Giving to the Arts: Forming a Sustainable Art Ecosystem in Singapore
Written by Yang Yilin, Arts and Humanities Major, Yale-NUS College
After a successful inauguration in 2016, Art World Forum returned with its Second Annual Singapore Edition titled Creating Markets: Opportunities, Challenges and the Mainstream on 27 September at One Farrer Hotel and Spa. This full day event provided a perfect platform for various industry leaders, experts and art enthusiasts to come together and focus on issues pertinent to the contemporary art world. One topic addressed was the nature and future of philanthropy in the arts in Art x Philanthropy: An Opportunity panel with Mr Kola Luu, Director of Partnership Development at National Gallery Singapore, and Ms Anne-Marie Clavelli, Head of Development and Strategy at The Community Foundation of Singapore.
The discussion started with Mr Luu’s introduction to government’s tremendous support in promoting Singapore into a cultural capital. Government support alone made up for 80% of Art and Heritage funding in the year 2015. The remaining gap in the ecosystem should be filled by the private sector, which despite recent improvements in private giving, is still insufficient. This suggests an inherent lack of ownership and interest in the arts by corporations and individuals. The crux of the discussion thus lay in the need to address these gaps and encourage a philanthropic environment. A sustainable arts ecosystem requires both state support and private ownership. This is easier said than done and the problem lies in the matter of how to achieve this ideal.
Mr Luu raised the strategic role of National Gallery Singapore in serving not as merely an iconic art space, but also a catalyst in bridging relations between public institutions, private corporations and artists. Its role in producing a more culturally conscious society is significant in the context of Singapore’s recent arts and cultural developments. Despite so, statistics showed that giving to the arts in Singapore is low compared to other areas. Education and Healthcare constituted 26% and 22% of tax deductible donations in 2015 while Arts and Heritage made up 11%. Mr Luu suggested possible reasons behind this phenomenon. Firstly, it is difficult to measure the intangible impacts of arts on the society, which deter individuals from giving to this area. Secondly, giving to the arts is often regarded as an elitist act that does not necessarily address the direct needs of the community. Lastly, arts and cultural concerns are part of the recent development that takes time to instill into the public consciousness. As a result, they are just simply not prioritized in Singapore. Without adequate private support and ownership, it is exhausting for the arts scene to develop and thrive solely on government funding.
The question of sustainable giving to the arts shared similar concerns with the audience. Even though 2015 saw a surge in private giving to the arts, it was partly the result of the increase in tax deductions from 250% to 300% to commemorate Singapore’s Golden Jubilee. In 2016, private giving saw a 58% decrease. In response to this phenomenon, one question raised was how should we go about sustaining philanthropic behavior.
Ms Anne-Marie viewed it as a matter of time for the Singapore community to be more culturally conscious and gradually come to recognize the importance of preserving and promoting the local arts and culture scene. An increase in philanthropic giving is on a slow upward trajectory alongside further economic, social and cultural developments in Singapore. Mr Luu, on the other hand, suggested that sustainable philanthropic practices correlate to the presence of a sustainable economic model. Compared to giving to education, the arts sector lacks a sustainable economic framework concerning the availability of reserves and endowment funds, which deter private giving.
This meaningful discussion has shed light on the nature and future of philanthropic giving to the arts in the context of Singapore. Even though it has seen improvements in recent years, giving to the arts has been impeded by a lack of urgency given to arts and cultural development efforts. Prioritizing this area is not an easy task, as it requires changing public conceptions and formulating suitable economic models. Despite so, philanthropic giving has tremendous potential to develop in the future given Singapore’s current development trajectory from an economic hub to a cultural capital.