Ministry Building A Shared Singaporean Culture with Our Partners

Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth,
27 June 2013, Singapore


1. It is very good to be here, particularly for our first Work Plan Seminar for MCCY. It is hard to believe that barely eight months ago, on the first of November last year, we walked into our new offices and became a new ministry. I know that all of you have been working very hard these few months to make sure that MCCY gets off to a good start.

2. Because of your efforts, we have achieved much in our first few months of operations. We have secured significant funding increases for the arts and sports. We have been very active in our community and youth engagement efforts and these are all very positive early developments. I thank all of you for your commitment and your service. We’ve had a good start, and let’s all continue to keep up the momentum as there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Building a Shared Singaporean Culture
3. When we became MCCY, we sat down and we asked ourselves some fundamental questions – why do we exist and what is it that we want to achieve as a ministry. From the discussions, one common thread surfaced – we all want to make Singapore a place that all of us will be proud to call home.

4. This sounds like a simple statement, but it is not a slogan, and not a soundbite. It is an important national priority, and also a very challenging task- making Singapore home for all of us. We have to champion our cultural growth so that all of us will be proud to call ourselves Singaporeans.

5. In today’s world, it is actually more and more challenging to do this. We have more avenues to connect with one another, but ironically, these same connections also allow us to break away from the wider community. Because of this, it is easy for people to splinter into smaller sub-cultures, and to disengage from one another. When that happens, we will lose our sense of Singapore as home.

6. We are not the only country in the world to face this challenge. I was in France recently and met many people in the arts and culture sector, including their Culture Minister. The French are very concerned about the erosion of local culture in an age of globalisation and the internet. They are now in the midst of European FTA negotiations with America, and the French have been very insistent that culture should be excluded from the FTA talks. This is what they call a “cultural exception”.

7. France is a major civilisational force in the world, it has a rich tradition of culture, language, something that they are very proud of. Yet they worry about the loss of their cultural identity and heritage. So for us in Singapore – a small open city state with less than 50 years of history as an independent nation – the challenge will be even tougher, and we must work much harder to build up our own culture.

8. This is why, earlier this year, I decided that we should move decisively on having free entry into our museums. Our museum collections are a repository of our rich history, and we must make them accessible to every Singaporean.

9. Making museums free is just the first step. We have much more to do to make the museum experience appealing and interesting to all our visitors. We want our museums to be people’s museums, museums that are attractive, that all Singaporeans will enjoy going to.

10. This requires more thought in how we curate our exhibitions, how we design our programmes, and how we engage all our stakeholders, especially our families, schools and children.

11. We have to look at the entire museum experience: the exhibitions are important, the programmes are important, but it is also important to look at the kinds of F&B outlets we offer at our museums, and how we run our museum shops- it makes a difference to the experience- and the kind of items that we sell in the museum shops, all these are part of the overall experience that one gets in the museum. So I have been talking to our museum people and I think that they are working hard at this.

12. Beyond working within the museums we must also think hard about how we can extend activities beyond the museum space to our HDB estates, for example, bringing artefacts out of our galleries to community museums, community galleries and coming up with fun and exciting heritage trails. I have asked NHB and the museums to study how we can do this better. I think they are very excited about this challenge, and this will be one of our key areas of priorities in the coming year- refreshing our museums, making them exciting and attractive, and appealing to all Singaporeans- beyond just having free entry.

13. In our review of how we can make our museums better, we should look at the experiences of other countries and collaborate with partners overseas. In France, I met the presidents of several of their key arts institutions – D’Orsay, Pompidou, Quai Branly, Guimet, Palais de Tokyo. Many already have existing links with our museums. And they are all keen to strengthen the cooperation further, not just for exchanges in exhibitions, but also to look at sharing of knowledge and best practices, for example, in curation, programming and conservation techniques.

14. These are excellent opportunities for international exchange, and for us to learn from some of the best museums in the world. So I’ve asked Rosa and her team to see how we can organise ourselves better to tie up with these institutions in France, and work out a series of cooperation activities and projects that would be beneficial to both sides. Through these partnerships, I hope that Singaporeans will be as proud of our museums as the French are of theirs.

15. More generally, the arts is the expression of our culture – it is a way to express the human spirit and our way of life. So far, we have made good progress in several areas, in performing arts, in the literary arts. In the visual arts we are also stepping up our efforts, so we have the National Art Gallery coming up in 2015, and we are building up our local visual artists, and we are having more activities and events. In fact, this week alone, there are three art exhibitions opening. We have the Picasso exhibition that opened two days ago at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, we have the Liechtenstein exhibition that opened yesterday at the National Museum, and this evening, a contemporary art show at the Singapore Art Museum. So the art landscape in Singapore is really changing, it is becoming more vibrant, there are more activities, and more art for everyone to enjoy. There are two other emerging areas which I think we can do more, and that is in film and music. Both segments are still relatively small compared to the more established art forms, but they are growing and gaining traction especially with younger audiences.

16. In music, we have built a strong base of creative talent. For example, we had our home-grown “xinyao” movement, which paved the way for the emergence of many Singaporean artistes in the Asian Chinese pop music scene.

17. We have many emerging music bands as well. Recently, the Singapore Music Society (SGMuso) brought grammy-winning record producer Steve Lillywhite to produce a song with some of our local bands. Steve has worked with international bands like U2 and the Rolling Stones. When asked about his impression of our local bands, he said, “I know good bands and the ones I’ve heard are really good. It feels like a nice resurgence of serious musicians here who are serious about their art.”

18. In film, we are also seeing renewed interest. Jack Neo’s “Ah Boys to Men 2” is one of the most watched, highest grossing movies in our cinemas this year. Film-makers like Eric Khoo, Royston Tan and Boo Junfeng have made their mark in both local and international film festivals. And of course, all of you know that Anthony Chen just won the Camera d’Or for the best debut feature film at Cannes film festival. So again in the film scene, it is a small market but Singaporean film makers are having success, both locally and internationally.

19. We already have several programmes to support Singapore music and film making today. This year, for example, SGMuso and the experimental music group The Observatory received funding support from the National Arts Council. We have also given travel grants to support more musicians in their aspirations to perform overseas.

20. In film, many Singaporeans have had the opportunity to go to the National Museum’s Singapore Cinematheque which showcases local films. Now you can watch these Singaporean films for free at the SGFilm Channel on Youtube, which was recently launched by the Singapore Film Commission. So there are initiatives in place today for local musicians as well as our local film makers.

21. I think we can still do more for our local musicians and film-makers. Currently, the responsibility for developing these sectors straddles across both NAC and the Media Development Authority (MDA). I have asked both agencies to come together, and see how we can further develop our local music and film industry, and help our musicians and film-makers maximise their creative talents.

22. Besides the arts, culture can also be nurtured through sports. In fact, there are few things in life which rally the emotions and fire up the Singapore spirit like sports.

23. Just last week, we had the Lions XII game at the Jalan Besar stadium, and we saw huge crowds gathering at the Jalan Besar stadium and in coffeeshops around the island cheering for our Lions XII. The team is now at the top of the M-league table and they have a good chance of winning the M-League title for the first time. The critical match is coming up next Tuesday. We wish them well, and I hope that they will do us proud.

24. In fact, there is a lot we can look forward to in our local sports scene. Our new National stadium and Sports Hub will be ready next year. As in the case of museums, it’s not just about having hardware and infrastructure, important as they are, but it is also about coming up with good programmes and software. That is why we are investing more in the training of our athletes, to help them achieve success.

25. We are also planning a pipeline of exciting sports events – we will probably kick-off the opening of the Sports Hub with a series of soccer matches, because there is nothing like soccer that brings everybody together at the National Stadium. It will feature our Lions as well as other international or club teams.

26. We also have the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) Championships in Oct next year, and the AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Suzuki Cup at the end of the year in 2014. And in the following year (2015), we can look forward to the SEA Games at the new Sports Hub. There are many other events still being discussed – like rugby, cricket, netball, swimming, and basketball – so I am confident that we will eventually have a full and exciting calendar of sports events, with something for everyone to enjoy in the new Sports Hub.

27. When the new National Stadium is ready, I would like to encourage all Singaporeans to come forward to cheer for Team Singapore at the Stadium, don’t just watch sports on TV. Many of us still remember doing this in the years of the Malaysia Cup when the Kallang Roar was in full force. And I hope that the new Sports Hub will bring back the same excitement and that sense of community experience with all of us watching live sports events and cheering for our athletes and our players.

28. At the same time, I hope that people will not just stay as spectators, but will be encouraged to participate actively in sports. We’ve started the Community Games, the Singapore National Games (SNG), and are piloting the concept of Super Sports Clubs in the Western part of Singapore. So we are doing many things to encourage participation in the sports.

29. Going forward, we will review the format of the National Games to see how it can be improved, we will encourage the development of more community and corporate games, and see how best to scale up the Super Sports Clubs in other parts of Singapore. We want to offer more opportunities for Singaporeans to play and participate in sports and this will be one of our key priorities.

30. At the end of the day, what are we trying to achieve from all these initiatives? It goes back to our mission to make Singapore home for all of us.

31. Over the years, Singapore has progressed as an economic and financial centre. In our next phase of development, we will need the arts, heritage, culture and sports to pursue our aspirations for fulfilling lives, and to strengthen our sense of belonging to Singapore, our home. That’s what our work in MCCY is about. If we do our jobs well, the impact will not be captured in investment flows or economic indicators. But it will certainly be reflected in a better quality of life for all Singaporeans, and ultimately, in more happiness for our people and our nation.

Engagement and Partnerships

32. To achieve our mission, we cannot go it alone; we must engage and work together with other stakeholders. This is why we have many of our partners and stakeholders here with us today – members of our various boards, volunteers for our sports and cultural causes, enthusiasts of arts and heritage. All of you are our partners in building a shared Singaporean culture.

33. In our different domains, we’ve always had the practice of extensive consultations in developing our plans and initiatives. For example, the Arts and Culture Strategic Review was led by the private and people sectors, with participants from the arts community, the grassroots and the public sector. In sports, the Vision 2030 project brought together more than 500 people in face-to-face discussions and had some 60,000 unique visitors to its website, many of whom provided comments and suggestions for our sports master plan.

34. And it is not only when we are coming up with a new policy that we engage the public. We also have regular engagement platforms to stay in touch with our stakeholders. The NAC has been doing this with its “Let’s Talk” sessions, a regular public forum for all members of the arts community to meet NAC officers and share their thoughts, concerns and suggestions. Similarly, the National Youth Council (NYC) continuously engages our youths through their informal dialogues and many interactive platforms. So there are ongoing platforms and forums for dialogue and engagement, and that is what we strive to do in MCCY.

35. In MCCY, we see our role as creating an environment that enables our stakeholders to pursue their aspirations and ideas that serve the public good. We will strive to build deep relationships with all our partners and stakeholders – to listen to them, to get regular feedback, to facilitate their suggestions, and co-create solutions together.

36. To reflect this commitment, we are setting up a new 3P Network Division in MCCY, 3P being people, private, public partnerships. This division will focus on building partnerships and relationships between the private, people and public sectors.

37. It is a division that will focus on the work of engagement, but for the rest of you in MCCY, please do not think that the work of building partnerships is just the responsibility of this single division. All of us in the MCCY family must have engagement and partnership as part of our lifeblood. It must be integral to the way we work. We all need to think about how we can get more Singaporeans involved, in developing a more vibrant arts, heritage, sports and community landscape, and in creating a better Singapore together.

38. Our statutory boards play an important role in all of this. Our stat board officers are the ones on the frontline – you are most in touch with our stakeholders, and you need to engage them as co-creators of solutions.

39. I know that in the course of doing their work, our stat board officers sometimes have to make tough decisions. We have regulations to administer and rules to enforce. There are funding decisions to make which may entail an increase in some areas but cut-backs in others. This sort of relationship may sometimes result in misunderstandings, or bring about frictions in the relationships with the arts, heritage and sports groups.

40. But I think we have to be fair to our stat board officers. They are trying their best to do their jobs – to ensure accountability in the use of public funds, and to enforce the rules in a fair and impartial manner.

41. I would, however, acknowledge that there is scope to improve on our side, especially to simplify our work processes, to reduce red tape, and to improve our public communications, to explain our policies and the decisions that we make.

42. Where sports funding is concerned, for example, I have suggested to SSC that we shift our funding framework for the NSAs from one that requires funding applications to be made every year, to a framework that provides a certain stable level of baseline funding with a built-in incremental factor over multiple years.

43. This will help to streamline the funding process, NSAs will not have to apply every year, but they can apply once and have certainty over multiple years of baseline funding, with a built-in incremental factor, and so it will give more assurance to the funded NSAs. Then any increase over and above this baseline funding can be worked out separately, with the proposals evaluated on their own merits. So SSC will be studying this idea, together with other ways to streamline and improve the Annual NSA Grant Exercise (ANGE) framework. This is just one example, I think there will be many other examples where we can look at streamlining our processes, how we work with our partners, between stat boards, between the arts, heritage and sports institutions, so that we reduce red tape wherever possible, making the processes simpler, and have more engagement with all our stakeholders.

44. Ultimately, we must remember that we are all on the same team. It is not ‘’us’’ against ‘’them’’; all of us, whether we are in a ministry, statutory board, arts groups, heritage groups or NSAs, we are all on the same team. The statutory boards are the champions of the areas under their charge – the NAC for the arts, NHB for heritage, SSC for sports. We must work together with all our partners for a common cause – to improve the arts, to enhance our heritage and strengthen the sports, and to help nurture the Singapore spirit which would anchor Singaporeans to Singapore, wherever they are.

Civic Participation and Community Self-Regulation

45. One way in which we can foster this sense of togetherness is to promote greater civic participation. The future of Singapore must be one that we create together as a people, and which we all have a stake in.

46. Civic activism need not be confined to grand schemes or large scale initiatives. It can also be in the small but tangible ways that shape our daily lives – like keeping an eye on your neighbour’s place when they are away, or informing the town council when the lift is broken. Through such acts of kindness, each one of us can participate, and in the process build a more caring and gracious society.

47. Last week, it was very heart-warming to see individual Singaporeans standing up for each other, and looking after one another when we were hit by the haze. Across the island, Singaporeans volunteered to go door-to-door giving out facemasks, some even brought liang cha to their residents, and they reached out to the needy, the elderly and those with medical needs.

48. In social media, people organized themselves as well, groups like SG Haze Rescue were formed to reach out to those in need. In fact, after SG Haze Rescue pushed ahead with their activities, NYC offered the NYC Academy building to the group to serve as a meeting point, and also provided The Red Bus @ NYC Academy as their storage and distribution point. So they worked together to get help out to the needy.

49. Other youth sector organisations like Halogen Foundation Singapore and Trybe Limited, they also stepped forward and they partnered the People’s Association Youth Movement to provide support – distributing masks and educating seniors about how to protect themselves from the haze.

50. I would also like to recognise the efforts of our PA staff and Grassroots Leaders in their response to the haze situation. Over the weekend, the Government needed to distribute about a million N95 masks to low-income households. While the SAF could bring the masks to the community centres, it was our grassroots leaders that provided the final mile, the human touch – in terms of actually distributing the masks to residents, and providing assurance to those in need. When called upon, these grassroots leaders or volunteers stepped forward to bring their communities through the crisis.

51. I thank all our grassroots leaders and volunteers, and commend them for their selflessness and contributions to their fellow citizens. Trying times reveal our character and resilience, and these acts of humanity truly make us proud to be Singaporeans.

52. In the arts and culture, we also want Singaporeans to organise themselves and come up with their own solutions. This is why we are encouraging more philanthropy through the Cultural Donation Matching Fund, and creating more space for artists to create their own art projects. In fact, we are looking at how we can do so for street art, we are working with NAC and building owners to expand the space for street art to take place in Singapore.

53. We want to do more of this, to encourage greater ownership at the local level. To have more local ownership, the government ought to do less. But sometimes, it is not so easy to pull back.

54. Take the example of busking. To get a permit to busk, you need to be endorsed by the NAC. The Arts and Culture Strategic Review had recommended that we streamline and decentralise the busking application process, to give the local community greater ownership over the choice of buskers in their own precincts, the idea being that it is better to have local communities take charge of this, then to have centralised rules under one agency which will inevitably stifle the creative process.

55. I saw considerable merits to this suggestion. But when I checked with NAC, I realised that it was not so easy to implement. NAC would have been happy to devolve the responsibility of managing buskers to local place managers, so that the local communities can manage their own busking programmes to enliven the public outdoor space. But every time they try to do that, there is a public complaint about the busker, for example related to sound or obstruction to pedestrian traffic, NAC would be called to resolve the issue. Today, NAC regularly gets about 2-3 complaints a month. So it is difficult for NAC to step aside and relinquish this responsibility unless the local communities are willing to step up and handle such issues.

56. We encounter the same issues in dealing with community disputes and neighbourly disputes. Preferably, such disputes should be resolved amicably among neighbours, mediated say by a third party or a grassroots leaders. It is not something where the government has to get involved. In fact, it is often better for the disputes to be resolved through informal discussion or voluntary community mediation, rather than through legal recourse.

57. But we also know of longstanding cases which are very difficult to resolve, and which cause tremendous grief and consternation to all parties involved. This is why we are now exploring the idea compulsory mediation, making it mandatory, and also studying the possibility of setting up a community tribunal that can be empowered to issue orders after the mediation, and if there is some party found to go against the orders that would be considered an offence. It is not something that we would like to do, but given the situation, we think that there is some way to strengthen our regulations and enforce them.

58. So this is the balance which we must strike in MCCY. It is a very delicate balance, it is not easy, but we must think hard about how we can do this. As far as possible, we in MCCY should take the lead in opening up the space for Singaporeans to engage one other, meaningfully negotiate their own norms, and work out solutions together. We don’t have to rush in to set the rules, we should let communities work out solutions on their own as far as possible. But wherever necessary, we will step in to help resolve issues, and manage the tensions between different (and often competing) interests.

59. Such a process will take time, it’s not easy because the tendency is to turn to the government and let the government solve the problem now. It is a new process to say ‘’let’s have more community self-regulation’’. Whether it’s for the arts spaces, or community spaces, let us try to have more community self-regulation, let us try to encourage and facilitate such constructive engagements, and encourage people to resolve their own differences before turning to the government to do so. It is not easy, but I think it is a more robust and sustainable process.

60. Today’s Singapore is a place where the seeds of different communities are sprouting up. Our people have different aspirations, and there is a need to see how these seeds can complement and bloom in a more diverse landscape. We don’t want the seeds to end up growing and choking off one another, but to bloom together vibrantly in a diverse environment. To do that, we must encourage more participation, more engagement with people of different views, and over time build the capacity to bridge our differences, to reach across divides, and to shape our common space together. It is an important way in which we can grow as a society. This is how we can strengthen our sense of common ownership, and draw closer together as one people.


61. I’ve talked about the need to build a shared culture. We are doing more with museums, by looking at how we can do more in the areas of music and films, we are doing more in sports, not just to train our athletes, but also to enrich the spectator experience and get more Singaporeans to participate in the sports. This will be a very significant part of the work plan that we have moving forward. In doing our work, we have to do it through more engagement and partnerships, and also through more ground-up civic participation. Ultimately, each of us must be a participant in building the Singapore we want.

62. As Gandhi once said, “a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people”. It does not reside in the government, it certainly does not reside in MCCY, it resides in the hearts and in the souls of our people. So our role in MCCY is to create opportunities and provide the space for Singaporeans to express themselves, to pursue their aspirations, and to participate in this process of building of our shared Singaporean culture.

63. In the coming months, I will count on all of you – officers in MCCY and our statutory boards – to stay in touch with our partners and stakeholders, to get regular input and co-create solutions together. We have a lot of work to do, but I am confident that with your commitment, with our continued hard work, we will have more engaged communities and a stronger sense of shared culture – one which is distinctive, unique, and appealing to all of us as Singaporeans.