FLAG THE FLAG
Theater veteran Gaurav Kripalani has every right to feel jaded. Yet he still remains as enthusiastic as he was when he debuted over 20 years ago, pushing the boundaries of creativity.
âI find it sad that literature is no longer a compulsory subject in schools,â laments Gaurav Kripalani. âThere are children today who will grow up with very little exposure to classics. I have met young adults who don’t even like to read.
Despite this, the artistic director of the Singapore Repertory Theater (SRT) is moving forward, convinced that the arts and theater are an integral part of the cultural landscape of a young nation. Kripalani was one of the few Singaporeans who graduated in theater in 1996. When he and his team staged the inaugural edition of Shakespeare in the Park the following year, they had to fly three-quarters of the actors and the creative team.
He is happy to tap into a rich pool of skilled talent today. â90% of the people we hire for these productions are Singaporeans,â Kripalani shares.
Nonetheless, he knows that Singapore still has work to do, especially if it wants its art scene to be financially viable. The stress of the pandemic has hit professionals in this field, and many have had to find other jobs to survive. Now that the Covidian cloud is rising, Kripalani is hoping they either return or “it will set us back for years.”
However, he sees a silver lining. âThere is now a greater appreciation of the arts. People didn’t realize how much they missed the shows. It’s impossible to beat the visceral experience of watching a performance live with others, âhe says.
However, he thinks we can do more, starting with funding. Interestingly, Kripalani believes that SRT’s dependence on public funding (70 percent comes from ticket sales) hinders artistic expression. âAn ideal model would be 40% of revenue from ticket sales, 40% from government support and 30% from donations. This will allow artists to be more daring and push more boundaries, âhe says.
Indeed, Kripalani remains excited despite the pandemic and the increasingly lukewarm public response to the arts and theater. His four-year tenure as Festival Director of the Singapore International Arts Festival (SIFA) shows Singapore’s viability as a cultural force in the region. Additionally, the festival proved to Kripalani that there is still life in this nation as it had to be staged in just a few weeks, unlike the usual two years it takes to plan a physical festival.
It’s about being creative. In November, to get around the restriction on outdoor events, SRT is staging The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) – all 37 plays in 97 minutes! – at the Pasir Panjang power station. He’s also pledged to put on more Shakespeare in the Park shows, even though they’re loss-making businesses.
Kripalani says: âI firmly believe that Singapore can be the artistic capital of Asia. I want to create Singaporean shows that will go around the world and fly the Singapore flag. Wouldn’t it be great if every tourist who came here made sure to book a night on their itinerary to see a show? Better yet, they planned a trip to Singapore just to see a show and organized their tours around that.
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THE ESSENTIAL ARTIST
The veteran diplomat and founder of Sing Jazz believes the pandemic will have a negative impact on the arts, but he plans to reverse it.
Most of the teens listened to the counter-cultural musical trend of their time, which generally oscillates between rock and roll and rap. Michael Tay listened to jazz. âMy brother gave me my first hi-fi system and he loved jazz, too,â laughs the 62-year-old.
Tay’s musical knowledge broadened as his career grew. His long career as a diplomat brought him into contact with the deep cultural traditions of Korea, Japan and Russia. Living in these culturally rich countries, he has learned that a child who grows up surrounded by music, literature, poetry and plays will develop a creative drive that will last a lifetime and contribute to society.
Tay launched the Sing Jazz Festival and the Arts and Social Enterprise Nonprofit Foundation upon his return to Singapore. Despite the success of both since their inception in 2013 and the fact that there is now an increase in options, Tay believes the country is still grappling with “the instinctive deprioritization of the arts by society.”
This became more evident when musicians began to lose their livelihoods from concerts and concerts due to the pandemic. So far, we haven’t seen any signs of a return to full-scale performance.
âDigitization will not be the panacea we were hoping for. Fundraising will suffer over time as pandemic emergencies will direct charitable giving more to social causes. We are now at a crossroads and how we move forward with the arts will determine the development of Singapore as a first world society, âsaid Tay.
The cultural heavyweight believes that the best way forward is to integrate Singapore into the global artistic landscape and export local talent to different markets. The Foundation has pursued this mission since its creation and it is one of its essential pillars.
Unlike many other institutions, the Foundation approaches fundraising from a venture capital perspective. If an artist has a project they want to develop, Tay and his team will do their best to market and export it. One of its most recent and significant initiatives to date is the 10-year musical commission series, which the Foundation launched last month.
Each year, a Singapore-based music composer will be tasked with composing a major work of at least 30 minutes. The first is Cultural Medallion recipient Kelly Tang, who will be working on an orchestral piece based on artwork from the National Gallery of Singapore.
In the years to come, Tay hopes to pursue other musical works, “including Chinese orchestral music, jazz compositions, a musical, and even a rock opera!” “
He continues: âWe want to encourage the creation of new original music by organizing concerts in Singapore and then exporting it abroad. The aim is to create a canon of contemporary Singapore music. Getting companies to sponsor the works would also allow us to build a sponsorship system for Singapore. “
Art, in its various forms, is an essential part of Tay’s life. âWe are already artists when we are born. Before we become engineers, accountants, or whatever career we choose, we are artists. Growth and development should include the arts. I would like to change the paradigm so that the arts are recognized as an essential element of the human being. “
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WEAVING IN THE FABRIC OF EVERYDAY LIFE
Jackie Yoong, senior curator at the Asian Civilizations Museum, believes capturing the attention of young people is the key to cultural longevity.
Jackie Yoong remembers that no one went to local museums when she was in school. They were considered old, dusty, and unimportant. It was different abroad. Parents would spend a day visiting secular institutions like MoMA or the MusÃ©e d’Orsay with their children.
Fortunately, Yoong is happy to report that 12 years after joining the Asian Civilizations Museum, that notion is finally starting to change. âWe need to resonate with the local public,â the senior curator tells us. âWe are engaging more with young people and have worked closely with the Department of Education on programming. More and more students now know that museums are accessible and have fascinating things.
The pandemic has also made museums more digital savvy, allowing them to stay on top of cultural trends. Yoong is currently working with his counterparts at the Royal Ontario Museum to provide face masks and other relevant knowledge for an online exhibit on the most popular garment since the pandemic. Scheduled to open in November, it aims to contextualize the pandemic by highlighting the important role played by face masks.
Over the past decade, Yoong has also seen new museums spring up and older ones undergo much-needed renovations. Internally, museum staff have also worked tirelessly to capture the public’s attention. Whether it’s slicing up long chunks of information into bite-sized snippets that can be easily digested on social media, or making museums instagrammable, Yoong and many of his peers understand that keeping young people interested is the key to Singapore’s cultural longevity.
Today’s arts and culture scene is also undoubtedly more vibrant, dynamic and international, thanks to initiatives such as the Singapore Night Festival.
However, she sounds a word of warning. âYoung people tend to focus on the present, while museums focus on the past. Even if we innovate to meet them in the middle, we must not lose sight of our vision.
As a result, Yoong sincerely hopes that Singapore’s arts and culture scene can receive the recognition it deserves from the public. Most of the museums and places of cultural interest here are currently funded by the government. Yoong believes that museums will only remain viable if more people donate or become patrons.
During his travels for work, Yoong has seen how fundraising can help museums abroad integrate into the social fabric and become part of everyday life. She believes the same can be done in Singapore.
In June of last year, The Sunday Times surveyed 1,000 participants and asked them to classify jobs according to their criticality to society. Unfortunately, 71 percent considered the artist to be the least essential occupation. Yoong naturally disagrees with this opinion. âMuseums add nothing to the bottom line. However, we do a lot more than that. We help you answer the fundamental question of who you are as an individual through our work. Museums are also fundamental in our daily life, and I hope the people of Singapore can appreciate it. “
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