SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT FUND THE ARTS
This is a real question – google “Should the Government Fund The Arts?” And you will find that many developed countries debate this matter; this is a debate that Singapore never had.
Conservatives in general believe that Governments should stay out of funding the arts. One of the first thing that Trump did coming into power was to propose eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts; Ronald Reagan was the first Republican President to lead a serious effort to abolish it in 1981.
The principle is that the Government should not be using taxpayers money to fund what is essentially a subjective exercise – one person’s art is another person’s garbage. The Government is then asked to make a decision on what qualifies as art worthy of funding – and whether it gels with society’s mores, culture, values etc.
The problem is once the Government is asked to do this, it is going to be in an impossible situation sometimes, especially if the subject is controversial. If it decides not to fund a project, or worse still withdraw a grant (Singapore isn’t the only country who does this) , it will be accused of censorship and get criticised. If it goes ahead and funds it, other groups and taxpayers will get their knickers in a twist, and lampoon the Government regardless.
This is what is happening to our National Arts Council and Sonny Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan; they are caught between a rock and a hard place. His subject matter is controversial, regardless of his skill.
I think it is better that the Government stays out of making decisions on what art to fund – essentially, I am arguing that taxpayers money should not be used to fund art.
Instead, the NAC should galvanise the private sector to donate to art causes, and help private donors get matched with people who need funding for their projects. Civil servants should stay out of the decision process.
Historically, many great artists were funded by private patrons. As the country with the most millionaires per capita, and a purportedly educated population, Singapore should be ripe ground for encouraging private individuals to step forward and fund budding artists they believe in.
It may give local arts a boost that a state-funded organisation is ill-equipped to do, and more importantly, avoid unnecessary controversy about the role that the state plays in deciding what art our taxpayers money should or should not fund.