Events & Happenings

+29 December 2004
Top 10 arts events of 2004
by Clarissa Oon

THIS year was a mixed one for the arts, with quiet revolutions in the
support structure sitting alongside further cuts in direct grants to arts
groups and more competition for audiences.

While more arts groups made it to the National Arts Council's (NAC's)
coveted list of two-year and annual grant recipients this year, there was
less money to go around, with total grants dropping by 4.5 per cent to
$3.568 million.

Wooing audience and sponsorship dollars to cover production costs thus
became all the more urgent - and also more difficult, what with an average
of four or five plays, concerts or exhibitions opening every week.

The result was that arts groups played safe, preferring to restage
tried-and-tested works or adapt foreign classics rather than risk opening a
brand-new show.

While creative fatigue hit some groups, others scaled a new high, like the
Singapore Symphony Orchestra with its world-class performance of Mahler's
epic Symphony Of A Thousand.

Other notable developments in arts education and the showcasing and
recognition of artists pointed to an arts scene in transition, appearing to
unleash more creative energy for the future.

Life! parts the curtain to unveil some key happenings of the year in arts.

1. Arts School proposal
MARCH saw the announcement in Parliament of an Arts School for artistically
inclined students aged 13 to 18, slated to be ready in 2007.

The school will be based in the Waterloo arts district, and students will
graduate with an International Baccalaureate diploma.

The first education of its kind here for high-school students which
integrates academic subjects with specialisation in an arts discipline, it
is a major step towards building a base of fans and industry professionals.

2. Opening of The Arts House
THE Old Parliament House opened its doors as a cosy, intimate arts centre in
March after a $15 million revamp, boasting a gallery, theatre, film
theatrette and three restaurants.

Apart from offering another space in town to catch performances or just
chill, the Arts House appears to be finding its niche in supporting small
festivals and up-and-coming artists.

3. Launch of NUS-FASS and The Arts House writing fellowship
THE National University of Singapore's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
and The Arts House joined forces to start a $60,000 fellowship that pays a
writer to write full-time for a year.

The first of its kind, the award was bagged by playwright Huzir Sulaiman
earlier this month. He will be writing a historical play based on trade and
migration in Asia.

4. Opening up of the Cultural Medallion
FROM next year, Singapore's premier arts awards will recognise new areas
such as multi-media art, technical theatre and pop music.

This is part of the NAC's timely restructuring of the annual Cultural
Medallion and Young Artist Awards, announced in October, which keeps pace
with changing definitions of art and artists.

This would make the likes of Stefanie Sun, Singapore's best-known Mandarin
pop export, eligible for next year's laurels.

5. World premiere of I La Galigo
YOU either loved or hated this 600-year-old Bugis epic, retold for the first
time as a lyrical four-hour-long music-theatre spectacle by avant garde
American director Robert Wilson.

Still, what was significant was that the Esplanade helped to make it
happen. Apart from co-commissioning it along with illustrious international
partners like New York's Lincoln Center Festival, the arts centre was the
venue for the production's world premiere in March.

6. Loosening the reins on experimentation
THE cautious liberalisation of the arts continued. Following the lifting of
the 10-year no-funding rule on performance art and forum theatre at the
close of last year, the NAC was one of the funding bodies behind an
international performance art festival.

Titled The Future Of Imagination 2, it was held at Sculpture Square three
weeks ago.

Earlier this year, confrontational gay-themed plays such as Landmarks -
Asian Boys Vol 2 and Mardi Gras were granted licences to be staged, as was
Mengapa Isa?, Alfian Sa'at's monodrama on religion and the Internal Security
Act staged as part of the Istana 2000 festival earlier this month.

7. Gearing up for the Singapore Biennale
THERE was a new excitement in the visual arts scene when the NAC announced
in September that there would be a Singapore Biennale in 2006 - the
country's answer to prestigious and cutting-edge international biennales
such as Venice and Gwangju.

As part of the build-up to staging this global-scale event, the council and
the National Heritage Board organised a one-off contemporary Asian art
event, Seni, in October and November.

Held at various venues including the Singapore Art Museum, it attracted an
audience of about 810,000.

8. Insomnia48
THE highlight of Seni was Insomnia48 from Oct 1 to 3, in which TheatreWorks
artistic director Ong Keng Sen turned The Arts House into a free
48-hour-long weekend party for the adventurous and artistically inclined.

An audience of 8,000 wandered in and out of rooms partaking of DIY music
videos, sound-generating tattoo art and recycled fashion shows, among other
sleep-defying activities. Notable for making a fun and digestible event out
of experimental art.

9. Top arts and concert draws
GENERAL audiences were not short of a dazzling array of international acts.
They included violin maestros Maxim Vengerov and Gil Shaham and world music
luminaries Orchestra Baobab and Gilberto Gil.

Brilliant Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin returned to Singapore for
Tabula Rasa, his August collaboration with the Singapore Dance Theatre,
while Colombian artist Fernando Botero provided volumes of aesthetic
pleasure with his massive sculptures.

10. Passing of senior artists
PAINTER Liu Kang, one of the founding fathers of Singapore art, died of
natural causes on June 1. He was 93. Short story writer Goh Sin Tub died of
a stroke on Nov 16, at the age of 77.

Still, the legacy of their works live on for future generations.

Goh's Walk Like A Dragon was on best-seller lists earlier this year while
Liu and his family have generously donated his lifetime's works of over
1,000 pieces to the Singapore Art Museum.

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