As I watched Hanging Up the Moon (Sean Lam) deliver his beautifully crafted acoustic works in a little record store in the slick cold environs of the Esplanade Mall, I could not help but notice the curious onlooking shoppers wondering what the hell was going on.

“Poetry is a luxury we cannot afford” is a famous quote from our nation’s founding father and that attitude permeates the national consciousness to this day.

But art is not a luxury, it is a necessity and Singaporeans lack of creativity is a testament how the marginalising of art in the 70s and 80s in Singapore continues to have a dampening effect on our culture and society.

Some might argue that in the government’s dismantling of the various art scenes back in the 70s was a pragmatic choice to ensure economic survival. These same apologists will point to Singapore’s economic success as proof that our leaders got it absolutely right.

Yet here we are, utterly ill equipped to face the new economic challenges of digital disruption as the lack of art appreciation reduces Singaporeans’ ability to innovate, not to mention emotional quotient.

Our failure to collectively acknowledge the repression of art and artists in the 70s and thus to come up with initiatives to make reparations for this fundamental damage has left the art scene in perpetual limbo.

Most countries in Asia are fiercely proud and protective of their own art and artists and afford them the means and support to express themselves – not as a luxury but as a necessity – and there is a marked difference in the synergy between artists and audience seen in other Asian countries compared to Singapore.

Personally, I believe that Singapore art and artists need to get out of Singapore to thrive. In fact, Singapore art and artists should not even consider Singaporeans to be a viable target audience for their expressions of art but to seriously look elsewhere – there is just too much fundamental damage already done.

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