GIVING FOR ART'S SAKE?SINGAPORE
Various sources of arts funding exist already, but there is still a gap for plenty more, especially the type of flexible, experimental support that private donors are well-positioned to offer.
A sector on the rise
The arts sector in Singapore is on the rise. From cutting edge visual arts to community-based forum theatre, more and more arts groups are emerging: exploring new possibilities and honing their craft.
This recent growth has been thanks – at least in part – to the significant efforts of the government, which has provided funding, capacity-building and other wide-ranging support to promote its vision of Singapore as: “Home to diverse and distinctive arts that inspire our people, connect our communities and position Singapore globally”.
A gap for more private funding, framed in new ways
Even with the various government funding that is available, most of our interviewees for this report argued that Singapore’s artists and art groups could benefit from more money, framed somewhat differently. Three points stood out in particular:
1. New ways to tackle the “audience numbers dilemma”
Even if an arts group in Singapore successfully secures funding to stage a show, they will often struggle to attract an audience amongst the country’s 5.5 million busy residents. The sector still faces unanswered questions on how to position the arts in a way that is more relevant, attractive and at the same time financially sustainable.
2. More flexible funding allowing artists to “tinker and create”
Many interviewees commented that much of the available funding at present is offered within a framework of fairly tightly prescribed targets designed to drive social outcomes or simply to incentivise productivity. There are relatively few funds that offer more flexible support for artists to gather inspiration, experiment, reflect and – over time – to evolve.
3. A sense that there are not enough private donors supporting the arts in general
The flexible funding approach described above can be particularly well suited to private donors, who are typically able to be more agile and experimental than institutional funders. However, there is a general feeling within the sector that such private donors are lamentably scarce and hard to find.
IF WE HAD A MILLION DOLLARS…
If Just Cause had a million dollars to give to the arts, we would explore further ways of boosting the long-term financial sustainability of arts groups.
There will probably always be an insatiable demand for grant funding in the arts sector. But we sense that there are also untapped opportunities to help artists and arts groups become more financially independent in their own right, whilst also preserving artistic quality and integrity.
Possible approaches could include:
New forms of finance: offering “impact investment” style loans and equity investment as a form of “patient capital” to fund new projects or infrastructure;
Recruiting more top-level business professionals to join arts charity Boards and take up executive leadership roles within the sector;
Helping non-profit arts groups to set up profit-making sister companies. These sister companies could potentially leverage their organisation’s existing brand and customer base to generate new streams of revenue. This income could in turn cross-subsidise the non-profit work.
This report was prepared by Just Cause, with partial funding from MCCY. It aims to furnish potential donors to the arts sector in Singapore with a summary of the main trends and some inspiration on possible ways to give. In particular, our intended audience is larger-scale donors, be they private foundations, corporates or generous individuals.
Research for this report was conducted from May – September 2018. It is based on:
Interviews and informal discussions with over 30 experts, including artists, producers, policymakers, researchers, and philanthropists
A literature review of policy documents, surveys, academic articles and other relevant materials.
Analysis of ten non-profit organisations and programmes, selected to cover a range of different goals, approaches and impact.