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Giving to the community through the arts

Arts in the City at Mapletree Business City with local performing group The Royal Dance-Off


FOR staff and tenants at Mapletree Business City, food is not the only thing to look forward to at lunchtime. They also get to enjoy arts performances across a myriad of genres.

Head of Mapletree's group corporate services Wan Kwong Weng says the midday performances, which range from traditional Chinese music to hip hop dance, are popular with the crowd.

The performances are part of Mapletree's signature programme Arts in the City (AITC), which started in 2013 and is organised in collaboration with the National Arts Council (NAC). Charlotte Koh, deputy director of the arts and culture development office at NAC, says: "Our wish is to have arts in every firm's and individual's DNA. Arts feeds and opens the mind and changes the way we see the world. It equips us with skills for a future-ready workforce."

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However, the road to raising public awareness was not always a smooth one. "Some firms will not think of supporting the arts as they don't think it fulfils their social mission . . . the older generation also prefers to give to other causes linked to education and alleviation of poverty," she says.

Hence NAC is on the move to spread awareness by collaborating with firms such as Mapletree.

Through initiatives such as AITC, groups such as Nadi Singapura and The Royal Dance-Off get a platform to reach out to locals.

Ms Koh says: "We have to put in a business case and explain to the firms that they can use the arts as a platform to engage the PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians). It can also enliven the environment and is a gift to the community. For instance, Mapletree has supported the arts and this support stems from the desire to add vibrancy to their properties."

Efforts seem to have paid off. Research conducted last year by NAC found that 63 per cent of multinational corporations and 47 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises which had not previously given to the arts said they would consider doing so.

To encourage giving, the Cultural Matching Fund (CMF), administered by NAC, provides one-to-one matching of private cash donations to eligible arts and heritage groups.

"We want to have a shared ownership with the arts groups," says Ms Koh. "So far, the initiative has been successful. If you look at the trend of giving, in 2012-2013, tax deductible donations have always been in the range of S$28-29 million. But after CMF was implemented, in the years 2014 and 2015, the amounts received were S$55 million and S$149 million respectively. The big jump in the Jubilee year, when giving was at an all-time high, can be attributed to the establishment of two new arts institutions and the increased awareness of the CMF."

One arts group that has benefitted from CMF is The TENG Company. Temasek Holdings has been its patron since 2015 as it saw in TENG "homegrown talent with the potential to develop a uniquely multi-cultural Singaporean sound that is fresh and inspiring", says Robin Hu, head, sustainability & stewardship group, at Temasek.

"Temasek cares about the well-being of our community and has been supporting the nurturing of young talent through arts and music endowments since 2011," says Mr Hu.

Yang Ji Wei, executive director of The TENG Company, says: "The CMF has helped to lighten the load of fundraising for the company and enables us to expand our efforts in performance, education and research."

To bring the arts to all Singaporeans, NAC also spearheaded initiatives such as Arts in Your Neighbourhood to reach people in the heartlands and Silver Arts for the seniors.

"We have a department set up to just focus on engaging communities through the arts. At NAC, we believe in artistic excellence and creating access in the work that we do. So the activities we do at the heartlands are still of good quality," says Ms Koh.

The efforts have helped shape people's perception that the arts is not an esoteric subject just for the rich. Looking ahead, NAC wants to make the arts more accessible to marginalised communities and persons with disabilities.

"So in future, when we have a show or movie screening, we want to have people who can sign so that the hearing impaired can enjoy as well . . . but this year, we want to focus on bringing films to nursing homes - something we hope to introduce in this year's Silver Arts festival. We not only screen the movie for the seniors who may not be mobile at the nursing homes, we also bring in the producers of the show to explain."

  • This article is part of a series covering companies contributing towards under-served causes. The Business Times supports NVPC's Company of Good programme as media partner. Visit for more information. Company of Good is in support of SGCares - a national movement dedicated to support the goodwill of Singaporeans and guide them to better help those in need.