15 Jun 2017 – Closed-Door Discussion on The Price of Free: Part I

Date: 15 June 2017, Thursday
Time: 2 – 4pm
Venue: Faculty Lounge, Level 4
Singapore Management University School of Social Sciences
90 Stamford Road
Singapore 178903


A perennial concern of cultural policy in Singapore has been to enable greater access to the arts and culture in Singapore. This is most evident in the state’s consistent focus on audience numbers as a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) and rationale for public funding. Since 2012, this is best exemplified by the key vision statement of the most recent cultural policy –  Arts and Culture Strategic Review (ACSR) Report – which aims to transform Singapore into a vibrant city where the arts and culture is available to “everyone, everywhere everyday”. This qualitative aspiration has also been translated into quantitative terms, which includes doubling the percentage of Singaporeans attending arts and culture events from 40% to 80% (National Arts Council, 2012: 15)

In recent years, this has resulted in the propagation of free and low cost public arts programmes offered by national institutions, including free entry to national museums and heritage institutions, urban arts festivals such as the Singapore Night Festival and “i Light Marina Bay”, and community outreach initiatives like the “Arts in Your Neighbourhood” series. Arts organisations and institutions have also been strongly encouraged to offer free and/or low cost programmes, or participate in state-organised free programming in the name of placemaking, community engagement and social inclusion.

The Price of Free is a two-part Closed-Door Discussion on the context, impact and sustainability of the state’s emphasis on free and/or low cost arts programming. Questions to be explored include: How has this state emphasis on increasing arts access impacted the operations of arts organisations and institutions? What are the operational challenges and potential opportunities? Are there disparities between the presumed benefits and actual opportunity costs of the state’s emphasis on increased arts access? Should the arts be a public/common/free good in Singapore? Are there alternative models and opportunities for arts practitioners and organisations to rationalise their impact while ensuring sustainability?

Part I is a facilitated sharing-session for those working in arts organisations who have been impacted by this focus on free and/or low cost arts programming to com together and share experiences and insights, and suggest concrete strategies and directions. Through this dialogue, we hope to consolidate shared concerns and structural issues, which will help frame the focus and direction for Part II.

Part II will be a targeted roundtable discussion involving broader stakeholders with expertise and/or experience in this topic. It aims to critically examine and fine-tune the common issues surfaced in Part I, as well as forge better communication and understanding between the varying stakeholders.

Ultimately, we hope that this two-part Discussion will enable an ongoing dialogue on the impact of state policies and programming on arts practices and development in Singapore, develop new ways for (re)thinking relations between the arts, state and society, and ignite potential for further study and collaboration.