interact with children from diverse backgrounds. Discover how the public playground can be a powerful platform to connect communities and help children to foster a sense of belonging.
Buy art – in any of its forms
You don’t have to be an art collector to buy artwork – lately, I’ve been charmed by this adorable series of card games designed by 12-year-old children and facilitated by arts group Superhero Me. Together, they delved into their neighbourhood of Lengkok Bahru through photo walks, interviews, and writing exercises. I loved how they have woven stories of their lives into their very own First Class game set, and how the process of creating these games have been so meaningful for the children!
As an avid supporter of the arts, I find myself in the aisles of our Singapore galleries musing at artworks or winding through the streets of Chinatown in search of those life-sized murals that depict our heritage. Sometimes, I am captivated by the guitar-playing busker belting out a soulful tune, or moved by a heart-wrenching play.
In so many ways, the arts stirs and excites me, prompting me to share a photo, quote an artist, or even write a review. When I spread my love for the arts, my friends share in that joy, and our enjoyment might just make an artist’s day or give boost to the meaningful work that they do.
It matters not what you give or how you give; it matters that you stART somehow, somewhere, sometime. Maybe now?
More about the stART Fund
The Sustain the Arts (stART) Fund is jointly led by the National Arts Council and the private sector. Giving to the stART Fund helps arts organisations with limited resources to scale up, become more sustainable, and develop quality programmes such as the ones that we’ve featured in this article.
Enjoy 250% tax deduction for all donations $10 & above. And because all donations will be eligible for dollar-for-dollar matching by the Cultural Matching Fund, your contribution goes a long way towards supporting the arts. Find out more about the stART fund and pledge your support.
This article is produced in paid partnership with the National Arts Council. Thank you for supporting the institutions that support Plural.