Sunday, 21 February 2010

Singapore Looks for a Softer Side of Growth

Singapore may be best known as a hub of electronics manufacturing and transportation, but as it plans for its next stage of economic growth, its leaders are looking toward a radically different sector: the arts.


Guanyu 道 said...

Singapore Looks for a Softer Side of Growth

19 February 2010

Singapore may be best known as a hub of electronics manufacturing and transportation, but as it plans for its next stage of economic growth, its leaders are looking toward a radically different sector: the arts.

Support for theatre, museums and other cultural activities has been quietly moving up the official agenda of the city-state in recent years. But this month, an economic panel appointed by the government recommended that establishing Singapore as a “leading cultural capital” and a “distinctive global city” should be among officials’ top three priorities in the next decade.

“New York and London are what they are, not because of the specific economic activities they conduct but because people want to be there,” the Economic Strategies Committee, a panel of leaders from the public and private sectors said in its report. “That too, has to be Singapore’s key advantage in the future.” The panel added, “Being a global city and a meeting point in Asia for enterprise, talent, cultures and ideas will be a source of competitiveness and growth in its own right.”

From 2005 to 2008, the government doubled its support for the arts to 110.3 million Singapore dollars, or $78.5 million, from 55.1 million dollars. More money is expected to be added when the 2010 budget is announced Monday and the government formally responds to the panel’s recommendations.

Although quantifying the economic effect of spending on the arts is notoriously difficult, a 2007 report by Americans for the Arts, a non-profit organization for advancing the arts in the United States, found that every $1 billion of spending by arts groups and their audiences resulted in about 70,000 full-time equivalent jobs. A connection between arts spending and increased tourism revenue has also been cited in studies in a number of countries.

The Singapore authorities have already achieved a minor coup by persuading Lorenzo Rudolf to create Art Stage Singapore, an international contemporary art fair scheduled to take place in January 2011 at the soon-to-open Marina Bay Sands resort. Mr. Rudolf is best known for having transformed what was once a sleepy Swiss art fair, Art Basel, into the focus of the international contemporary art world in the 1990s.

Mr. Rudolf, 50, said he was first approached by the Singapore government 15 years ago, when he was still director of Art Basel. But he declined, feeling that the time was not right for such a fair in the city-state. Instead, he left Art Basel in 2000 and went on to set up fairs like Art Palm Beach in Florida and ShContemporary in Shanghai.

But with more collectors now interested in Asian contemporary art and a fresh push to enhance Singapore’s position in the art world, Mr. Rudolf said, the time was right.

“There are a lot of national art scenes growing in Asia, a lot of interesting art, but all these art scenes remain limited to geographic regions — India, China, Indonesia,” he said. “There isn’t really a place where you have all these platforms coming together, and that’s really a role that Singapore could play.”

The fair has the backing of the Economic Development Board and the Singapore Tourism Board, and while Mr. Rudolf would not disclose its budget, he said the first edition would feature 100 to 120 galleries.

Art Stage Singapore could also help efforts to bring some art trading and collecting business back to the city-state.

Singapore lost much of the fast-growing auction business in Asia when Christie’s left in 2002 to consolidate its sales in Hong Kong and Sotheby’s followed suit in 2008. While some smaller auction houses, like Larasati Auctioneers and Borobudur Auction, are still holding regular sales, the imposition of a 7 percent goods and services tax in 2007 put a damper on local business. Hong Kong does not have such a tax.

Guanyu 道 said...

The Economic Strategies Committee suggested that the government review its policies, including its tax policies, to make Singapore more competitive as an art trading hub.

The goods and services tax “is only one aspect of the equation, and it might be difficult for the government to start giving allowance for certain industries, but there are other tax incentives that can be looked at,” said Gautam Banerjee, executive chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers Singapore and a member of the Economic Strategies Committee. “There can be a more holistic approach.”

The Singapore FreePort, a free-trade zone dedicated to the storage of high-value art and collectibles, is scheduled to open in May. The high-security facility, which is expected to store at least $3 billion worth of assets when complete, could help attract new wealth management services to the region, like art lending. Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services has leased 40 percent of the first phase of FreePort’s storage space.

The plans for the FreePort and Art Stage fair come on top of more conventional efforts by the city to develop a vibrant cultural scene. Since 1989, the government has invested more than 1 billion dollars to create such facilities as the Asian Civilizations Museum, a new National Library and the Esplanade Theaters on the Bay, a large performing arts complex. It is planning a National Art Gallery, whose cost is estimated at 300 million dollars, to present the collection of modern Southeast Asian art that the government has been building for years.

Supporters say such institutions enhance the quality of life in Singapore, making it more attractive to highly educated workers. That dovetails with the Economic Strategies Committee’s suggestion that the government shift away from the growth-at-all-costs model it has pursued, which resulted in average expansion in gross domestic product of 5 percent annually over the past decade but also led to a sharp increase in the number of low-wage foreign labourers, leading to social tensions.

The panel recommended that officials refocus on a productivity-growth model and aim for annual G.D.P. growth of 3 percent to 5 percent over the next decade. Productivity, as measured by G.D.P. per worker, has grown at a rate of 1 percent per year in the past decade, and the committee urged the government to set a target of 2 percent to 3 percent a year over the next 10 years.

Singapore ranks high on global competitiveness indexes as a place to do business, Lui Tuck Yew, acting minister for information, communications and the arts, said at a news conference for the release of the panel’s report. “Where, I think, we have room to improve further is actually on the softer issues, the softer aspects — the cultural areas, the arts — as well as to make this place an even more livable city.”

Benson Puah, chief executive of both the National Arts Council and the Esplanade, said he was “heartened” that culture and art would be given such a prominent place by an economic committee. “We’ve always been focused on economic growth,” he said.

“In many societies, art may be viewed as a consumable by product of a cultured society,” said Mr. Puah, who was also a member of the strategy committee. “But in many instances, art and culture can also be the lubricant and the genesis of an economically vibrant and cultured society.”

Mr. Rudolf aims to do his part, aspiring to make Art Stage Singapore one of the top art fairs in the world. Initially, it will compete against Art Hong Kong, an international fair that takes place each May and which Mr. Rudolf said was the strongest art fair in Asia.

“But there is room in Asia for more than one fair,” he said, “and the more events you have, the more you will grow the market.”