Monday, October 02, 2006

Renaissance Singapore: Dollars and Cents

Am researching my 1,500 word essay on if and how the Singapore Biennale has succeeded in its mission in engaging the local population with the artworks and event, since success in trade and commerce is not the only success factor that we want to be good in, but also we NEED culture. As the Biennale is still on till November, it may be a bit presumptious to make any sort of conclusion now with more than a month to run, but having spoken with friends back home, the stats are as per before. Those who are already engaged in the arts, will and have visited the Biennale, not all, but some sites. Those who do not already possess some sort of interest in the arts, have not and do not seem to have any intention to go see the Biennale, despite the fact that it is the first major contemporary art show bringing together artists, curators and arts practitioners from around the world. Now this is of course a very small straw poll which I have done, but my gut feel (and my weekend guiding experience at the Art Museum) tells me that it represents the larger picture.

It take more than just one large art show to change the mindset of a whole population who have grown up over the last 41 years of independence and nation building. If we do not improve the career prospects of arts practitioners, the larger problem will not be solved. It basically boils down to dollars and cents. You can't just tell someone (ok, apart from poor, starving artists who have their passion and talent, or their belief in their talent, and a stoic constitution to plod on with so little) to forget about material well-being and try to bring some culture into his life and be a more gracious citizen. He has to reach the level of "food and shelter" in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs before he reaches "self-actualisation". So if the arts will not guarantee him the basic quality of life, he will not be jumping in at 18 to get that education (which currently seems to be some sort of vocational training in the arts, rather than a respected, properly-structured, tertiary education equipping arts students to not just do their hands-on practice, but also teach them proper analytical, writing and presentation skills, but this also relates to the calibre of students who do opt for studies in this area. It is quite a chicken-and-the-egg conundrum.) or later at 21, devote himself to a career in the arts. When he's 40, made some decent money, gotten some way in his career, he might put a toe in and go listen to the orchestra or watch a play in order to "get" some culture. But then again, he might not, he would be so used to not doing these things, and might easily prefer a game of golf or mahjong over the weekend.

So dollars and cents. Too simple a theory?

Anyway, back to my research. An extract from the Renaissance City Report: Culture and the Arts in Renaissance Singapore 2000:

Develop arts and heritage managers and administrators

Infuse business perspectives into cultural development and encourage the arts sector to maximise their market potential. Provide $200,000 per annum to develop technical and managerial skills among our arts and heritage managers and administrators. The idea is to build up management expertise, including legal and financial training. This will include study tours and attachments with overseas cultural organisations and the development of courses in arts and heritage administration at tertiary institutions.

Now if the government follows its blueprint, I should be in demand when I graduate, be able to earn decent money in this new direction and still "get" some culture. Dollars and cents, no?


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