The key players in the Singapore art scene have declined an overture by the government to become their propaganda mouthpiece to help promote integration between locals and foreigners, a call made by the National Integration Council on Friday.
The Council, led by Minister for Community, Youth and Sports Dr Vivian Balakrishnan had earlier recommended the government allocate an eye-popping $10 million dollars to organize events for immigrants to make them feel welcome in Singapore.
The government is becoming increasingly worried at the rising social tensions on the ground due to relentless influx of foreigners in recent years.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a dialogue with NTU students lately that the government’s immigration policy will remain though it will “tweak” it to slow the intake of foreigners.
When interviewed by the state-controlled media, many key leaders in Singapore’s art scene expressed their doubts and scepticism of being involved in helping foreigners “integrate” into Singapore society.
Tay Tong, managing director of TheatreWorks, said:
“It’s really more about that, rather than say, ‘Oh, let’s do a play and please, integrate!’. I don’t think that’s going to work. I’m kind of curious what it means by integration. I think when we’re dealing with cultural differences, it should primarily be more about the celebration of differences, rather than trying to be homogeneous.”
NMP Audrey Wong, who is also the co-director of Substation was more direct:
“The thing is, we don’t want to do propaganda art. In fact, the public cannot be duped. They are suspicious of anything that smacks of propaganda. So there needs to be an understanding of how art works and how art functions in society, in order for the initiative to be successful.”
Shaun Teo, president of Migrant Voices, added:
“We are not talking about issues in a hypothetical or ideal situation. The characters act out certain situations that will happen at home, so the solutions that they’ll find from forum theatre are the solutions that they are most probably able to apply at home.”
The lukewarm response from the arts community in Singapore must have disappointed the government who is sparing no effort to ensure that their new citizens are well integrated into society without incurring the wrath of the locals.
It is strange that the NIC would recommend “outsourcing” this noble task of promoting integration to outsiders when the government already has the most ideal candidate within its ranks to spearhead its latest pro-foreigner initiative – Acting Minister for Information, Communication and Arts Rear-Admiral Lui Tuck Yew.