SINGAPORE: The number of arts projects for which grants were either declined or withdrawn are “very, very few”, said Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Baey Yam Keng.
He was responding in Parliament on Tuesday (Nov 7) to a range of questions on arts funding guidelines. Among them, Nominated Member of Parliament Kok Heng Leun asked for an update on how many projects were denied funding because of the National Arts Council's (NAC) condition that projects that undermine public institutions, political parties or figures not be funded.
In 2015, the NAC withdrew its publishing grant for Sonny Liew’s graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, which went on to win three coveted awards at the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards in July.
More recently, NAC also withdrew a grant to Jeremy Tiang for his novel State of Emergency, saying the book’s content deviated from the original proposal.
Mr Baey said the number of projects which were declined funding or for which funding was withdrawn are “very small” compared to the thousands NAC funds each year.
“Currently I don’t have the exact details at hand, but I’d say… except for those in public domain - Sonny Liew’s Art of Charlie Chan and Jeremy Tiang’s novel - there are no such cases.”
Mr Baey also explained that if the NAC deems a work questionable, it will have a conversation with the applicant. Where needed, the applicant is encouraged to respond and make “adjustments” to the proposal if necessary.
He was also asked by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leon Perera if the Government will be reviewing its policy that funding should not be tied to works that undermine confidence in institutions and political parties.
“Will the Government be reviewing this in light of clear evidence from the case of Sonny Liew that good arts and artists can be penalised from this rule and that this politicisation of the arts is likely to set back the development of the arts in Singapore,” Mr Leon asked.
To this, Mr Baey said while the NAC, a statutory board of his Ministry, respects the views of artists and members of the arts institution, it also needs to take into account the views and concerns of the public at large, due to its role as a public institution.
“This is a balance that we are striking and the position would of course need to evolve, with the changes in society and what the public can accept or not,” Mr Baey said.
“The conversation remains open and that’s why we are also constantly reviewing our guidelines. We will continue to review guidelines and engage artists in dialogue in order to understand their concerns and also to articulate the position or the thinking of the government.”
As to Mr Perera’s follow-up question as to whether the government has any evidence as to whether the public is concerned about such works in the arts scene, Mr Baey said the views of the public are diverse.
Beyond the conversations with arts groups and his Ministry, there are also considerations of the government at large, its role, and the question of how public funds are used to promote “various sectors’ growth”.
He said while artistic development in the scene is of importance, the government also sees the arts as a way to engage the community and build a stronger sense of national identity.