Wooing the 21st century audience

Wooing the 21st century audience

SINGAPORE - The nation's premier arts centre, the Esplanade, was hit by a 40 per cent drop in ticketing income in its last financial year. Has the number of people willing to pay to watch arts performances in Singapore reached a plateau?

A worrying set of numbers in the latest Esplanade annual report and the industry-wide Cultural Statistics report suggests as much.

Box office takings for the non-profit centre's last financial year (April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013) sank to a six-year low of $4.35 million, even lower than the $4.62 million during the 2009 financial crisis.

Some industry insiders think the 11-year-old centre is beginning to feel the pinch of what has been biting performing arts groups over the past two years: competition from new commercial venues at the Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa integrated resorts (IRs) and the Star Performing Arts Centre.

In 2011, the IRs opened with two long-running Broadway musicals - Wicked and The Lion King. The result, say insiders, was that ticket sales went down for Singapore theatre companies and have not really recovered since.

This drop is partially reflected in the Cultural Statistics report produced by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

Total ticketed attendance at performing arts events fell last year to 1.95 million, down from the 2011 peak of 2.07 million.

The high 2011 figure was arguably fuelled by the IRs' opening and cannot be taken as an indication of the health of the industry as a whole. Before 2011, total ticketed attendance hovered annually for five years at around 1.4 million.

Has the market become saturated? Supply has certainly been steadily rising over the last decade. Ticketed performances peaked at 8,530 shows last year. This works out to an average of 23 arts shows a day.

A high-level cultural policy report commissioned by the Government, the Arts and Culture Strategic Review, wants the proportion of Singaporeans attending at least one arts event a year (ticketed or not) to double from the current 40 per cent to 80 per cent by 2025.

But even for non-ticketed performances - ranging from art exhibitions to free community concerts - annual attendance figures have not risen that much, hovering around 2.5 million over the last seven years.

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