'Very few' arts projects have NAC funding declined or withdrawn due to political content: Baey Yam Keng

Nicholas Yong
Senior Correspondent
Singapore comics artist Sonny Liew’s graphic novel “The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye” was one of the “very few” works to have its NAC funding withdrawn. (Image courtesy of Epigram Books)

“Very few” arts projects have had their National Arts Council (NAC) funding declined or withdrawn because they “undermine public institutions, political parties or figures”, said the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth’s (MCCY) Parliamentary Secretary Baey Yam Keng in Parliament on Tuesday (7 November).

This is compared to the thousands of projects that the NAC funds each year, said the Tampines GRC MP while fielding questions on the council’s approach to deciding which arts projects to back.

“As a steward of public funds, the NAC seeks an enlarged space for the arts to flourish without compromising on social cohesion and stability,” he said, adding that those seeking funding will need to meet the council’s guidelines, which were last updated in 2013 and are “still relevant”.

Baey elaborated that the NAC regularly convenes grant evaluation panels that comprise many members of the arts community and appoints over 400 individuals – including arts practitioners, researchers and industry professionals – to such panels each year.

During Tuesday’s debate, Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leon Perera asked if the government would be reviewing its funding criterion with regard to politically sensitive work.

Citing the case of comic artist Sonny Liew – whose graphic novel “The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye” had its NAC funding withdrawn in May 2015 – Perera asked if such “politicisation of the arts” will set back the development of Singapore’s arts sector. Despite the setback, Liew’s work went on to see strong sales and win three Eisner Awards – a much-coveted prize in the comics industry.

In response, Baey said that while the NAC works to strike a balance between the views of the arts community and the concerns of the “public at large”.

“The position, of course, will need to evolve with the changes in society, what the public can accept or not. So the conversation remains open. That’s why we are also constantly reviewing our guidelines,” he added.

NCMP Dennis Tan also asked whether the NAC funding criterion would apply to works that deal with “political parties in our history”, to which Baey replied that it would be up to the government of the day to decide on how to allocate arts funding.

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