Annual festival to undergo review despite this year's success
Singapore - This year, the Singapore Arts Festival was, by all accounts, a certified success.
It drew 220,000 audience members and visitors, including 121,887 to the highly popular Festival Village free events venue. Of the ticketed events, sales averaged at 70 per cent sold, with five shows sold out and three close to full-house attendance.
On the community-engagement front, the festival also engaged 496 "festival ambassadors" and 1,392 participants in the shows.
But it seems that hasn't been enough to save it from a move that will see it disappear from next year's local arts calendar.
Audiences will now have to wait until 2014 as the festival takes a break to undergo a review.
Following a series of dialogue sessions with various members of the arts community last month, its organisers, the National Arts Council (NAC), yesterday announced its plans to reassess the role, structure and relevance of the festival.
According to NAC deputy CEO Yvonne Tham, the decision to undertake a "more fundamental review" comes in light of the "packed calendar" of more than 33,000 events and exhibitions and an estimated 80 festivals a year and its aim to involve the local arts community even further.
Ironically, the recently concluded edition is being touted as one of the best and strongest in recent years.
Following criticisms levelled at the 2011 edition for poor turnout and attendance (the village drew a meagre 20,000 and only 50 per cent of tickets were sold), this year's two-week affair seemed to hit all the right notes.
"Ticket sales did well and response to the Festival Village was significantly stronger than last year's," said festival general manager Low Kee Hong. "But more importantly, I was extremely glad to see how the Festival and its projects were able to impact so many lives, from the uncles, aunties and youths on the street to our artists, collaborators and partners."
The NAC's decision to put the festival on hold for a review has drawn mixed reactions from arts practitioners.
While theatre director Alvin Tan was pleased with the buzz of this year's edition, he saw no problems with the break in momentum. "The groups and the art scene has matured so the role of it has to change, and this year you can feel the turning point - there's something there that's working. (But) the festival has also gone on incessantly without a break, so if they want to, it's fine. It's what they do with the break."
Theatre actress and arts NMP Janice Koh, however, questioned the rationale of putting the event on hold.
"I'm wondering if it's completely necessary to undertake a hiatus -can't the existing team continue programming for next year while a new team or structure is being considered to take its place for 2014. Why can't those changes take place simultaneously?" she said.
In the next few months, the NAC will be announcing a working committee comprising members of the arts community and industry partners. It will be tasked with discussing the possibility of a "new working model".
While the council has yet to officially reveal what exactly this entails, there has been talk on the ground about whether it would involve the council relinquishing certain roles and functions in running the festival to other parties, such as the Esplanade.
The scenario has also elicited mixed reactions. "I would trust the Esplanade to run the Singapore Arts Festival. There's no one in Singapore that's qualified - it already has capacity in terms of programming and venues," said Tan. His enthusiasm comes with a caveat, however: "Institutionally, you'd be centralising something that in the right hands of someone who loves the arts and would want to protect diversity is valid, but in the wrong hands, can be disastrous."
Koh, meanwhile, welcomed the possibility of another body to manage the festival but insists it should be an independent one.
"The best outcome is for the festival to be independently run, with its own artistic director and steering committee, supported by government funds but free to seek its own corporate sponsorship. As an independent entity, it can offer diversity," she said. "The more artistic directors at the helm of different arts events, the more choices we have, the better it is for audiences in Singapore."
For his part, TheatreWorks managing director Tay Tong pointed out it is imperative to remember its roots.
"We must go back to the original concept and motivation of the festival - that it's a platform to see things we would otherwise not be able to see, and a showcase for strong artistic work. It has its own reputation, base and following, and a history of 25 years and more. The Arts Festival has always been different. For me, it's always been about the creme de la creme."
By Mayo Martin
06 June 2012
Tangled Web, seen here at Brisbane Powerhouse, was a hit at the Festival Village's kids section. PHOTO COURTESY SEAN YOUNG