Singapore

Covid-hit arts groups continue to do good

Show your support for them — and their causes — by donating to a new fund that supports small arts organisations

Madam Lee Moy Yin looks forward to the weekly dance and music exercises.
Organised by Decadance Co at a Lion Befrienders Senior Activity Centre near her home, these sessions used to be conducted on-site at the centre, but they have now moved online as a result of Covid-19.

While Madam Lee, 69, misses chatting with her friends and neighbours at the on-site sessions, she has since taken to the virtual classes. She uses a SilverPad — a senior-friendly, iPad-like device with a simple interface — to watch the pre-recorded sessions online and is able to re-watch her favourite sessions whenever she wants to.

“I was able to practise my listening skills by counting the number of beats. The exercises lifted my mood, as the instructors were funny and made me smile,” she says.

Working behind the scenes to bring smiles to elderly beneficiaries like Madam Lee, is the socially conscious contemporary dance company, Decadance Co.

Founded in 2019, it uses dance and music to promote inter-generational harmony and inclusivity. Its flagship Decasilver programme is specially designed to improve the mood and well-being of the elderly beneficiaries.

As many of them stay alone in rental flats, the dance and music exercises not only allow them to socialise with their neighbours, but also help ease feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Even with no physical sessions since the start of Covid-19, Decadance Co has continued to encourage its following of seniors to remain active. The team created a series of eight videos with warm-up exercises, rhythmic games and a simple choreography for the seniors to follow. These videos were recorded in various languages and dialects and uploaded to YouTube.

Like Decadance Co, there are many arts groups in Singapore using their talent and time to engage marginalised or vulnerable groups while championing causes, such as keeping our cultural legacy alive.

Malay dance company Era Dance Theatre, for example, are the organisers of Muara Festival, one of the region’s largest gatherings of Malay dance practitioners and enthusiasts.

The festival has grown steadily over the last 10 years, drawing over 10,000 attendees at its annual events and becoming widely recognised as the pinnacle of Malay dance festivals in the region.

Over the years, the Muara Festival has become a platform for the exchange, collaboration and sharing of ideas between Malay performing arts practitioners, enthusiasts, young choreographers and the public. PHOTO: ERA DANCE THEATRE

Covid-19 restrictions almost caused the festival’s 10th anniversary celebrations last year to be cancelled, but fortunately the organisers were quick to move programming online.

The result was a successful weekend of livestreamed performances and workshops, with regional dancers being able to share ideas via video conferencing.

Mr Azmi Juhari, dance leader and choreographer from Azpirasi Dance Group, says: “We have been participating in Muara since its inaugural run, but having it online this time is very exciting. We get to see ourselves close-up and from many different angles, allowing for active learning that will help lift overall standards in Malay dance.”

Giving the arts a new lease of life

Arts groups such as Decadance Co and Era Dance Theatre were able to pivot online and continue producing meaningful content for various segments of the community, thanks in part to the introduction of a new fund that helps smaller arts groups sustain through challenging times.

The Sustain the Arts (stART) Fund is a joint initiative by the National Arts Council (NAC) and the private sector to boost the long-term sustainability of small arts organisations.

The fund serves to nurture a culture of giving to the arts by recognising impactful work and encouraging the continued presentation of creative and quality programmes that inspires individuals and communities.

Administered by NAC, the stART Fund is also meant to support arts organisations in enhancing arts experiences through digital technology, and establish better governance and accountability through scaling up with robust governance structures and working towards sustaining their creative practice in the long run.

The need to upgrade organisational capabilities is especially pronounced in recent times due to the disruption caused by Covid-19 on the local arts and culture scene, where many small arts groups have had to cancel their events and programmes due to financial instability and other difficulties.

Paper Monkey Theatre specialises in puppetry productions and workshops to encourage artistic development and enriching learning experiences for both children and adults. PHOTO: PAPER MONKEY THEATRE

Paper Monkey Theatre, for example, had to cancel several public shows, as well as its annual Puppet Festival, last year.

The festival was created to showcase puppetry performances from around the world and provide a platform for puppetry artists to share and exchange ideas on the craft. The company saw its income plunge drastically after many show bookings with schools and elsewhere were cancelled.

Mr Benjamin Ho, artistic director of Paper Monkey Theatre, says: “If arts programmes cannot continue, a part of our culture and heritage may be gone and that’s heartbreaking.

"After I started learning about Chinese traditional hand puppets, I understood a lot more about my Chinese heritage.

“It would be sad to see puppets only in display cases of museums in the future… I want to pass the art down, so our future generations can enjoy them and be proud of their heritage.”

Paper Monkey Theatre is not alone in its struggle. Decadance Co is also finding it difficult to continue its operations with the limited performance opportunities and huge cuts in classes.

Mr Edwin Wee, director of Decadance Co, shares: “As a new non-profit art start-up, continuing operations without operational funding becomes extremely stressful and discouraging. Only with continued financial support would our artists be able to continue creating effective engagement programmes for our silver communities.”

At Superhero Me, children with and without disabilities work together through creative art experiences bridged by facilitators known as Captains to form friendships. PHOTO: ALVIN TOH

Finding the silver lining during a downturn

Ms Jean Loo, co-founder of Superhero Me, a non-profit group that champions inclusion through the arts, says the Covid-19 pandemic presents unique opportunities for arts groups to further their causes.

“During Covid-19, we found that people were more open to thinking about accessibility in art programmes. So, other than shifting our programmes online, we thought we could also use the opportunity to teach others how to create art programmes for a more diverse audience so that children with special needs could be better included."

Superhero Me is hoping to use stART funding for its upcoming inclusive arts training programme, that seeks to equip art professionals and teachers with the skills and confidence to improve the experience of art programmes for children of all abilities.

It also intends to run a mentorship programme that pairs special needs youth with creative professionals so that their art projects can be developed into products that can generate income.

“Young people with disabilities often have problems getting a job after leaving school. We hope to seed opportunities for them at a younger age and nurture longer-term partnerships, which may result in income-generating opportunities for them in the future,” says Ms Loo.

“So, any form of support for our work – especially during this critical time – will, in turn, contribute to our efforts in creating a more inclusive society.”

By helping to provide relief to these smaller arts and culture groups affected by the pandemic, the stART Fund — with your support — will go a long way towards helping Singapore’s arts community continue to thrive and grow, enabling more people to enjoy and celebrate our diverse arts experiences.

Donate now to the stART fund here or find out more at www.nac.gov.sg/start. Donations that are $10 and above qualify for 250 per cent tax deduction, and all donations are eligible for dollar-for-dollar matching by the Cultural Matching Fund.

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