The Workers’ Party Youth Wing held its third webinar, on how Singapore might evolve in the uncertain future ahead, on Saturday (June 13).
The value and utility of the arts in Singapore society post-Covid was one of the key topics of discussion at the event.
Cultural Medallion recipient Thirunalan Sasitharan suggested that the coronavirus pandemic is perhaps a chance for Singaporeans to reflect on themselves, the state and the gaps in society that have come to light.
Mr Sasitharan, who serves as the Director of the Intercultural Theatre Institute, emphasised that the arts would strengthen the social fabric of the nation and help create a more inclusive society, in this uncertain time. To him, the arts would represent a “new conscience for the nation” to emerge in the post-Covid world.
Eisner award-winning artist Sonny Liew seemed to have a different view.
During the webinar’s Q&A segment, a participant noted that many Singaporeans have turned to the arts — such as books, movies and music — to cope with the gravity of the pandemic. When asked whether the importance that has been placed on the arts at this time would continue in the future, Mr Liew said that the common perception that the arts is a luxury would make it hard for it to retain its prominence in Singapore post-Covid-19.
Mr Liew, an acclaimed comic artist best known for his work The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, added that most Singaporeans do not see the arts as a “bread-and-butter” issue. Therefore, he believes that taxpayers would be more reluctant to channel resources to the arts and would prioritise channelling resources to sectors that would address the immediate needs of the people.
Mr Sasitharan, on the other hand, felt that this may not be the case. He does not see a need to choose between the arts and bread-and-butter issues because Singapore “is wealthy enough” to ensure people can have the best of both.
However, both agreed that there needs to be a fundamental change in both societal and governmental attitudes towards the role and development of the arts in Singapore.
Mr Liew pointed out that the National Arts Council (NAC), for instance, should be a more independent organisation. Calling on the Government body to become more of an “Arts Board”, he asserted that the NAC should change the way it distributes funds.
Likewise, Mr Sasitharan urged that Singapore should institute an “arts council that is truly for the arts” and not “an extension of government bureaucracy”.
The 3 other members on the panel were former Today Chief Editor P N Balji, civil society advocate Damien Cheng and environmental activist Qi Yun Woo.
Apart from the arts, the panellists also raised their concerns over issues such as the regulations on Singapore’s media, the importance of addressing environmental concerns for a sustainable future, the role of youth in advocacy and ways to restructure the education system to encourage life-long learning. /TISG