arts & money & what now

by Ang Kia Yee

“I have a theory that if one wishes to gauge the general health of a society, contemporary or historical, one can take the pulse of the society, like a Chinese doctor does to gauge his patient’s qi, through the current condition of the theatre. The state of the theatre will tell you many things about the state of the society as a whole.”

— Stan Lai

“I believe that you can make art with very little money if there is a desire. But there is very little desire in Singapore. So, whenever I hear an artist saying, “well if I get this grant, I’ll do it”. For me that’s not a true passion, it’s not a true desire. I’m completely with this belief that Singaporeans have no desire and we are really machines working. And we are wound up in a certain way. I think for example, the arts in Singapore has a hard time because people want to just see the arts as somewhere to relax. But it cannot be. The arts is meant to be provocative, the arts is talking about issues in society.”

— Ong Keng Sen

Should it be this difficult to be an artist? What does it mean when so few of the public visit museums, theatres, galleries? Why is there so little money to go around? What is the state of the arts in Singapore?

I find it deeply frustrating when people say “there is no money in the arts”. It’s not a good enough statement to stop at. I want to press: “Why? Why isn’t there? What about the people making their livelihoods in the arts? What about the people who want to be artists?”

I can’t help but feel there must be money to go around – but where is it? There must be some way to pull funding together. There must be a way, in a society with as much money as ours, to feed the poor, house the homeless, care for all who are sick, and for the arts to thrive. For art to be reinstated as a public good, a public joy, a public need.

I’ve never been much good with deconstructing so many intersecting issues in a single breath (money, education, public funds, the place of arts in society, class, etc.), so I will probably mull a little longer; maybe I will write another post when I have clearer thoughts and more mental energy to articulate an analysis coherently.

With regards to possible initiatives, however, I see two possibilities in my mind (which aren’t the only ones, but they’re the ones I am fixated on right now):


Setting up a(nother?) Big Fund which can be applied for annually or biannually by contacting and bringing together various corporate sponsors and art patrons. I feel Singapore still lacks sufficient avenues for new groups to acquire necessary funding to move forward. It can’t be that as a new group I pretty much only have the National Arts Council to look to, I feel. I am quite keen on somehow making this happen. I don’t know how.


Establishing a less intimidating means for the public to donate to the arts. A simple platform where people can donate, say, $2-$5 a month to the arts. If there was some way to make this fuss-free and not intimidating, maybe this could help fund a small project every month.

(Slightly secondary to what I’m focusing on above, I think it would be cool if there were an alternative educational institute where anyone who wanted to be trained could take a course where they would take classes by all the various arts practitioners in Singapore. Or some organization which somehow wrote to arts groups and set up a running cycle of courses, ad hoc classes, etc. I feel like there are already similar organizations but I’m wonder if there can be a more effective sort of….epicentre.)

To the wiser and more informed people out there – what do you think? Are these ideas misplaced? Feasible? Silly? I’m keen on trying to make the fund happen, but I don’t know. When I first thought of these things I felt very full and energetic and hopeful and eager to work hard but now I feel a little. scared. and uncertain. Any suggestions, ideas or feedback would be useful and deeply appreciated! Truly.