Why Arts and Heritage Matter in Singapore

By City Of Good  /
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Arts in Singapore

“It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance.” – Henry James

Art is all around us in different forms. It has accompanied us since childhood, as an academic subject in our school curriculum, playing an important role in the holistic development of every student. We consume everyday art through nature, product packaging and even in our bus and train stations. We marvel at the magical art installations available at the ArtScience Museum amongst others in Singapore’s growing exhibition and museum scene.  

Art is a way of creative expression, storytelling and cultural appreciation.

arts and heritage singapore
Above: Image taken from Pexel

Due to its dynamic nature, the definition and categories of Singapore’s art scene are changing each day. Our City of Good is home to prominent art institutions, businesses and international events such as Singapore Art Week and the Singapore Biennale. 

Regardless of the forms art takes, it is crucial in shaping and recording our progress through the years. It enriches our history and culture, transforming memories into something we can preserve and pass on to future generations. It makes us who we are, and it is up to us to keep Singapore’s art scene thriving. 

Types of Art

Art encompasses a broad spectrum of media. In order to ensure that the various categories of arts are alive and flourishing, there are a myriad of organisations, initiatives and programmes we can give back and extend our support to. Below, we share the three different types of art commonly available in Singapore.

1. Visual Art

Peranakan Museum Singapore
Above: Image taken from National Heritage Board, Giving.sg

Visual arts is an art form consumed primarily through sight, such as physical or static art objects. These include paintings, sculptures, drawings, crafts, photography, and even architecture. 

The opening of the Art Gallery in Singapore’s National Museum in 1976 was a milestone, offering local artists opportunities to share their creative ideas with everyone. 

logo 5
Above: Image taken from National Heritage Board, Giving.sg

Our current museum landscape is expanding, with establishments like the Singapore Art Museum, Asian Civilisations Museum, and the National Gallery Singapore bringing educational and impactful exhibitions to locals and tourists alike. The collective effort of these institutions have established Singapore as home to the world’s largest public collection of Southeast Asian art, garnering curious visitors from all around the world. 

2. Performing Arts

The term “performing arts” refers to art that is performed in front of an audience and includes vocal and instrumental music, dance, theater, and drama. Singapore is home to a mix of professional and amateur performing arts companies. Their unique works serve as a gateway for domestic and international audiences to experience Singapore’s multiculturalism.

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Above: Image taken from DES Arts, Giving.sg

For example, Dance Ensemble Singapore Arts (DES Arts) is a professional dance company that strives to make contemporary Chinese dance more accessible to youths via educational programmes. Bhaskar’s Arts Academy stages multiple productions each year highlighting the art of traditional Indian dance, music and theatre performances. Being avid believers in giving back to the community, the academy works with other organisations to bring the arts to the elderly and domestic helpers. 

acapella society
Above: Image taken from The A Cappella Society, Facebook

Loved watching “Pitch Perfect”? The A Cappella Society is Singapore’s leading resource centre for contemporary a cappella vocal music. Anyone who wishes to pursue their passion for singing can access their training centre, from emerging talents to a cappella groups. Not only do they provide rehearsal space, they also provide support for groups as well as programs and events for the community. 

Arts venues and institutions provide these performing arts companies spaces for productions, workshops, and a stage to interact with the public. Iconic landmarks include The Arts House, Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall.

Above: Image taken from Esplanade, Giving.sg

Our beloved Esplanade is a non-profit arts centre that is dedicated to making the arts accessible to all, with a mission to entertain, engage, educate and inspire. With their Arts for Change campaign, they seek to share the joys of art with everyone – engaging youths, seniors and underserved communities, making 70% of their performances and activities free for everyone to enjoy.

3. Literary Arts

thought catalog mmWqrsjZ4Lw unsplash
Above: Image taken from Unsplash

Lastly, the literary arts refer to art found in writing or stories that convey artistic and cultural value. It includes poetry, literature, journalism, fictional and non-fictional works. Literary arts is one of the oldest ways to preserve culture and to share information across generations.

singapore book council
Above: Image taken from Singapore Book Council, Giving.sg

Founded in 1968, the Singapore Book Council (SBC) provides literary art initiatives themed around creative writing, reading, illustration, translation and storytelling. Today, they dedicate their efforts to develop the local literary scene through training programmes, events such as the annual Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) and book awards to recognise talent.

sing lit station
Above: Image taken from Sing Lit Station, Giving.sg

Similarly, Sing Lit Station’s mission is to grow the literary community in Singapore, creating a platform where readers and writers can learn, network and collaborate. Singapore Poetry on the Sidewalks is one of their various efforts to integrate poetry into our everyday lives. Sing Lit Station also actively gives back and carries out a writing workshop series for aspiring writers, migrant workers and communities with disadvantaged backgrounds.

Heritage in Singapore

Since Singapore’s independence in 1965, arts and heritage have played a key role in our nation’s development by creating an inclusive space regardless of race, language, or religion. 

Haji Heritage Lane Singapore
Above: Image taken from Unsplash

Singaporeans have been actively engaging with our heritage over the years, with 8 in 10 Singaporeans participating in cultural activities. Our collective efforts have helped us strengthen our identity as a nation, bring communities together and build lasting relationships. As Mr. Lee Kuan Yew said in 2005, “Heritage is part of the lives of a people. It shapes the ways a people meet new challenges and helps them adapt and to survive.

Chinatown Heritage Centre

Singapore’s heritage sites are custodians of our history, preserving our people’s stories. These include renowned locations like the Chinese Heritage Centre, Malay Heritage Centre, the Indian Heritage Centre and the Eurasian Heritage Centre.

Such institutions exist to spread awareness of the different ethnicities’ histories – to facilitate better conversations and cultivate a deeper understanding of our heritage, culture and traditions. 

Marcus Gavey once wrote, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is a tree without its roots”. Amidst the rapid changes our City of Good undergoes each day, our appreciation of Singapore’s arts and heritage keeps us glued as one people, one country. 

Why Local Arts and Heritage Matter To…

1. Our Community

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Above: Image taken from Giving.sg

The arts and heritage deliver joy and entertainment, but they also educate our youth, keep seniors active and care for people with disabilities. They can help to form strong social relationships, expand networks, increase engagement with the people and develop a community’s social identity. Art transcends cultural boundaries, bringing individuals from diverse backgrounds together to solve problems. 

Above: Image taken from TRCL
  • The Rice Company (TRCL) is a charity organisation that reaches out to financially disadvantaged children and youths, working to transform lives through art.
  • Another such example is LittleCr3eatures, an initiative by SAtheCollective that aims to create a space for young children to play, learn and explore their creativity, nurturing their minds through immersive performances and workshops.

2. Our Mental Health

Above: Image taken from Unsplash

Research shows that arts and heritage activities foster healing and help people with mental health problems. They can promote various therapeutic health benefits, including stress alleviation and increased self-esteem and wellbeing. 
More people are turning to art therapy for comfort and support, utilising art as a means of expressing themselves without fear of being judged. Ultimately, it aims to manage behaviours, process emotions and develop healthy coping abilities.

art in pyschology, family doing clay art together
Above: Image taken from Center Pottery, Giving.sg
  • An example of this is Center Pottery, which offers clay workshops for all ages. The enterprise engages psychologists to combine the study of psychology with clay art to create a therapeutic curriculum for mental health patients and the general public.

3. Our History

Without the prehistoric cave markings and ancient artifacts left by our ancestors, much of our past would have remained a mystery. Art and heritage is an important fixture in history, capturing what fact-based records cannot – how it felt like to exist in a particular place and time. It helps future generations to understand how the world used to be and learn from the mistakes of history.

Nam Hwa Traditional Chinese Opera
Above: Image taken from Nam Hwa Opera, Giving.sg
  • Nam Hwa Opera comprises a group of enthusiasts that work to preserve and promote traditional Teochew opera, an art form was introduced to Singapore by Chinese immigrants in the 19th century.

4. Our Businesses

neon art

Check out why supporting the arts is good for business. Businesses and corporate organisations can embrace the usage of art to engage with target audiences, making their messages more relatable and effective. 

Supporting Our Arts And Heritage During Covid-19

Singapore’s arts and heritage scene, like everything else, has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. With safety measures prompting temporary cancellations, reduced venue capacities and tight restrictions, many organisations have seen their incomes severely affected. Many have been struggling to stay afloat, whilst trying to address why they are still an essential cause in these unprecedented times

Traditional Indian Dance from Apsara Arts
Above: Image from Apsara Arts, Giving.sg

Even so, many arts and heritage non-profits have come up with creative ways to stay relevant. Apsara Arts, for instance, is digitalising their productions and organising webinars and newsletters on the world of classical Indian dance, heritage and culture.

philatelic museum
Above: Image taken from Singapore Philatelic Museum, Giving.sg

With more artists and performers going digital, museums have expanded to include online performances, exhibitions and tours. Now, we can embark on a virtual tour of the premises at the Singapore Philatelic Museum and revisit past showcase themes such as The Little Prince, DC Superheroes and Harry Potter

Through #GalleryAnywhere, the National Gallery Singapore has launched an entire range of virtual events, including insightful interviews with the museum curators, collaborative showcases and virtual tours streamed on their social media. 

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Above: Image taken from Singapore Symphonia Company, Giving.sg

Internationally renowned Singapore Symphony Orchestra also offers specially curated playlists on Spotify, online concerts and a dive into their audio archives here. Larger organisations such as the National Arts Council collaborate and provide support to small arts groups, further highlighting how more organisations are working together to foster the spirit of giving in the arts and culture sector.

How You Can Help

Take your step to support the Arts here: www.giving.sg/arts.

All the different charitable initiatives are housed under one page, making it a comprehensive way to learn and give back through a few steps. 

Through donating to an arts charity, they can create more meaningful programmes for the community and sustain the cost of operations of our arts and heritage organisations. 

Let us all work together to make Singapore a colourful and vibrant City of Good.