SINGAPORE: Many are still mulling the merits of the new Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), designed to build social cohesion and a greater sense of national identity.
While some welcome the move, others are concerned that arts and sports would get less attention as the words have been dropped.
But MP Baey Yam Keng said the new ministry’s diverse portfolios fit well in the social aspect of the government’s focus.
Arts, heritage, sports and youth will be all under one umbrella come November, when the new Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth is up and running.
While seemingly diverse, observers said this will help achieve the ministry’s goal of a closer-knit society.
Mr Baey, who is also the Deputy Chairman of Government Parliamentary Committee (MICA), said: “In a lot of our community activities, it’s very much driven by interest in sports or the arts. So these two activities can play a very important role in bringing the community together. But of course, the challenge would be excellence in arts and sports.
“Some people do see it separately from community involvement. Yes, I think there is a difference. Therefore, I think what the artists or arts practitioners would like to see are that the government’s attention to their pursuits in artistic excellence should not be affected.”
Some in the arts and sports community have expressed concern these words have been dropped from the ministry’s new name.
“There are a lot of people who have brought up the concern. The word sports is not in the name of the Ministry, but I am sure whatever changes that our government is making, it is for the better,” said Lee Bee Wah, who is president of the Singapore Table Tennis Association.
The MP for Nee Soon GRC added: “For example, Singapore Sports Council will be under the MCCY, and all those projects that have been started for example the Sports Hub, the SEA Games, and preparation of the 2016 Olympics will be taken over by MCCY.”
The Necessary Stage artistic director Alvin Tan believes the arts scene will continue to thrive.
“Call it what you want,” said Mr Tan. “As long as I feel that the infrastructure is still in place, the money is still there, and artists are left to do their work, there might be an area that is now highlighted and looked into. The arts is something that is applicable and it’s very versatile. And whatever it is, arts will always survive.”
Mr Tan felt the new ministry could signal a paradigm shift in the way “arts” is approached, with a greater focus on community arts.
He said community arts can bridge the gap between different generations, ethnic groups and nationalities.
Political watchers said the move is timely as integration has become an issue with the large number of new immigrants.
Former Nominated Member of Parliament Zulkifli Baharudin, said: “The focus is not only on existing citizens, but also on the young – on how they become a more engaging Singaporean and how they become more rooted to the country, despite the fact there are many gravitational pulls to pull us apart either globally or ethnically. I think this is extremely important and to have a ministry to just focus on it is very good.”
Observers said the success of the new ministry is not the number of art performances staged or medals won – but to create a deeper sense of belonging.
Mr Tan said: “More space has to be given to the agenda that community arts will help social cohesion. More space has to be given for conflict to happen and past that and all that. We can’t sweep everything under the carpet and just say things like, ‘Okay, we just have a Chinese going to a Malay’s house eating lontong on Hari Raya and that is racial harmony.’
“We cannot do that anymore because today in a global village, the social cohesion must come from a deeper experience.”
Mr Baey said: “Over our nation building years, it’s very much about the multi-racial, multilingual, multi-religious society that we have built. And I think that part has been quite successfully impressed upon every Singaporean.
“Of course the challenge now is that we do face many new immigrants, new faces and new accents in our community. So the challenge then is how do we form a common identity for us while accepting the differences that we have among the different peoples. It must go beyond the colour of skin, the language we speak, so it must be a spirit and a sense of identity.
“The facets, whether is it through arts, a creative product, or even food – these are just facets of it. But I think (for it to be) more deep-rooted, it must be a sense of belonging.”
Channel News Asia