First published on 2 Jan 2013. Updated on 9 Jan 2013.
Happy New Year! Remember that terrible thing that happened last year? Never mind. Start over. A fresh start for everyone! Please disregard the previous text if you are currently awaiting a court date or just agreed to meet a friend you don’t really like – you don’t get off that easily. In my experience,
New Year’s is the time where everything is completely backwards – for example, I happened to be visiting London last New Year’s and everyone smiled and was nice to one another. I like to think maybe this year Singapore will go on a diet and somehow become miraculously fat. Yes, New Year’s is a great time – along with Christmas, it’s the only thing to remind us that life can be good before we’re thrown into Valentine’s Day and the pitiful realisation that nobody loves you and you might never know the touch of a man or a woman.
So I like to try to treat the occasion seriously and offer some New Year resolutions. Here’s one: how about taking the stairs occasionally? It’s a great way to keep fit – but more importantly here, let’s just look at it as training for learning how to walk up escalators. I have a hope that by getting on some stairs, just standing there while wondering why we’re not being automatically taken to the desired altitude will force some sort of evolutionary learning curve.
But seriously, I do have a real New Year’s resolution for Singapore, and it’s an important one: support the local arts scene. Remember when local singer-songwriter Inch Chua wrote that open letter to Singapore in 2011, criticising the local culture for looking down upon original art? In case you missed it, she included questions like ‘Why are we possibly the only country where “local” has so many negative connotations tagged with it?’ and ‘Why are we the only country where you’re only considered a GOOD, COMPETENT musician when you can play covers?’
From some perspectives, probably not much has really changed since that blog post – well, aside from the fact that Inch has since moved to Los Angeles and the acoustic cover song of choice in Clarke Quay restaurants and bars is now ‘Gangnam Style’. Granted, that area’s probably not the best measure of the arts scene and it’s unlikely that the preference for tribute bands there will change anytime soon. Nonetheless, there are a few things that happened elsewhere in town during the past year that really helped me appreciate the local arts scene in a new way.
In November, I participated in Simon Wong's In Her Shoes cancer charity event to take part in the comedy segment with some other local comedians – it was a cosy little show and one of my favourite gigs of the year. It’s the fourth time the event has happened here and it’s grown into a mini festival lasting three days, combining all manner of art from comedy to music to Chinese opera. There were plenty of local artists, all displaying original art and creations – and all for charity. Frankly, it was one of the best art events of the year, and it raised money for a very good cause.
There have also been other incidents of supportive public fundraising, such as when BooksActually managed to raise $16,000 to stay in business when the rent was raised at their Tiong Bahru neighbourhood spot. And I’ve heard that even Inch herself – from the US – was able to raise some money online through crowdfunding for the production of a new album, which should hopefully be out soon.
But of course, it’s hard to keep the support going. That’s a problem local arts hangout/performance space The Pigeonhole has run into as well – by the time you read this column, they’ll have moved out of their Duxton Road digs. They’re also trying to raise some funds online to start anew and I wish them all the best. It’s places like The Pigeonhole that show there’s really a huge wealth of artistic talent in Singapore and things happening all the time – just take a look through the event highlights in every issue of this magazine.
We just need people to start getting out there regularly to see it. It can be tough – coaxing someone to see art is like coaxing an obese person out of a beanbag chair with a carrot. I once heard a local blogger say, and I quote, ‘I’m not really into arts’ – note the plural – which is kind of ridiculous, if you think about it. So I’ve been starting my own grassroots campaign and trying to get people – particularly bloggers – out to explore the scene. And I’m happy to report that I’ve gotten some out to a few comedy nights at my urging – though this backfired recently when a well-known online personality went to one of Blu Jaz’s Talk Cock comedy nights where I was trying out some brand new jokes.
For the record, I remember getting at least one laugh that night – particularly from a drunk woman at the back (who may have just been laughing at her own fingernails) – but she obviously felt otherwise (as she then related on her blog). She did go on to commend other local acts – not that I’m grown up enough to appreciate the bigger picture – but it’s nice to see locals supporting each other, particularly when they’re doing something creative. After all, it sort of puts a kink in my persuasion of other people to support local talent when they’re not supporting me back. But then again, I guess I don’t really count as local talent. Because I don’t have any talent (thanks, blogosphere!) Don’t worry Inch, we’ll be ready for you to come back soon.