Thursday 29 May 2014

You don't need to be rich to make a difference to the arts

By Corrie Tan, The Straits Times, 26 May 2014

THE lights dim and audience members settle into their seats, ready for the show to begin.

But before the curtains lift, a dulcet voiceover usually filters in over the speakers, thanking a list of sponsors who have made the performance possible, from food and beverage outlets to wealth management firms.

Whether it is $1,000 or $1 million, a tiny art showcase or a blockbuster musical, wrangling funds to get performances and exhibitions off the ground is a perennial struggle for all arts groups and artists here.

In Singapore, arts funding comes in two main forms - government funding and sponsorship from private companies or individuals, those who love what an arts group does and reach deep into their pockets to keep them going.

Last year, the Government announced a new Cultural Matching Fund in the hopes that it would encourage more of this brand of private philanthropy.

Under this $200 million scheme, the Government will match cash donations to eligible arts groups dollar-for-dollar, meaning that a $20 cash donation is transformed into $40 in their coffers.

All arts and heritage charities and Institutions of a Public Character (non-profit organisations with activities benefiting the community as a whole) can tap the fund, and no conditions will be placed on the groups as to how the matching grant is used.

That means they have a great deal of flexibility in how they want to use the money, whether for salaries or for specific projects.

There was a general sense of optimism from the arts community when this fund was unveiled, with many positing that it would change the landscape of arts giving, which has remained largely stagnant over the last decade due to a variety of causes, including a fluctuating economy and competition from other charitable causes.

The arts scene has also grown exponentially over the past decade, with the number of arts companies in Singapore leaping from 302 in 2003 to 1,260 in 2012.

The number of arts performances has also spiked, from 4,531 in 2003 to 8,530 in 2012, meaning that there were an average of 23 arts performances daily in 2012.

This also means that more arts groups and events are fighting for their share of the limited financial pie.

This is not helped by the fact that private sponsorship and donations to the arts have flagged over the past decade, with $35.3 million received in 2012, compared to $47.2 million in 2004.

While government funding for the arts has gradually increased, sustainability is key, and it is therefore crucial that there is a variety of funding options that arts groups can turn to.

Millions of dollars are pumped into arts companies here every year, whether to help cover rental costs, pay performers or keep the company afloat.

The arts sector tends to be a very collaborative one, meaning that it often takes a village to produce one good show. From the lighting designer to the ushers, many moving parts work together as a cohesive whole.

For theatre companies, it is almost impossible to break even on a theatre production based on ticket sales alone. For many groups, ticket sales may amount only to about 20 per cent to 30 per cent of their revenue, especially if they want to make their shows more affordable to the public by lowering ticket prices.

Depending on pricing tiers, ticket revenue can cover as much as 75 per cent of a show's budget - but that is still not enough to recoup production costs.

The 2006 Singapore Arts Festival, for instance, cost $6 million to organise, but received only $820,000 in total ticket revenue.

While National Arts Council funding to arts groups tends to come in large, lump-sum blocks that are not divided across projects, anything from 5 per cent to 30 per cent of revenue tends to come from government funding. All this means sponsorships and donations from the private sector are crucial.

Sometimes, a private corporation with the means can set aside money for the arts on a regular basis. Telco M1, for example, is a long-time supporter of The Necessary Stage's annual Singapore Fringe Festival, a much-loved festival that showcases an edgy array of theatre, dance and visual art.

While it declines to disclose the exact sponsorship amount for the festival, the company itself has invested millions of dollars in overall arts sponsorship, including for other events such as Singapore Dance Theatre's Ballet Under The Stars and Cirque du Soleil.

A regular artsgoer without the means to give thousands of dollars to a company might view his own donation as insubstantial.

But with initiatives such as the Cultural Matching Fund, every dollar counts, no matter how small the amount. Corporate groups may also be persuaded to give more.

Home-grown theatre company Drama Box, which often stages bilingual productions with a sharp focus on social issues, could be one of the big beneficiaries of this new fund. It has raised about $100,000 for its new inflatable theatres - large movable structures called GoLi which will house community theatre events - that can travel across the island.

With the help of the fund, this $100,000, gleaned from donors from all walks of life, could swell to $200,000.

Members of the public might be encouraged to make cash or in-kind donations to an arts group by viewing it as committing their support to a vision or cause they believe in. It could also be to a group that stages socially conscious community theatre.

They can also support a voluntary welfare organisation that undertakes art therapy.

Hopefully, this will also cultivate a greater sense of ownership towards the arts in Singaporeans, as they can witness how they can make a tangible contribution to arts and heritage institutions.

It definitely shows that one does not need to be a millionaire to make a difference.

Bolstering fan base support through crowdfunding
By Corrie Tan, The Straits Times, 26 May 2014

INSTEAD of giving unthinkingly to any cause that catches one's eye, the recent wave of crowdfunding in Singapore has helped nurture a deeper culture of ownership among members of the public for arts groups or music acts that they enjoy.

In crowdfunding, a project's financial needs are met through monetary contributions from the public, usually by way of an online campaign. It capitalises on the fact that when one is emotionally invested in an issue or cause, one is more likely to support it financially.

Crowdfunding campaigns usually have something for everyone: Someone who gives $25 might get a signed CD from a music band, while someone who gives $2,000 might get an all-access pass to rehearsals for a theatre production, drinks with the cast and director, and dinner before the show.

This model of funding has been gaining traction in the past few years, mostly due to the emergence of crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which are easy platforms to use.

Studies have shown that people are also motivated to take part in crowdfunding campaigns because of the greater amount of agency they have in possibly influencing a creator's work, as well as the feeling of being plugged into a wider community with shared interests and ideals.

By raising funds as a collective whole, there is a sense of empowerment that a donation of $25 can go as great a distance as a donation of $2,500.

Local artists and arts groups have started to jump on the crowdfunding bandwagon, with quite a large degree of success.

Theatre practitioner Jonathan Lim, who runs the popular comedy sketch show Chestnuts, managed to raise about $40,000 from fans and supporters to book the Drama Centre Theatre for last year's edition in August.

By purchasing tickets and packages in advance, audience members were guaranteed top tier Category One seats, exclusive Chestnut souvenir T-shirts and autographed programmes.

Indie-folk band The Sam Willows, which has recently enjoyed a meteoric rise in fan support, managed to raise $2,000 for its debut EP two years ago, when it was first starting out.

By upping the stakes and the rewards one can get in giving to an artist, it helps to further develop a base of supporters for the future.

This is the 10th of 12 primers on various current affairs issues, published in the run-up to The Straits Times-Ministry of Education National Current Affairs Quiz. The primers will take a break and resume from July 14.

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