You don't need to be rich to make a difference to the arts

You don't need to be rich to make a difference to the arts
‘An Enemy of the People’, a play by Nine Years Theatre (NYT) directed by Nelson Chia.

The lights dim and audience members settle into their seats, ready for the show to begin.

But before the curtains lift, a dulcet voiceover usually filters in over the speakers, thanking a list of sponsors who have made the performance possible, from food and beverage outlets to wealth management firms.

Whether it is $1,000 or $1 million, a tiny art showcase or a blockbuster musical, wrangling funds to get performances and exhibitions off the ground is a perennial struggle for all arts groups and artists here.

In Singapore, arts funding comes in two main forms - government funding and sponsorship from private companies or individuals, those who love what an arts group does and reach deep into their pockets to keep them going.

Last year, the Government announced a new Cultural Matching Fund in the hopes that it would encourage more of this brand of private philanthropy.

Under this $200 million scheme, the Government will match cash donations to eligible arts groups dollar-for-dollar, meaning that a $20 cash donation is transformed into $40 in their coffers.

All arts and heritage charities and Institutions of a Public Character (non-profit organisations with activities benefiting the community as a whole) can tap the fund, and no conditions will be placed on the groups as to how the matching grant is used.

That means they have a great deal of flexibility in how they want to use the money, whether for salaries or for specific projects.

There was a general sense of optimism from the arts community when this fund was unveiled, with many positing that it would change the landscape of arts giving, which has remained largely stagnant over the last decade due to a variety of causes, including a fluctuating economy and competition from other charitable causes.

The arts scene has also grown exponentially over the past decade, with the number of arts companies in Singapore leaping from 302 in 2003 to 1,260 in 2012.

The number of arts performances has also spiked, from 4,531 in 2003 to 8,530 in 2012, meaning that there were an average of 23 arts performances daily in 2012.

This also means that more arts groups and events are fighting for their share of the limited financial pie.

This is not helped by the fact that private sponsorship and donations to the arts have flagged over the past decade, with $35.3 million received in 2012, compared to $47.2 million in 2004.

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