Leon Perera: Remove political conditions for government arts funding

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Sonny Liew signs a copy of "Charlie Chan" (image - The Agora Facebook page)

By: Leon Perera

During this year’s Budget debate in Parliament, I argued that we should remove the current political conditions attached to government arts funding, as I have done a few times before.The government withdrew its grant for the path-breaking book The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye because, they said, it potentially undermined the authority and legitimacy of the Government. But artists should not be punished for expressing political opinions, unless these incite violence, criminality or racial or religious tension.

Giving out public funds on the condition that only permissible political perspectives can be expressed sets back the arts in Singapore and threatens to spread fear and self-censorship.

During this year's Budget debate in Parliament, I argued that we should remove the current political conditions attached to government arts funding, as I have done a few times before.The government withdrew its grant for the path-breaking book The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye because, they said, it potentially undermined the authority and legitimacy of the Government. But artists should not be punished for expressing political opinions, unless these incite violence, criminality or racial or religious tension. Giving out public funds on the condition that only permissible political perspectives can be expressed sets back the arts in Singapore and threatens to spread fear and self-censorship. Parliamentary Secretary Baey Yam Keng addressed my remarks by saying that "the NAC does not fund activities which undermine public institutions, political parties or figures regardless of political affiliation. We believe that confidence in public institutions is fundamental to the future of Singapore." But shouldn't confidence be earned and sincerely given? Which is better in nurturing confidence in our institutions – a Singapore that punishes an artist if he or she does not show "confidence in our institutions" or a Singapore which treasures a diversity of viewpoints and where institutions earn genuine respect? The case of The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is particularly striking. This book is one of the best works of Singapore literary art in recent memory. It won the Singapore Literature Prize and has been cited as one of the best graphic novels in the world by The Economist magazine, the Washington Post, Publishers Weekly and the US National Public Radio, while making it to the New York Times and Amazon bestseller lists. We need more great Singaporean art works like this. We should celebrate such artistic achievement, not punish it because of the political perspectives it expresses.

Posted by Leon Perera on Friday, 21 April 2017

Parliamentary Secretary Baey Yam Keng addressed my remarks by saying that “the NAC does not fund activities which undermine public institutions, political parties or figures regardless of political affiliation. We believe that confidence in public institutions is fundamental to the future of Singapore.” But shouldn’t confidence be earned and sincerely given? Which is better in nurturing confidence in our institutions – a Singapore that punishes an artist if he or she does not show “confidence in our institutions” or a Singapore which treasures a diversity of viewpoints and where institutions earn genuine respect?

The case of The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is particularly striking. This book is one of the best works of Singapore literary art in recent memory. It won the Singapore Literature Prize and has been cited as one of the best graphic novels in the world by The Economist magazine, the Washington Post, Publishers Weekly and the US National Public Radio, while making it to the New York Times and Amazon bestseller lists. We need more great Singaporean art works like this. We should celebrate such artistic achievement, not punish it because of the political perspectives it expresses.

source: Leon Perera FB