Tanya Amador on Singapore’s art scene and government funding
The Managing Director of Amador Arts Projects explains why organisations interested in a stake in the art sector should consider quantitative value of art alongside its qualitative value
There are many facets to the debate of the endowment of the arts, including that of any boundaries which may be considered as strings attached, thus restricting true creativity. But for the purpose of keeping this piece to one page, I will focus solely on the intrinsic value of art and the importance of perpetuating its entrenchment in society.
Take the case of Singapore, the obvious example to start with as this magazine is a local publication and Singapore has the illustrious distinction in the region of being considered by many as “Southeast Asia’s art hub”. Methodically, the country’s involvement in art continues to be built by a government which provides a substantial amount of money to support artists, art businesses and art education in order to take the lead in the region.
In 2014, it was announced that the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) had set aside an additional $20 million over five years (2014 to 2018) “to promote our artists, unique heritage, and cultural assets abroad”. That was in addition to the National Arts Council’s (NAC) increase in grants by $1 million more than the previous year for a total of $16.2 million to the Major Grant Scheme and Seed Grant Scheme recipients. This year, they further upped the ante when they announced the 2017 Singapore Budget which declared that there will be a $150 million injection from the government into arts and heritage causes, matching dollar for dollar any donations under the Cultural Matching Fund.
In contrast, in 2015, the Warwick Commission Report revealed that arts and culture are being steadily deleted from the education system in Great Britain. In fact, last year it was reported that the country almost completely eliminated the subject of Art History in its high school curriculum. Happily, it was saved by the liberal establishment organising itself in time to stop the train wreck.
In the meantime, Donald Trump, as the new President of the United States, is looking at ways to slash the federal budget, and the arts are on his blacklist. The Republican Study Committee (RSC) 2017 recently announced that they propose to cut funding in America for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and to privatise the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The American art world is, obviously, up in arms as I write about it, but I suppose philanthropists will pick up the slack when needed, as they always have.
Although each of the models are different from each other and each of the methods of applying these monies may differ, and even though there are vast cultural differences between the East and the West, one thing remains clear to me: an important question should be how the benefactions are used. Is the funding being used fairly? Do the resources trickle down through education and accessibility to benefit those from lower-income backgrounds? Or is it the case that despite government, or even philanthropic support, the general population is still disenfranchised, with art reserved for the wealthy?
Politics aside, art is vital to society for many reasons. First, art is the most meaningful record of humanity’s story. So much of the history of mankind has been documented, in one way or another, through the illustration of art. From large-scale events such as wars, religious worship, exploration, discoveries, famine and plague, all the way down to more trivial day-to-day activities and items, such as what we ate, whom we have slept with, what kind of bowls we have eaten our noodles from, it has all been documented through art. Subtract art from civilisation and you take away the value and identity of a culture.
Secondly, studies have shown that art promotes critical thinking, improves academic performance, enhances motor skills, increases confidence, encourages collaboration, and aids focus, just to name a few. Eliminate art from the education system by taking away the funds to support it, and it becomes attainable only to the wealthy, with the underprivileged suffering the loss most acutely.
When government — and private organisations — fund art, they essentially need to think about their motives through a more altruistic lens. They should be looking at the qualitative value, rather than quantitative value, or at least place them next to each other. A strictly monetary return on investment is a sad approach here, and in the end, does not produce successful and effective individuals, or make the world a better place.
This article was written by Tanya Michele Amador and originally published in Art Republik.