Buzz over potential of arts masterplan

Buzz over potential of arts masterplan
Rosa Park and Timothy Coleman in Bittersweet by Natalie Weir. The dance was staged by the Singapore Dance Theatre at Fort Canning Green.

A resident company programme, granting theatre groups long-term access to performance venues such as the Drama Centre Theatre or Victoria Theatre. A dedicated space for children's theatre.

These are among the slew of new initiatives in the National Arts Council's recently released Performing Arts Masterplan. There are also plans to boost dance as a career and the arts council will take over as lead coordinator for music, including pop music, from the Media Development Authority.

The masterplan, a detailed report drawn from several years of consultations with and assessments of the arts industry, is the first to focus on the performing arts. Covering theatre, dance, music, visual and traditional arts, the plan outlines the council's vision for the scene and sets out its work with the arts sector for the next five years.

The ideas range from the gestational to the concrete, from the creation of an arts guide to raise public awareness of arts events, to making the traditional arts more easily understood.

Many of the ideas are in line with the Arts and Culture Strategic Review of 2011, a report by a high-level committee which charted various courses for the arts.

There are also overarching plans to better support the process of artistic creation, build connections within the arts industry, develop connections with audiences, improve research and documentation of the scene, and to push for internationalisation and the growth of Singapore arts abroad.

The full report is available on the council's website at nac.gov.sg/art-forms/pa-masterplan.

The arts community responded with cautious optimism to the council's vision, but reiterated that these plans would have to be implemented well, with continued consultation of the industry - and felt that some of the proposed plans were still at a very early stage.

Actress Janice Koh, a former Nominated MP for the Arts, says: "I think a plan like this is necessary because other than providing the big-picture vision, the council needs executable steps to get there. This plan is fairly detailed and specific.

"I believe they've gone through a process of consultation where feedback was gathered as to what these executable steps should be and they're trying to put that in place. I appreciate that."

The resident company programme for theatre proposes allowing companies the long-term use of a variety of theatre spaces, which includes those in educational institutions such as the National University of Singapore or Lasalle College of the Arts.

While details about cost and spaces have not been revealed, the report states that "this would enable and develop the capabilities of major theatre companies to create, produce and present a repertoire of works that can have long runs and create visibility for themselves. It also enables companies to improve the quality of their programmes over time (and) build audiences through a more complete strategy... beyond main-stage shows".

Alvin Tan, founder and artistic director of The Necessary Stage, felt that the resident company programme was a promising one, citing groups such as The Theatre Practice or Pangdemonium as good fits for a platform such as this.

He says: "It's infrastructural support - groups can actually do more because there has been a lot of concern over the high cost of theatre rentals, which has been going on for some time. I think the council is coming in with very concrete solutions. But I guess the devil is in the details as to how it is implemented and carried out."

Children's theatre also had the spotlight, with plans to improve programming, train practitioners and establish a dedicated space for young audiences as a Children's Arts Centre.

Brian Seward, artistic director of children's theatre company I Theatre, hopes this envisioned centre will not be one inundated with international acts, leaving local companies scrambling for a section of the market.

He says: "The market is saturated. Every month, there's a new production from somewhere in the world. I do not want to see another arts centre which brings in a lot of international acts and the locals have to compete with them. It would be counter-productive and wouldn't change the mindset of 'local, bad; international, good'."

But he adds: "I think it is excellent that children's theatre is finally being recognised as an artform rather than as pure entertainment. To have so much support being put forward for it is excellent."

The arts council announced that it would take over the role of lead coordinator of the music sector - from classical to pop music - from the Media Development Authority next year. While the authority will continue to regulate and oversee music in film and television, its grants will now come under the arts council.

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