If there were such things as “past lives”, I think I must have once been a poor starving artist who was fortunate enough to receive incessant help from many quarters.
In a career spanning nearly 40 years (1973 to date), I have spent nearly 33 years of it in various arts promotion including 16 years in arts granting roles – from 1981 to 1990 as Secretary of the Singapore Cultural Foundation and these last four years in another arts granting position. Parallel to extending cash grants, I also had a role in hatching the Arts Housing Scheme, Semi-Residential Status in Theatre Scheme (SRSITS) and Annual Grant scheme in the mid-80s, riding on the PAP’s Cultural Vision 1999 which was unveiled at end 1984.
Yes, it does feel like “pay-back time” for the generosity extended to me in my “past lives”. No matter into which job I “drift” (“drift” as I am not given to planning or plotting my next move), I have been thrust (willingly, fortunately) into an art granting role.
From experiences through the years, I have developed an “Arts Funding Quadrants” model which goes something like this:
Arts Funding Quadrants
In Quadrant One, hobbyist art clubs that organize events on an ad hoc basis receive project grants. In Quadrant Two, art societies that organize regular events receive annual grants. In Quadrant Three, high-quality art companies receive larger annual grants along with arts housing and theatre residencies. In Quadrant Four, established art companies which have built strong financial reserves and can manage on their own, revert to ad hoc grants for selected productions, albeit with continued help with housing and tax-exemption privileges.
We have to accept that anywhere in any world, the majority of arts groups would remain in Quadrant One. These are hobbyist clubs (choirs, dance or art students) based in community centres, company staff recreation clubs, university or school alumni or art schools that stage events on an ad hoc basis, when the mood grabs them. What the groups produce is acceptable but not necessarily of a high standard but they are important as they build audiences for the arts. A Chinese brush painting hobbyist or chorister is likely to attend art performances or exhibitions even if it is to support their teachers / conductors. As an added bonus, these hobbyists sometimes offer their products for fund-raising purposes and garner support not necessarily because the art is good but because buyers want to support a charitable cause. Such fund–raising activities motivate these hobbyists to carry on. Any support given to such groups would not be on the basis of the standard of work but to encourage art appreciation and to seed groups that may hold promise to enter the subsequent quadrants..
The groups in Quadrant Two are also run by hobbyists but they are more serious and produce a more consistent output of higher quality works. They have formed dedicated art societies and stage two to four events a year, making it more efficient for grant-makers to process their grant requests once instead of as and when. One could call them “community art groups”.
The groups in Quadrant Three are “professional” not-for-profit art companies supported by paid administrators and in some cases, a corps of full-time professional artists. Here I am careful to differentiate “full-time” from “professional” as I realize that professional actors, directors and lead vocalists are often not engaged on a full-time basis but on a production basis. Orchestras and dance companies often engage a stable corps of professionals whereas theatre companies tend to assemble them on a production basis. I am not sure what opera houses do but watching an old, plump far from “to-die-for” Turandot in a European production theatre a few years ago convinced me that it is better not to be stuck with full-timers. The groups in Quadrant Three have earned the right to annual grants to support their administrative costs and production costs.
The groups in Quadrant Four are “professional” not-for-profit art companies supported by paid administrators who have successfully built a stable of corporate sponsors and adequate financial reserves, to enable them to pursue their art, free of the shackles that come with dependency on “officialdom” with all the strings attached. It is arguable when reserves are “adequate” but drawing from my years of funding charities and sports, I would venture that reserves that can buoy a company over two or three years of their operations would be “adequate”.
More recently, equally serious-minded variations of these companies have emerged including artist cooperatives. Being non-profit in nature, they deserve assistance like the art companies in Quadrants Three and Four.
I understand that the Art Housing Scheme is facing a crunch now with too many groups on the queue for too few buildings. Whereas in the mid-80s, dedicated space was given sparingly, only to the few companies in Quadrants Three and some in Quadrant Two, I wonder whether dedicated space has been given out too liberally in the last 25 years.
If the arts groups are more clearly segmented according to the four quadrants, granting practices and arts housing can be differentiated appropriately with “different strokes for different folks”. Groups in Three and Four would qualify for private, dedicated space that is at their disposal when they need it. Groups in Quadrants One and Two could be given housing on a project or sessional basis ie they rent space only when they need it.
I recall that the former “Meat Market” Art Centre in Melbourne (so named as it was retrofitted from a disused abbatoir) rented space on different tenures – multi-year tenure as well as project-based rentals for some rooms, even looms.
I hear that some groups in Quadant Three have been advised that their housing needs would be assessed en par with those of newer groups and that housing in new arts housing facilities eg Goodman Road would be mainly be extended on a project or sessional basis, what I term a “hospital bed” approach.
I fear that the jitters and sense of uncertainty felt by groups in Quadrant Three and Four (in stark contrast to the sense of security of space that the Art Housing Scheme was originally conceived to impart) and their being placed under a “hospital bed” arrangement may undermine the output of productions that has surged meteorically since the 1980s.
I certainly hope I will be proven wrong.