Has COVID-19 really turned the arts non-essential?
As part of our multi-segment look at how the different activist sectors are responding to the COVID-19’s impacts on their programmes and outreach, we zoom into Singapore’s very own arts scene. Vibrant and bustling all these years, the circuit breaker and subsequent restrictions put in place have certainly affected arts conservation efforts.
We had the opportunity to have a conversation with a representative from Arts House Limited – an organisation dedicated to enriching the Singaporean scene through the arts. Set up by the National Arts Council, it has been operating since 2002, and is involved in managing both The Arts House and the Victoria Theatre & Concert Hall. It also runs creative enclaves for artists, art groups and creative businesses, in addition to putting on the annual Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA).
Here is what they have had to say regarding the impact of COVID-19 on Arts House Limited’s initiatives:
[Legend: AHL – Arts House Limited, D – Dina]
What do you think was the biggest problem that Arts House Limited faced before COVID-19?
AHL: Before COVID-19, our role as an arts intermediary was to organise the nation’s pinnacle arts festival SIFA, and promote cohesive programming efforts amongst the five venues that we managed; Victoria Theatre & Victoria Concert Hall, The Arts House, Aliwal Arts Centre, Goodman Arts Centre and Drama Centre. In addition, we worked closely with artists and stakeholders such as One Kampong Glam to organise two placemaking events – namely “Aliwal Urban Arts Festival” and “Aliwal Arts Night Crawl” for the Kampong Glam precinct.
[D: It can be said that the status of the arts in Singapore has been a moot point for quite some time, but has steadily been evolving over the years. Organisations like Arts House Limited have been putting forth engaging initiatives and exciting programmes, in an effort to capture the vibrancy of Singapore’s arts scene and to sell this gripping image of what the arts can mean to different groups of people across the nation. It has certainly been a challenge to repackage the arts into many different forms of appeal – meant to target different interests present in our society.]
How has COVID-19 affected this problem, and what are the solutions that your organisation has come up with?
AHL: During the pandemic, our role as an arts intermediary has definitely been greatly affected due to the closure of our venues. For example, the first major impact was making the difficult decision for the nation’s pinnacle arts festival, SIFA, to take a hiatus this year. In addition, we had to re-imagine the remaining programmes at The Arts House, Goodman Arts Centre and Aliwal Arts Centre into virtual programming offerings, while ensuring that we were able to effectively engage audiences through moderating online panel discussions.
“We believe that the show must go on, and COVID-19 has not stopped us from creating artistic experiences and bridging the artistic community’s connections with the audience. As such, we have been quite busy rolling out many online programmes and festivals.”
Would you say that there are any blessings in disguise as well?
AHL: This has increased our accessibility and reach for a wider audience.
[D: COVID-19 has generally restricted outreach and publicity efforts to online platforms. Digital advertising and the migration from face-to-face to onscreen activities are what organisations such as Arts House Limited have turned to. This was undoubtedly a significant shift, as Singaporeans found themselves longing for what they could not have.
However, over the course of the Circuit Breaker period, Singaporeans tried to navigate the now-digitised entertainment scene. A strong contender was definitely the arts and cultural scene, which had taken the pre-existing interesting elements of their face-to-events, and had simply given them a new medium. This did not merely draw in those who were already interested in the arts, but also attracted the curious individuals at home who were looking for something to do. This surge of digital arts appreciation can then be said to have monumentally impacted their outreach, albeit in unorthodox ways, and indeed serves as a blessing in disguise.]
What are some new strategies that your organisation has employed to reach out/enact change?
AHL: For SIFA, we’ve launched a 6-month-long online programme, SIFA v2.020, which features a series of curated virtual events including talks, workshops, performances and more from 25 May 2020 until December 2020. In addition to inspiring and entertaining audiences, the online iteration of Singapore’s pinnacle arts festival is also designed to create a space for artists to share their views on creating art in the ‘new normal’, for professional development and as a platform to showcase work created for the digital sphere, to engage the audiences here and abroad.
For The Arts House, we conducted a series of Write From Home workshops in the months of April and July, where local writers lead workshops that explore writing as a medium to grapple with the unusual, uncomfortable and difficult experiences associated with social isolation – while creating a shared space for writers to connect.
From 17 to 27 July, we co-presented StoryFest Online with The Storytelling Centre Limited, celebrating the Heart of Story and the art of storytelling. In the month of August, we will celebrate Singapore’s independence with a season of exploration on the identity of being a Singaporean, with LumiNation.
We’re pleased to say that we have been leveraging technology to roll out online editions of our events.
How can members of the public help your organisation’s cause during the pandemic?
AHL: Members of the public can support us by visiting our centre’s websites to find out more about our upcoming programming schedule.
[D: In an effort to continuously engage with the arts scene in Singapore, and to help manufacture a livelier and much more vibrant slew of arts programmes, we can contribute to this long-term goal.
Those interested should keep an eye out for these various initiatives occurring around us – and who knows? You may even surprise yourself by discovering that you have a hidden passion for any of the amazing works done in Singapore’s arts sector.]