S$3m plan to jazz up Civic District, Bras Basah-Bugis

Already abuzz in recent months with the opening of the National Gallery Singapore and the introduction of car-free Sundays, the Civic District and the Bras Basah-Bugis area are set to get a S$3 million shot in the arm to raise the areas’ appeal with more cultural and lifestyle offerings.

In place for the next three years, the funding will be used by the National Heritage Board (NHB) and the National Arts Council (NAC) to expand programming and publicity, and build social and civic connections.

Noting that “a strong sense of place and local artistic content feature prominently in culturally vibrant places”, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) Grace Fu said the efforts will “deepen the distinctive character of places which make Singapore attractive and unique”.

Ms Fu, who announced the plan during her ministry’s Committee of Supply debate on Thursday (April 14), also spoke about the role of arts and culture in national identity.

“Local arts and culture are important touchstones of what it means to be Singaporean. In a very visceral way, through what we see, touch and hear, the arts hold up a mirror, that show us who we are,” she said.

Apart from recent events like the Car-Free Sundays launched in the Civic District in February, other efforts launched earlier to develop the two areas as distinct cultural spots include the restoration of some historic buildings, the addition of more green spaces, and making the spot more pedestrian-friendly.

To further efforts, the NAC is working with agencies such as Urban Redevelopment Authority, National Parks Board (NParks) and SportsSG, as well as National Gallery Singapore and Asian Civilisations Museum, to develop outdoor and indoor experiences across sports, culture, food and entertainment. For example, the NAC is exploring bringing its signature programmes, such as Got To Move and Arts In Your Neighbourhood, to the Civic District. Discussions are ongoing to tap both programmes, as well as the Singapore Writers Festival, to add “diversity and vibrancy to the Civic District”, said the MCCY. The NAC will be sharing more details at a later date.

The NAC is also discussing with NParks to extend sustainable light art festival i-Light Marina Bay from Marina Bay to the waterfront area. The two agencies are working with partners to see how they can make use of the outdoor spaces within the Civic District.

Meanwhile, the Singapore Night Festival, which is under the NHB’s purview, remains a programming mainstay for the Bras Basah-Bugis precinct. The Armenian Street Party, which was launched last month, will be an annual affair. An overhaul of a guide on the area’s museums, historic sites and other leisure, food and beverage spots, is expected to be ready by mid-July.

During the debate, Nominated Member of Parliament Kok Heng Leun had commented that the placemaking efforts seemed “top-down” and asked how the Government democratise the engagement process.

Ms Fu said this will evolve, citing the People’s Association’s (PA) PAssionArts programme as an example of how some local communities came to embrace the project and made it their own. “I think that should be the way to go. With the local community stepping forward, I think agencies like PA would gladly step back and let the locals have greater decision making,” she said.

Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Baey Yam Keng said placemaking efforts need to go hand in hand with community ownership and strong support from the arts and heritage groups. The Government also wants to help Singaporeans build a stronger sense of attachment to their surroundings in the heartlands and neighbourhoods, he added.

There will also be efforts to promote the traditional arts — which include art forms like Indian classical dance or Malay drums — to the younger generation. Mr Baey said the Government will continue to professionalise and nurture the next generation of talent in this area, noting that the NAC’s funding to traditional arts groups has almost doubled in the last five years from S$1.26 million in financial year 2011 to S$2.51 million in financial year 2015.

More traditional arts groups will be commissioned to produce programmes with interactive elements. For starters, NAC is working with the Traditional Arts Centre to develop an original and age-appropriate Chinese opera production to be performed in schools. The Stamford Arts Centre is also being redeveloped to have a traditional arts focus and is expected to be ready by next year.

At the pre-school level, the NAC will work with the Early Childhood Development Agency to further drive arts education for this group. The pre-school NAC-Arts Education Programmes, which provides children with access to quality art programmes, will be expanded from the pilot of 19 pre-schools last year to 55 centres, in partnership with anchor operators PAP Community Foundation and MY World Preschool. An arts-based pre-school — a pilot between the NAC and NTUC My First Skool — will be launched in June.

Source : Today – 14 Apr 2016

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