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Singapore city profile | city data



Government funding for arts and culture almost doubled from $230 million in 2005 to $437 million in 2011. However, private giving to arts and culture had not kept pace, with cash donations remaining static between $30– $40 million per year. Overall, arts philanthropy is only about 3% of all charitable giving and is equivalent to about $7 per capita. This compares poorly to $13 per capita gifts to the arts in Australia, $14 in the UK, and $35 in the US, and therefore there is scope to encourage more giving to the cultural sector. The government has initiated a Cultural Matching Fund to help develop philanthropic support for culture in Singapore.

First set up in 2013, the Cultural Matching Fund offers 1:1 matching grants for private donations from companies, organisations and individuals to arts and heritage groups. It was initiated by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and is administered by the National Arts Council. It began with a $200 million pool of funding that is awarded in matching amounts to arts and cultural organisations that succeed in raising private donations, up to a ceiling of $15 million. The fund prioritises organisations that demonstrate artistic excellence, engage underserved communities, instil a sense of ownership of the arts scene in Singaporeans and contribute to a more caring society.

The existence of the fund has also supported cultural organisations to create projects that will attract a wider range of audiences. For instance, matching grants fund Singapore Dance Theatre’s international programme, with overseas performances in Malaysia, Cambodia and the Philippines. Match funding has also supported the development of work at home, including nurturing more local choreographers through annual workshops and outreach to schools and communities. By December 2016, more than 80 institutions in the cultural sector had benefitted from the fund. The work is also complemented by a public crowdfunding platform called ‘A World Filled With Arts’ where donors who prefer to give to a specific arts organisation or campaign can do so.

Private philanthropy has become increasingly important across the world as a way of supporting a sustainable art scene, which is strengthened through funding from both private and public sources. This scheme has been important in helping Singapore develop the same cultural philanthropy benefits as other regions. The effects are social as well as financial, creating closer ties between arts practitioners and donors. The new money has allowed creatives to experiment, innovate and produce higher quality work. To date, $150 million has been spent and donations to arts and heritage projects doubled in 2015, suggesting that the Cultural Matching Fund has been successful in encouraging people to give to the arts.



The People’s Association was formed in 1960 with the purpose of encouraging inter-ethnic harmony and social cohesion among all the citizens of Singapore. The People’s Association runs a variety of cultural events and festivals in support of this aim. Since 2009, it has also created a variety of membership cards with economic benefits. It is now using these to combine opportunities to enjoy art and contribute to a wider social good. Cards associated with People’s Association membership have included the POSB Bank Debit Card and a PAssion Silver Concession Card, offering discounts for older Singaporeans. Each of these allow members to earn points towards future discounts while shopping at a variety of local businesses.

A new initiative called PAssion CARES allows members to use PAssion CARES cards at selected arts events to donate support to some of the poorest people in Singapore. A list of People’s Association arts and community events is regularly published – ranging from evenings of Cantonese Opera to the PAssion Arts Festival, Movie Under The Stars and sports days. At these events, card holders can tap the PAssion CARES terminal to donate ‘TapForMore’ points to community projects. In doing so, they also earn reward points for themselves. The work is supported by the POSB Bank and Dairy Farm Singapore Group. This creates a virtuous circle, where the attraction to arts events is reinforced by the opportunity to do good and to receive points that members can use for future purchases.

People’s Association events are funded by the Singaporean government as a result of its 2011 Arts and Culture Strategic Review. This review envisioned creating a society where arts and culture are integral to people’s lives, whether as an audience member, hobbyist, professional, educator or supporter. The current goal is to double the number of Singaporeans attending at least one arts and culture event each year from 40% to 80% and increase active participation from 20% to 50%. The People’s Association’s wide range of events, incentivised by the card system, helps towards this goal.

The scheme was launched in July 2018. In its first six months, the People’s Association aims to raise, via ‘TapForMore’ points, $150,000 worth of shopping credits to help pay for daily necessities for 1,500 low income households. Meanwhile, People’s Association events continue to build audiences for arts and community events, supporting the government’s long term ambition to create a nation of ‘cultured and gracious people’ living in a society where culture is available to everyone.



Much of Singapore’s success comes from its status as a global business centre, but this comes with the risk that the homogenising forces of globalisation will erase what is distinctive about this small city-state. A Heritage Awareness Survey in 2014 revealed that in the face of rapid changes to social and living environments, Singaporeans increasingly value their arts and cultural scene. The National Heritage Plan (2018–22) is a comprehensive government response to the island’s changing circumstances, offering a structure to protect, develop and promote Singapore’s cultural life, to retain its distinctiveness.

The National Heritage Board is responsible for drawing up the Plan and its delivery. The government has consulted widely among citizens, with 30 focus group sessions reaching 730 people, from heritage experts to members of non-governmental organisations, academics, practitioners, museum-goers, volunteers, educators, youths and students. This wider public was consulted through a website and exhibition, with 7,300 people offering views. The result was a plan with four major themes.

One theme, ‘Our Places’ recognises that although land is scarce in Singapore, it is important to remember the heritage of everyday spaces and find ways to retain its history and memories. ‘Our Cultures’ seeks ways to value the multiculturalism of Singapore, particularly its intangible cultural heritage, including traditions, rituals, crafts, knowledge and skills. In early 2018 Singapore ratified the UNESCO 2003 Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) and is working towards being represented on the UNESCO Representative List of ICH of Humanity. In this way, intangible heritage can be preserved for future generations as well as gaining international recognition of the nation’s strengths. The third strand, ‘Our Treasures’ acknowledges the importance of museums and their collections, with an undertaking to make these more accessible through engagement programmes. It also seeks to safeguard Singapore’s rich archaeological heritage. Finally, ‘Our Communities’ looks for ways to strengthen partnerships with heritage groups and volunteers, promoting a greater sense of ownership of Singapore’s heritage.

This work builds on the Arts and Culture Strategic Review of 2011 while identifying gaps that still need to be addressed. There is also a new focus on embracing digital trends to create meaningful experiences for visitors. DigiMuse, based at the National Museum is a platform for finding new technology partners for museums, while the Singapore Heritage Ontology will frame and categorise information, establishing a content bank of heritage resources for the culture industry.

The government hopes that this combination of community, heritage and new technology will help raise awareness and pride in Singapore’s heritage among individual citizens. It will also allow Singapore to proudly assert its cultural distinctiveness as a small country acting on a global stage.