Why I’m Spending My Holidays Designing A Tool To Help Museums In Singapore

If you’ve ever faced information overload when planning a trip, whether to downtown or to Bali, I feel you. I love the arts scene in bustling Singapore, yet every weekend the overwhelming number of choices leaves me somewhat frozen, not knowing where to go. It doesn’t stop me completely, but I would go more often if I had something that could help me overcome this.

This leads to my first pet project — an art, events and donation tool. This article was supposed to be about the research I’ve done so far, but it turned into a list of reasons on why I’ve chosen this topic. My motivations can be broken into several parts. Together, they form a gap in the market that I think can be solved by the tool I’m proposing. I end the post with the brief of what I’ll be doing in this project.

Structure

  1. A problem I saw in my own life
  2. Funding problems of art groups in Singapore
  3. A lack of interest in the arts from Singaporeans
  4. A lack of inspiration in Singapore, felt both by tourists and locals alike
  5. Successful artists in Singapore tend to also be great connectors
  6. The Brief

A Problem In My Life

I got inspiration from a problem in my own life. As I said, living in a big city like Singapore means that events and art exhibits are happening all the time, which is great, but the amount of choices makes it difficult to quickly choose something to go on the day itself. This causes me stress during the weekends when I want to plan something fun to do, and instead I get a not-so-fun dose of information overload.

Arts Funding Is A Tough Business

When I began researching for this topic, I found out that museums and art groups in Singapore lack sufficient funding. First, acquiring government grants is highly competitive. For example, in April 2016, 63 art groups vied for $16.3 million given out by the National Arts Council (NAC). The money was from the NAC’s Seed Grant and Major Company schemes which helps start up and maintain operations in many art and cultural organisations in Singapore. Some arts groups who failed to get their funding approved saw budget cuts of around 10%, thus they needed to cut back the number of shows or reduce full-timers’ salaries.

According to the NAC, the amount spent on the arts can be broken down into 3 sectors — the arts and heritage, national libraries and the cultural matching fund. The latter is a fund where the government matches any private cash donations to arts, dollar for dollar.

In 2016, $720 million was spent cumulatively on the arts, about a 25% decrease from 2015, when the government spent $936.7 million. Thankfully, the amount of funding increased a little in 2017 to an estimated $840.7 million. However, this still lags far behind the amount of funding in 2015 ($936.7 million) and 2014 ($884 million).

Several museums in Singapore are using crowdfunding to offset costs.

The Straits Times also reported that the rental prices for art exhibits are becoming more and more expensive. They cited that in 2016, the rental costs at Goodman Arts Centre increased while subsidies for art space rental had reduced. In land scarce Singapore, this trend is not surprising.

Finally, there have been less and less private and corporate donations to the arts in Singapore. In 2017, the amount of contributions to the arts fell by 14% from 2016, from $74.3 million in 2016 to $63.8 million in 2017. This is despite the 250% tax rebate contributors enjoy, and the incentive of the Cultural Matching Fund.

In a 2015 survey run by the NAC, only 2% of Singaporean donors gave to the arts. Most individuals cited not knowing that the arts were in need of donations. I am sad to say but I was one of those people. Since the museums in Singapore are look modern and grand, they didn’t really seem to need much help. Yet, a quick search revealed that 3 museums were crowdfunding to pay for operation costs. These were the Asian Civilisations Museum, Indian Heritage Centre and The Peranakan Museum.

The Key Is Getting Singaporeans Interested

A further 25% of Singaporean donors cited having no interest in the arts as their reason for not donating. This is saddening. Personally, the arts scene in Singapore has given me something only my friends and family could give me before — a sense of belonging. Exhibits like the Lim Cheng Ho exhibit at the National Gallery gave me a glimpse into the 1970s Singapore. I saw the lives of people who were here before me, portrayed simply and beautifully. To learn about Mr Lim and his life and to see the places he went and painted, makes me feel connected to Singapore, its past and my forefathers. I don’t say it much, but the arts makes me proud to be Singaporean.

Going to the exhibit, I saw that we have progressed so much, so quickly. The whole experience was, and still is, very meaningful to me.

The arts is like the voice of Singaporeans. Not the government, not the giant corporations set up here, but of the people and of the individual.

The deputy CEO of NAC, Paul Tan, stated in an open letter, that he hoped that “more Singaporeans understand that art, in all its forms and voices, is relevant to their lives, their sense of self and their well-being”. I feel that the arts is like the voice of the people, allowing them to speak about the things they have lived through and how these things have shaped who they have become. This aspect of subjectivity that is inherent in art is beautiful, and I love how you can see how a person becomes an artist, how his or her voice and message grows and how it is still changing.

What Successful Artists Do In Singapore

So, with 25% of donors not being interested in the arts, what are artists in Singapore to do? Well, successful artist Ruben Pang has created a strong base by articulating why he creates his art. I think this forms a connection between him and his buyers and viewers of his art. This quote sums it up quite nicely: “Collectors flock to him not just for his talent, but also for his uncanny ability to articulate his inspiration and processes behind each individual work.”

Reuben describes the process of making one of his large triptychs, a 2m by 4.2m behemoth, as “quite a battle to get done. It is essentially screaming three times in a row … The act of painting, for me, is very primal and savage. The dynamics of power is huge in everyday life and, of course, in the art world. And I think this struggle for power shows up a lot in my paintings.”

To me, other artists create a connection by linking their art to social issues, like mental health. Sometimes, this makes art feel more ‘worthy’ of attention, though that can be a double-edged sword. I like art for the art itself; to hear about why artists made art makes me want to see it. I wish there were more engaging interviews for artists, even videos and vlogs to help build a connection to them! So far, the blurbs I read of artists are educational, but not very insightful.

Arts Can Help In Intangible Ways…Like Inspiring Tourist and Locals Alike

I think the arts can also help solve this problem that is quite unique to Singapore. In 2013, a post titled “Why I’ll Never Return To Singapore” was published, causing quite a stir. It speaks from the perspective of a backpacker and travel blogger. In that post, he says he felt that living in Singapore was “sterile”, that “daily life was convenient, but it was only the bare minimum of living”. He explained that while people had all their basic needs met, they “openly admitted (their work) wasn’t fulfilling”, and that he felt uninspired.

Upon reading the comments, I found there were generally 2 camps — for and against. The people who thought the author was too harsh made several counter-arguments. They spoke of how the high quality of education and strong work ethic saved our country from crippling poverty, that people working hard was admirable as these people were supporting their family and parents, and that Singapore has come a long way, such that being a sterile place is far better than worrying about corruption and poverty.

Those who agreed with the author said he took the words right out of their mouths, with certain things he said reflecting what they had been feeling for years. I noticed many of these people had or were currently living abroad. Another big group in this camp were Singaporeans who wanted to migrate out of Singapore. Many said they travelled to other nearby countries to get their dose of inspiration.

Both make interesting arguments. Yet, one thing I found surprising was that both camps generally agreed on one thing:

Whether or not you were in the for or against camp, people who have lived in Singapore generally agreed that Singapore WAS sterile, and that people did the bare minimum to get by.

As a Singaporean, this was both saddening to read, yet unsurprising. And somehow, being unsurprised made it even more disappointing.

Anyway, this sad story has a little ray of light. A few of the people against the author cited the arts scene in Singapore as a great way to overcome this sense of sterility. I was pleasantly surprised to hear others have experienced the same inspiration that I did from local artists. One person’s passionate attempt to persuade the author to come back nicely sums this up.

“Participate in our arts scene, which is growing; our literature scene, which is gaining new fans; our drama scene, which is expanding; our comedy scene, which is making its infant steps towards adolescence; and our music scene, which is breaking new frontiers.”

From my personal experience, other than my family and friends, it indeed is the arts that has made Singapore feel like home, made me recognise my ties to this place and most of all, made me proud to be Singaporean. This connection is a big a deal to me, especially as I find more and more Singaporeans wanting to migrate out of here.

And So…The Brief

All this long, grandmother story to tell you the brief for this project. So, without further ado, here’s the task I gave myself as the CEO of imaginary company “So Real”.

Company So Real is making an app for museums in Singapore that encourages people to become patrons of the arts, thereby donating to or volunteering at museums.

In return, museums pay So Real a subscription to update the exhibits, increase the number of visitors and raise public donations of time or money.

Based on a self-conducted survey, people who are interested in performing arts, music, traditional art, photography, and art installations are most likely to visit exhibits and events, so the tool will be focused on these topics.

Conclusion

It is for all the above reasons, I want to make a tool that can encourage Singaporeans to become patrons of the arts. Hopefully, they will feel what I felt when I was at all those museums. Hopefully, more people will be encouraged to support and donate to them too. Even $1 counts when multiplied by many people.

And so with that, the next few posts will probably be about how I came up with the design for this tool too. I really hope to hear what you think! Do you feel a connection to art too? Do you think Singapore is sterile? Leave a comment or send me an email at rebeccachew1@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading! Hope you have a great day.

If you liked this article, there’s more on my blog. Hope to see you there :)

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Rebecca Chew

Rebecca Chew

20 Followers

Hi! 😄 I’m a very friendly UX Designer working at JobKred.com. I love tech, art, hiking and squash, and I’m always working on something… Based in Singapore