Traditional arts form a common language for Singaporeans to connect with one another across diverse communities. On a national level, it plays a vital role in strengthening our cultural identity as the traditional arts comprises the deeply rooted cultural and artistic expressions from each of our major ethnic groups. At the personal level, traditional arts provide a focal point for Singaporeans and artists to explore their roots as a rich source of inspiration and innovation to develop distinctive content.
A Culturally Rich Landscape
The traditional arts scene in Singapore is vibrant, with a healthy base of artists and organisations including the national company, Singapore Chinese Orchestra. Over the years, our traditional arts practitioners have built upon the foundations of our heritage to reflect upon the unique characteristics and collective stories of the various communities in Singapore. While retaining the longstanding traditions, artists have also tapped on the potential to challenge and adapt the traditional art forms to present relevant works that audiences can resonate with, especially in exploring multi-cultural themes in a common language through the arts.
As the arts evolve and become increasingly multi-disciplinary, an increasing number of traditional arts practitioners have also innovated and rejuvenated their craft, generating new interest in the art forms as well as paving the way for collaborations with contemporary art forms.
Industry and Capability Development
Over the years, the National Arts Council (NAC) has supported key organisations such as Chinese Theatre Circle, Dance Ensemble Singapore, Ding Yi Music Company, Nam Hwa Opera, SAtheCollective, Singapore Chinese Dance Theatre, Siong Leng Musical Association, The TENG Ensemble, Traditional Arts Centre, Young People’s Performing Arts Ensemble, Era Dance Theatre, Nadi Singapura, Apsaras Arts and Bhaskar’s Arts Academy, as well as other key players of the traditional arts scene, to enable them to professionalise their operations and build capabilities. Our support focuses on enhancing artistic skills for individual artists, upgrading of administrative and management capability of these groups, as well as improving research and archival efforts to document the traditional arts for future arts practitioners and audiences.
To promote traditional arts to a wider audience, the Stamford Arts Centre houses professional arts companies, provides facilities-for-hire and supports artist-in-residency programmes to support content creation and artistic collaborations. Cultural institutions such as the Esplanade also present programmes and festivals to increase the visibility of traditional arts in addition to NAC’s Traditional Arts Taster programmes that reaches out to young audiences. Through the years, national music competitions such as the Singapore Chinese Music Competition and National Indian Music Competition have also served to raise the artistic standards of traditional music and create opportunities to develop performing skills.
Deepening Research and Archival Efforts
Traditional arts play a vital role in strengthening the identity of Singapore and provide a shared experience for the community. The lack of proper documentation and handling could inhibit artistic progress and hinder the sector from cultivating a deeper understanding and appreciation of the art forms. As such, the NAC works closely with industry partners and the traditional arts organisations of Singapore to preserve their arts and cultural legacy through digitisation. Some of such research and archival platforms include the Singapore Online Arts Repository, in collaboration with National Library Board, and the inventory of Singapore’s Intangible Cultural Heritage by National Heritage Board.
ROUTES: A Multi-Perspective Exploration of Traditional Dance in Singapore (2021)
In 2021, NAC presented an exhibition which follows the origins of local Chinese, Malay, and Indian traditional dance practices, and presents a multi-perspective reflection on the traditional dance scene in Singapore. Anchored on stories from some of Singapore's dance pioneers and practitioners including the-late Santha Bhaskar, Som Said, Lim Moi Kim, Cai Shiji, Raka Maitra, and Noramin Farid, ROUTES taps on their first-person accounts, and delves into the preservation of traditional dance and its continuity into the future.
Continue to hear about the artists’ stories in the videos below to get a taste of our colourful and multi-textured traditional arts scene: