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Arts for All – connecting communities through engaging with the arts

Yen Phang shares his thought about how community art has evolved in Singapore over the years. Especially with the support from the National Arts Council 2012 budget for community arts engagement.

Compared to nine years ago, attendance and participation in arts events has doubled over the years, according to the Singapore National Arts Council’s 2011 Population Survey on Arts and Culture. In addition, 77% of respondents were motivated to attend the arts for entertainment and relaxation, while 55% attended arts events as a way of spending time with friends and family.

Apart from these positive experiences people associate with the arts, the arts also provides a myriad of other personal benefits:

  • Helps in problem-solving and decision-making by allowing participants to learn interpersonal as well as technical skills that are important for mobilizing groups (such as when organizing
    performances);
  • Fosters social cohesion through community collaborations on creative projects;
  • Improves individual health through stress relieve by engaging in a creative activity, or by simply attending arts
    events.

It’s really no surprise then that the National Arts Council has recently announced its plans to increase the budget for community arts engagement efforts from S$2 million in 2011 to S$6.6 million this year. This was after the Ministry of Information,
Communication and the Arts committed over S$270 million over the next five years to bump up community engagement with the arts and capability development.

The idea of community engagement in the arts has been bandied about as the latest trendy idea, but what does it really mean? “Community arts” is neither a new nor a vague concept – it seeks clearly to raise the level of involvement in the arts among specific target groups within our community, namely youths, families, working adults, and senior citizens, through participation in collective artistic projects either as a participant (such as being a member of a choir), or through the attendance of arts events.

Let’s talk specifics. Singapore’s Community Development Councils (CDCs) have been active throughout the years in engaging with the members of their communities through arts programmes, such as the South West CDC’s “Saturday! Series”, where residents get to appreciate performances by grassroots organisations and gain a greater understanding of the various cultures that make up our multi-racial society.

More importantly, events like the Central Singapore CDC’s Arts and Culture programmes at community centres serve an even more basic function of just bringing residents together to bond over common interests, an imperative in a hectic country like Singapore where we often don’t get opportunities to interact with our neighbours.

Government initiatives aside, it’s also heartening to see local arts groups take up the mantle of engaging with their local community. Take for example the “Theatre For Seniors” programme which was launched by The Necessary Stage, one of Singapore’s most community-minded theatre groups. The programme is targeted at seniors ages 50 and older, and it aims not only to impart drama skills, but also act as a social forum for participants to interact and share their experiences with people of from various generations.

According to one of their participants, Mary (aged 61), performing their stories for family members in the audience “brought memories back…even our families, they felt like it touched them in ways that can help them sort of identify where we are coming from and help us at the same time.”

Simply put, art brings us closer to the people around us, and also reacquaints us with the local stories in our own back yard. Alan Oei, the founder of Salon Projects, has been organising “Open House!”, which highlights the histories of local neighbourhoods in Singapore by bringing visitors through art installations in
the homes of residents. This year’s edition focused on the estate of Tiong Bahru.

OH! Open House - Occupy Tiong Bahru

OH! Open House - Occupy Tiong Bahru

OH! Open House - Occupy Tiong Bahru

OH! Open House - Occupy Tiong Bahru

Participants in Open House! 2012 were treated to anecdotes about Tiong Bahru, such as how it was the location of Singapore’s first public housing project and community centre. They got to interact with the residents in the area, including the homeowners who acted as hosts for the art installations, as well as the people who ran businesses in the area such as the local kueh maker, satay-man, and caretaker of the Monkey God Temple.

If you’d like to get closer to your friends, family members, or people in your own community, there’s nothing better than joining a local arts group, working on a community arts project together, or just attending an arts event with your loved ones.

So whether you’re an art lover or not, the Arts is for all!

To learn more about the “Theatre for Seniors” programme, please visit their website at http://www.communityarts.sg/?p=90

To find out more of the activities organized by the South West CDC, please visit their website at http://www.southwestcdc.org.sg/

To find out more about Open House! 2012 Tiong Bahru, please visit http://www.ohopenhouse.com/ where you can download a digital copy of their book “High Quality Stories”.

You too can give to the arts. Visit give2arts.sg to donate to your preferred arts and cultural charity and enrich the lives of others. And don’t forget to join other
like-minded arts lovers at www.facebook.com/ArtsForLife

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About YenPhang (35 Articles)
In spite of his legal training, Yen has chosen to pursue a career in the visual arts. Apart from being a closet-painter, Yen Phang is largely still an unknown quantity. Forever random, but always polite.
Contact: Website