COS 2021: State of the Arts amidst COVID-19

Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied): Chairman, COVID-19 has impacted the art sector profoundly. Many organisations and artists saw their income plummet due to the restrictions around live performances.

Arts practitioners have felt the brunt of the pandemic and many have turned to other sources of income. Today, I shall touch on the uncertainty felt in the industry, about whether it can emerge stronger through COVID-19.

First, artists amidst COVID-19. To copy with COVID-19, the Government has provided initiatives like the Arts and Culture Resilience Package, the Jobs Support Scheme for employees and for freelancers, the Self-employed Persons Income Relief Scheme. These are certainly welcome measures. Nevertheless, the curbs on earning income have led to arts practitioners taking on other gigs such as becoming Grab drivers in order to pay bills. I wonder if the Ministry has an idea of the number of arts practitioners, technicians and other freelancers who have moved on to other industries, perhaps, never to return.

Related to earning income, there is also been feedback that the restrictions on live performances appear relatively harsh when compared to other activities. For instance, restaurants have customers at the same table at close proximity, chatting and laughing for hours without masks on. Restaurants can also move their tables or chairs around to maximise their capacity. 

In contrast, theatres and concert halls have fixed seats. When social distancing measures are applied, some are down to 25% capacity. But the audiences are required to sit silently, with masks on during the entire performance. Given the arguably lower risks, is there room for a review of the rules around live performances?

Next, physical spaces. Venues like the Substation have long been associated with the pursuit of Art for its own sake, understanding that incubation takes time and artists need autonomy and flexibility. Having spaces managed by independent arts groups gives artists the comfort that those in charge understand the nature of art-making and will accommodate creative spirits as they undertake pioneering endeavours. I note that there has been some unease recently about several arts organisations losing their venues for various reasons or being asked to relinquish autonomy over buildings they have long managed. Some of these buildings will be upgraded by the National Arts Council (NAC) and thereafter, be leased by the NAC to multiple users as part of a national plan. There have been concerns raised about how such a move would undermine independence in arts creation. Key concerns cited were the uncertainty of lease renewals, costs and bureaucracy. 

Some practitioners have also expressed dissatisfaction with the perceived lack of proper communication about physical spaces before momentous announcements are made. 

How successful has the Government been in getting buy-in from the arts industry regarding their urban governance plans? And finally, could the MCCY elaborate on its COVID-19 recovery plan for the Arts?

Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth
8 March 2021

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