Art here, there and everywhere

Art here, there and everywhere
The Tropical Leaf work (left) by sculptor Han Sai Por at One Raffles Quay.

Artist Han Sai Por has long fancied showing her nature- themed sculptures, which dot Singapore's urban areas, in lush parks.

The 70-year-old sculptor's dream may soon come true when the Public Art Trust, aimed at transforming Singapore's landscape with works of art, is rolled out.

First announced in Parliament earlier this month by Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, the trust with a $10-million seed fund will commission, display, promote and maintain new public artworks.

The National Arts Council, which is launching the trust in collaboration with the ministry, will consult the public on features of the trust before finalising the scheme by year's end.

The trust is cheered by art lovers, artists and art observers here. They say the move will bring art closer to the man in the street and has the potential to transform the look of the cityscape.

Among those who welcome the support are artists Ang Song Nian, Elizabeth Lim, Tan Peiling and Kamiliah Bahdar, who participated in a recent art project organised by the Sculpture Square arts centre in Middle Road.

The group researched the role of the public in relation to public sculpture and the fruits of their labour will be shown in an exhibition titled Override at the centre next month.

Ang, 31, speaking on behalf of the group, calls the introduction of the trust "timely, if not almost overdue".

He says: "Much emphasis has been placed on the visual arts in recent years but with most of the action taking place in museums, galleries, art fairs and newly set-up institutions."

By bringing art beyond walls and closer to the masses, the trust has members of the arts community and wider public abuzz with ideas, as well as questions, on the kinds of art that will show up and how they will be commissioned.

The excitement, however, is not fanned by novelty.

The Government has been pushing to transform public spaces with art as early as 1988 when it introduced a public sculpture donation scheme.

Later, the National Heritage Board initiated a public art tax incentive scheme in 2006 to allow organisations and individuals double tax deduction when they donate, commission, display and maintain public art.

From 2005 to 2012, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) ran an art incentive scheme that granted developers of new downtown projects additional gross floor area commensurate with the value of public art they displayed in their developments.

This led to the creation of 36 public artworks including the Rain Oculus at the integrated resort Marina Bay Sands, a 22m-wide bowl-like sculpture by American artist Ned Kahn that channels water into the property's central retail atrium.

The new trust, however, shows that the Government is eager to do more. For one thing, it will not restrict the addition of public art to specific areas as with the URA's downtown scheme.

This is welcomed by Mr Jeffrey Say, 48, programme leader for Lasalle College of the Arts' master's in Asian art histories programme, who says it will go "a long way towards forging a communal cultural identity and making art less elitist".

Artist Tan Wee Lit, 35, notes that with the trust, the Government will take on an active role in commissioning public art, unlike before when "public art was mostly made possible by corporations for their own developments".

Tan, who is a visiting assistant professor at the Singapore Management University's arts and culture management programme, has a public sculpture in Raffles Place Park, commissioned by real estate developer City Developments Limited (CDL) after he won its biennial Singapore Sculpture Award in 2007.

However, the trust also hopes to encourage corporations and individuals to support public art.

Mr Yeo Whee Jim, director of the ministry's arts and heritage division, says the trust, to be set up as an institution of public character, will be able to match private donations to it, dollar-for-dollar under the Government's $200-million Cultural Matching Fund, launched last November. This would mean that even a modest donation can go a long way.

Mr Yeo adds that the trust may also partner private donors and companies that are keen to commission new public art.

Those interested can approach the trust on possible proposals and if they are approved, the trust can match half the cost of the commission using the Cultural Matching Fund as well as help source an appropriate site if necessary.

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