National Arts Council



The National Arts Council (NAC) was established as a statutory board on 17 August 1991 to spearhead the development of the literary, performing and visual arts in Singapore.1 The council’s mission is to help nurture the arts and make it an integral part of the lives of the people of Singapore.2

Background
On 9 April 1988, the Advisory Council on Culture and the Arts was set up to review the cultural situation in Singapore, and propose plans to help transform Singapore into a culturally vibrant society. Chaired by then Second Deputy Prime Minister Ong Teng Cheong, the advisory council comprised prominent personalities in the arts and media as well as government representatives.

One of the key recommendations put forth by the advisory council was the establishment of a national arts council. This body would spearhead the development of the arts in Singapore and assume the functions of various agencies involved in arts and culture at the time, which were undertaken by the National Theatre Trust, Singapore Cultural Foundation and the Ministry of Community Development’s Cultural Affairs Division.4

The government accepted the recommendation, and a bill to set up the NAC was passed by parliament on 28 June 1991 and enacted on 17 August the same year.5 The council’s first chairman was Tommy Koh, who was assisted by deputy chairman Goh Kim Leong, then permanent secretary of the Ministry of Information and the Arts (now known as Ministry of Communications and Information),  and 18 other council members. Foo Meng Liang was appointed the council’s first executive director.6

Mission, goals and organisation
The NAC’s corporate goals –  to promote the appreciation and practice of the arts among Singaporeans; nurture local artistic talents; provide and manage arts facilities; and promote Singapore arts and artists overseas – were established in 1992, in line with its mission of nurturing the arts and making it an integral part of local life.

In recent years, the NAC has been guided by strategic directions rather than corporate goals. Its current strategic directions are: to promote the arts for expression, learning and reflection; shape Singapore’s cultural development through the arts; and to develop a sustainable environment that enables artistic creations to entertain, enrich and inspire.

The NAC organisational structure has undergone several changes over the years. The council initially consisted of five divisions: grants, art facilities, art programmes, community support, and public affairs and corporate services.9 In 1997, the council was reorganised with the addition of three new divisions: artist development, international relations and strategic development.10 

NAC’s last major reorganisation was in 2004 when it adopted a cluster development strategy. The council was restructured into performing, visual and literary arts clusters, with officers serving as “cluster champions” in charge of each art form. Then-NAC Chief Executive Officer Lee Suan Hiang said that the restructuring enabled the council to work closer with the arts community to “promote each art form against the bigger picture of venues, audiences, marketing and international exposure”.11


Developing arts audiences
The NAC aims to inculcate a long and sustained engagement with the arts which would encompass every stage of a person’s life.12

To engage children and youths, the council launched the Arts Education Programme (AEP) in 1993 to inculcate in them a greater appreciation of the arts through exposure, experience and excursions. Arts exposure entailed introducing students to a particular art form through demonstrations and performances, while arts experience aimed to provide opportunities for smaller groups of students to participate in various art forms. Arts excursions enabled students to experience the arts outside of the school setting through activities such as walks, performances and visits to museums, artist studios and rehearsal spaces.13 The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay’s “Feed Your Imagination” programme enhances the arts excursions by providing participating students with educational kits to deepen their understanding of the various art forms.14

The AEP has been well received since its inception. In 2011, schools booked a total of 1,530 programmes, reaching out to 327,000 students.15 The AEP is complemented by other programmes such as the Artist-in-School Scheme launched in 2000. This scheme facilitates greater interaction, as well as collaboration, between artists/arts groups and students through long-term arts residencies at schools. One of the pilot projects was a residency by the Odyssey Dance Theatre at Northland Secondary. In 2013, fourteen schools participated in this scheme in which students were exposed to different arts experiences and art forms such as theatre, music, dance, literary arts and visual art.16 

In 2003, the National Arts Education Award was created to encourage and recognise schools that incorporate the arts into their curriculum. The award also provides opportunities for students to be involved in, and achieve, excellence in the arts. Jointly developed by the NAC and the Ministry of Education, the award framework is based on three award categories: Spark, Glow and Blaze. The Spark award recognises schools that champion the arts and are a role model for others; the Glow award rewards schools that demonstrate holistic planning and processes in arts education; and the Spark award acknowledges schools that have a vibrant arts culture.  A total of 56 schools were conferred the National Arts Education Award in 2013.17

Students with special needs are not forgotten. In 2012, the council piloted the NAC Artist-SPED School Partnership Programme in five special education (SPED) schools before it was officially launched in October 2013. The programme provides customised arts-education lessons for special needs students and promotes arts as a teaching tool to enhance their learning. The schoolteachers are specially trained by artists who also teach, so that they are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to conduct the lessons.18 

To bring the arts to the masses, the NAC regularly organises community arts events in collaboration with organisations and government agencies such as the Community Development Councils, National Parks Board, People’s Association, arts groups and the private sector. Free concerts and performances are held in public spaces such as parks, town centres, community clubs and shopping malls.19 One such event is the NAC-Esso Concert in the Park (since renamed NAC-ExxonMobil Concert in the Park) series launched in 1996, which comprises thematic concerts held monthly in various parks around Singapore.20 Other events include lunchtime concerts organised at venues close to offices and workplaces, and the Community Arts series, which promotes arts in the heartlands.21

In October 2008, NAC launched  the Arts for All – Community Engagement Plan to foster deeper engagement and ownership of the arts among Singaporeans who have had minimal or no prior exposure to the arts.22 The plan comprises two main pillars: ArtReach, which aims to increase community access to quality arts programmes; and ArtLink, which connects specific segments of the population with artists in order to integrate the arts into public spaces such as prisons, hospitals and workplaces. One of the programmes under the latter is Silver Arts, which targets senior citizens.23 

To increase awareness of the arts and provide the arts community with a public voice, the NAC launched a radio station focused on the arts, Passion 99.5 FM, on 31 December 1997. It featured magazine programmes on arts and culture, literary readings and music from a variety of genres, including Asian, world, jazz and classical.24 The station was, however, shut down in December 2003 because its listenership was “too small to attract sustained sponsorship and advertising revenue to cover its operating cost”.25

Developing artists and arts groups
In addition to developing audiences, the NAC is instrumental in identifying, grooming and developing local artists and arts groups.

National competitions – for piano and violin, as well as Chinese and Indian music – are organised biennially to identify and showcase talents in the arts.26 On the literary and dance fronts, the Golden Point Award and Sprouts, respectively, are means by which new talents are discovered. The Golden Point Award is a national creative-writing competition for short stories and poetry in Singapore’s four major languages – English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. Sprouts is a national dance choreography competition that aims to discover and groom budding choreographers. Shortlisted participants attend a composition workshop and a six-month mentorship programme.27 

The council administers other awards such as the Cultural Medallion – Singapore’s highest accolade for artists – and the Young Artist Award to recognise artistic excellence. The Cultural Medallion, instituted in 1979, is conferred by the president of Singapore to artists who have achieved artistic excellence in their respective fields and made a distinctive contribution to Singapore’s arts and cultural landscape. To date, 112 artists have been conferred the award.28The Young Artist Award was introduced in 1992 to encourage and recognise promising young artists aged 35 and below in the fields of dance, theatre, music, literature, photography, art and film.29 

The NAC also nurtures artistic talents and organisations through scholarships, bursaries and grant schemes. These include scholarships for artists to pursue full-time studies or training either locally or abroad, and grants to finance arts groups and their projects. In its first year of operations, the council disbursed S$1.4 million in grants, bursaries and scholarships, an increase from the S$800,000 disbursed by its predecessors in the previous year.30 In 2000, NAC’s funding for artists and arts groups rose to S$7.5 million, in part due to an injection of funds from the Renaissance City Project.31 In 2012, NAC disbursed S$36.5 million.32 

Another way in which the NAC supports artists and arts groups is through its Arts Housing Scheme implemented in 1985, which provides spaces to artists and arts groups in various locations around Singapore. In 2010, the NAC housed 96 artists and arts groups, who paid subsidised rental rates in NAC-managed spaces. These include the Telok Kurau Studios, One-Two-Six Cairnhill Arts Centre and the Stamford Arts Centre. The rental rates ranged between 15 and 65 percent of the market rates.33 In December 2010, NAC launched the new Framework for Arts Spaces to replace the Arts Housing Scheme, with the Goodman Arts Centre at Mountbatten as the pilot project.34 The second project under the new framework is the establishment of the Aliwal Arts Centre in Kampong Glam in June 2013. The multidisciplinary arts centre provides leased workspaces for artists and art groups as well as creates new shared and public spaces, bringing together under one roof the arts community, art enthusiasts and the general public.35 

In addition to providing spaces, the NAC also manages the Drama Centre housed within the National Library Building on Victoria Street, as well as the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall in Empress Place.36


Local and international arts events
For many years, the NAC’s flagship event has been the annual Singapore Arts Festival – launched in 1999 from the merger of the Festival of Asian Performing Arts and the Singapore Festival of Arts – which features international, Asian and local arts productions. In 2013, it was announced that the Singapore Arts Festival would be run by an independent company set up by the NAC. The change would enable the arts community to play a larger role in the festival and allow the festival to develop a stronger and independent identity over time. After a one-year hiatus, the rebranded Singapore International Festival of Arts returned in August 2014 with more avant garde productions.37

The NAC continues to support and organise other major events such as the Singapore Writers Festival, Noise Singapore and the Singapore Biennale. The Singapore Writers Festival is held annually, bringing international literary talents to Singapore and promoting Singapore and Asian writing.38 Launched in 2005, Noise Singapore is an annual festival that nurtures and showcases the creative talents of young people aged 35 and below.39 Initiated in 2006, the Singapore Biennale is Singapore’s international showcase of contemporary art. In its inaugural year, the Biennale debuted works of 95 artists, which were seen by 883,300 visitors across 19 venues.40 In 2011, the Singapore Art Museum took over as organiser of the Biennale, while the NAC assumed the role of supporter.41

In addition to bringing international acts to Singapore, the NAC also actively promotes Singapore artists and arts groups internationally. The council has signed memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with key cities and overseas cultural institutions, and is actively involved in international networking, marketing and publicity.42 These include MOUs signed with the Scottish Arts Council and Strathclyde Regional Council in 1992,43 Arts Victoria, Melbourne, in 1998,44 Arts Council of England in 200545 and Arts Council Korea in 2008.46

NAC raises the profile, and increases the exposure, of Singapore artists through participation in international art events such as the Venice Biennale.47 In 2005, NAC launched Singapore Season in London, which took place from 25 February to 5 April. Serving as a form of cultural diplomacy, the inaugural event featured home-grown artists and arts groups such as the Singapore Dance Theatre, TheatreWorks, T’ang Quartet and multidisciplinary artist Tan Swie Hian.48

Timeline
1989: Release of the report of the Advisory Council on Culture and the Arts.
1991: Formation of the National Arts Council.
1992: Launch of Young Artist Award.
1993: Launch of the Arts Education Programme in schools.
1996: Launch of the NAC-Esso Concert in the Park series.
1997: Reorganisation of NAC; arts radio station Passion 99.5 FM begins transmission.
2000: Launch of the Artist-in-School Scheme.
2003: Launch of the National Arts Education Award; Passion 99.5 FM ceases transmission.
2004: Reorganisation of the NAC using a cluster development strategy.
2005: Launch of Singapore Season in London and Noise Singapore.
2006: Launch of Singapore Biennale.
2008: Launch of Arts for All – Community Engagement Plan.
2010: Launch of Framework for Art Spaces.
2012: NAC Artist-SPED School Partnership Programme piloted in five SPED schools.




Author

Stephanie Ho  



References

1. Singapore. The statutes of the Republic of Singapore. (2014, Rev. ed.). National Arts Council Act (Cap. 193A, p. 2). Singapore: Law Revision Commission. (Call no.: RCLOS 348.5957 SIN-[HWE])
2. National Arts Council. (2014, April 22). Mission, vision, values & logo. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/about-us/mission-vision-values-logo
3
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4. Ong, T. C. (1989). Report of the advisory council on culture and the arts. Singapore: The Council, p. 5. (Call no. RSING q700.95957 SIN)
5. Arts Council will be stat board with full autonomy, says BG Yeo. (1991, June 29). The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1991, June 28). Considered in Committee, Reported and Third Reading of the National Arts Council Bill (Vol. 58). Singapore: Govt. Printer, col. 159. (Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN); Singapore. The statutes of the Republic of Singapore. (2014, Rev. ed.). National Arts Council Act (Cap. 193A, p. 2). Singapore: Law Revision Commission. (Call no.: RCLOS 348.5957 SIN-[HWE])
6. National Arts Council. (1992). Annual report. Singapore: The Council, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 700.95957 SNACAR-[AR])
7. National Arts Council. (1992). Annual report. Singapore: The Council, p. 3. (Call no.: RCLOS 700.95957 SNACAR-[AR]) 

8. National Arts Council. (2011–2012). Annual report. Singapore: The Council, p. 15. (Call no.: RCLOS 700.95957 SNACAR-[AR])
9. National Arts Council. (1992). Annual report. Singapore: The Council, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 700.95957 SNACAR-[AR])
10. Leong, W. K. (1997, October 10). NAC to put new life into arts. TheStraits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Arts Council. (2013, October 23). Milestones. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/about-us/milestones
11. Oon, C. (2004, April 17). From ‘relay team’ to ‘football team’. The Straits Times, p. L6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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15. Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (2002). Create.connect@sg: Arts, media and infocomm in Singapore. Singapore: The Ministry, p. 26. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 CRE)
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17. National Arts Council. (2005–2006). Annual report. Singapore: The Council, p. 36. (Call no.: RCLOS 700.95957 SNACAR-[AR]); National Arts Council. (2009–2010). National Arts Education Award. Retrieved from National Arts Council website:https://aep.nac.gov.sg/nae_award.aspx
18. National Arts Council. (2012–2013). Annual report. Singapore: The Council, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SNACAR-[AR]); National Arts Council.  (2013, October 16). NAC Artist-SPED School Partnership Programme customises arts-based curriculum for students with different disabilities.  Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/media-centre/news-releases/news-detail?id=11f5117f-91c5-4628-9438-eba58d74042f
19. Ho, H. A. (2004, December 29). NAC to step up arts-outreach efforts to reach more people. Today, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. How the park concert series took root. (1997, November 22). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (2002). Create.connect@sg: Arts, media and infocomm in Singapore. Singapore: The Ministry, p. 27. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 CRE) 
22. Wong, A. (2008, October 8). Putting art in heartlands. Today, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Arts Council. (2008, October 7). Arts for All – Community Engagement Plan. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/news/2008/10/07/arts-for-all---community-engagement-plan
23. National Arts Council. (2008–2009). Annual report. Singapore: The Council, pp. 25–26. (Call no.: RCLOS 700.95957 SNACAR-[AR]); National Arts Council. (2008, October 7). Arts for All – Community Engagement Plan. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/news/2008/10/07/arts-for-all---community-engagement-plan
24. Seah, L. (1997, November 29). Tune into the arts on radio. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Lee, S. (2003, August 22). NAC loses its Passion. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (2002). Create.connect@sg: Arts, media and infocomm in Singapore. Singapore: The Ministry, p. 34. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 CRE)
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29. Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (2002). Create.connect@sg: Arts, media and infocomm in Singapore. Singapore: The Ministry, p. 35. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 CRE)
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32. Chia, A. (2012, July 24). Artists and arts groups to get more funding. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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34. National Arts Council. (2012–2013). Annual report. Singapore: The Council, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SNACAR-[AR])
35. National Arts Council. (2012–2013). Annual report. Singapore: The Council, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SNACAR-[AR])
36. National Arts Council. (2014, June 30). NAC arts venues. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/arts-spaces/nac-arts-venues
37. Singapore Arts Festival to return in 2014 under independent company. (2013, March 16). The Straits Times, p. 2; Milestones of the arts festival. (2012, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, C. (2014, September 23). Revamped SIFA is back on track. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factivavia NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
38. National Arts Council. (2013, October 4). Singapore Writers Festival. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/events/singapore-writers-festival
39. Martin, M. (2009, March 6). Arts for all ages. Today, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Arts Council. (2014, February 21). Noise Singapore. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/events/noise-singapore
40. National Arts Council, Singapore. (2006–2007). Annual report. Singapore: The Council, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SNACAR-[AR])
41. National Arts Council. (2013, October 4). Singapore Biennale. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/events/singapore-biennale; Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (2011, March 13). Speech by Mr Lui Tuck Yew, Minister for Information, Communciations and the Arts, at the Singapore Biennale 2011 Open House Party, on Saturday, 12 March 2011, 5.30pm, at Old Kallang Airport. Singapore Government News. Retrieved from Factiva  via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
42. Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (2002). Create.connect@sg: Arts, media and infocomm in Singapore. Singapore: The Ministry, p. 38. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 CRE)
43. National Arts Council. (1992). Annual report. Singapore: The Council, p. 7. (Call no.: RCLOS 700.95957 SNACAR-[AR]); Singapore and Scotland link up to promote arts activities. (1992, January 30). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. Seah. F. (2001, June 9). Cultural link with Down Under. The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Neo, H. M. (2005, March 17). Stage set for cultural exchanges. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
46. Chia, A. (2008, July 4). Pact paves way for more Korean artists. The Straits Times, p. 70. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
47. National Arts Council. (2004, March 14). Singaporean artists to participate in “most important art event in the world”. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/news/2003/03/14/singaporean-artists-to-participate-in-most-important-art-event-in-the-world
48. National Arts Council. (2004–2005). Annual report. Singapore: The Council, p. 35. (Call no.: RCLOS 700.95957 SNACAR-[AR]); Cheah, U.-H. (2005, February 15). Singapore Season in London for six weeks from Feb 25. The Business Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG



The information in this article is valid as at 7 October 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Arts--Management
Administrative agencies--Singapore
Singapore--History--1990-
Organisations>>Government Agencies
Arts organisations
Arts
Law and government>>Culture and community>>Arts
Art publicity--Singapore
Government agencies