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Suits and Citizens – Singapore’s Public-Private Partnerships for the Arts

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How do you grow audiences? How do you encourage corporations and individuals to sponsor the arts? How do you generate interest and even a sense of pride in the national arts scene? On Saturday, 16 April, Singapore’s Director of Strategic Planning for the National Arts Council, was in Malaysia to discuss all of these points. Kenneth Kwok, who is also NAC’s Director of Arts & Youth, conducted a workshop as part of ARTERI’s Pop-Up Classes, sharing some of the initiatives his government has implemented to inspire a wider participation in the arts.

It’s been a long time since I’ve met someone in government who genuinely seems to love his job. Kenneth Kwok speaks with unwavering enthusiasm about art, artists, and about the public he, as a public servant, actually enjoys serving.

History has shown that Singapore can accomplish – with single-minded speed and efficiency – anything it sets its mind to. And one of the things it’s determined to do is to continue growing its flourishing arts ecosystem.

The island state has countless performance and exhibition spaces, including world-class theatres, concert halls and museums. The government also provides a number of grants to local artists. However, much more still needs to be done and Kenneth Kwok has some very clear opinions on why the government should not be the one to do it. At least not alone.

“There is only a finite amount of government grant funding available so selection processes, assessment guidelines and criteria have to be regulated. If we really want a sustainable and diverse ecosystem, some funding has to come from non-government sources.”

He wants every Singaporean to value the arts. This is a country in which nearly everyone can meet their basic needs – housing, education, employment, healthcare, security. “But there’s also being happy, there’s having a soul. There’s the belief in something bigger than bread and butter issues.”

The question, as he sees it, is “How do we get more people to see that when they invest in the arts it’s good for the good for the arts which is good for society which is good for the nation?” It’s a question that the NAC has already started answering through education and initiatives. The public is learning that there is a bigger role they can play, even if it’s in a small way. Corporations are being shown the benefits of becoming donors and sponsors.

Missed Kenneth’s talk? Follow us so you don’t miss the next one! In the meantime, you can find out more about Singapore’s initiatives in advocacy and to encourage philanthropy on the NAC website.

Photo credit: David Russo

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Amy De Kanter
Amy De Kanter

Former Chief Editor, frequent contributor and enthusiastic audience member, Amy is thrilled to have a job that lets her do three of the things she loves most.