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CAROUSEL COVID-19 COVERAGE

A Brief Recap of How COVID-19 Has Affected the MADEinSG Community (So Far)

25 June 2020

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A Brief Recap of How COVID-19 Has Affected the MADEinSG Community (So Far)

At least six months have passed since the start of Singapore’s fight against the coronavirus outbreak. The resulting economic slowdown has left Singaporeans up in the air about their financial stability, while unprecedented preventive measures fundamentally changed everyday life. 

For Singapore’s MADE (Media, Arts, Design, Entertainment) community, the pandemic exacerbated some of the long-standing issues faced by creatives and brought into spotlight shifts within the industry in the last few years. 

A survey conducted by the Singapore Association of Motion Picture Professionals (SAMPP) in February found a large majority of media practitioners to be freelancers. Yet, in the early months of the pandemic there seemed to be a disconnect between this trend with government support.

While the community spans across numerous sectors and sub-sectors, in general, safe distancing measures and a lower patronage proved to be disastrous for creatives, with most unable to continue their work amidst the pandemic. Stages, film theatres and entertainment venues would be shut in March. Traditional video production work had to be suspended due to strict safe distancing measures. Cost-cutting measures by clients trickled down to media professionals with less gigs available around.

Still, the dark period also brought out the best of the MADEinSG community, with creatives lending their skills and time in support for each other and for the country’s fight against the pandemic.

There would be wide-ranging support measures by the government for the media industry at large, such as the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS), the Job Support Scheme (JSS), and rental waivers. However, the vibrancy and diversity of the community also meant that there would be those who would fall through the cracks. Applications for these schemes would be faced with delays, complications, and confusion – creatives continue to engage in discussions regarding these issues.

This recap hopes to be a brief summary of the key events surrounding the community from January to June 2020:

January

(Artwalk Little India 2020 / Image credit: ARTWALK Little India Facebook page)

Singapore started the year on a dour note, with news that 2019 saw the country’s economy expand at the slowest pace in a decade. The country had its first suspected case of COVID-19 on 5 January, two days after Changi Airport announced that it will conduct thermal screening for all inbound flights from Wuhan. A multi-ministry taskforce was convened to tackle COVID-19 on 22 January before the country saw its first confirmed case on 23 January.

For the MADEinSG community, January was business as usual for most – barring transnational work in China. Events such as Artwalk Little India and a packed Jay Chou concert proceeded as usual. 

February

The country saw its first cases of local transmission on 4 February, leading the risk assessment of the outbreak to go from DORSCON Yellow to DORSCON Orange on 7 February. On 8 February, the MADEinSG community arguably saw its first major blow with the Ministry of Health advising event organisers to cancel or defer non-essential large-scale events. This led to postponements and/or cancellations of events from concerts to film festivals

(Findings from SAMPP’s survey in February 2020 / Image credit: SAMPP Facebook page)

At large, the global economy started to slow down as the COVID-19 outbreak crossed borders. This inevitably trickled down to the creative industries, with jobs and gigs cancelled due to safety concerns and cost-cutting measures by clients. To assess the scale of damage, several surveys, such as by the SAMPP and IMDA were started. 

These surveys highlighted the large number of freelancers within the creative sectors, and the stark downsides of being in the gig economy. Issues such as the lack of employee benefits, the lack of cancellation clauses with clients, and the general lack of gigs flared up during these early days of the outbreak. In response to the growing woes, the SG COVID-19 Creative/Cultural Professionals & Freelancers Support Group was set up on February 9 to consolidate concerns and foster solidarity in navigating the crisis. 

The Singapore Budget was announced on 18 February with a slew of measures looking to tide the country over the crisis, first focusing on the worst hit sectors. The Budget, however, did not quell the frustrations and worries of the creative and cultural industry, with little mention of these sectors. Nevertheless, freelancers from the MADEinSG community endeavoured on, taking up other part-time jobs – including frontline roles – to make up for lost income. Meanwhile, associations continued to enter into discussions both within their communities and with authorities to determine how they can help the creative sectors.

March

The month saw the World Health Organisation declare the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. The number of local cases continued to rise, with a spike attributed to Singaporeans returning home from overseas. Safe distancing measures were introduced and further tightened throughout the month to curb the spread, deepening the scope of damage on the MADEinSG community.

Early in the month, it was announced that S$1.6 million would be set aside in support for the arts and culture sector. The support included subsidies on venue rental and a one-time, enhanced capability development grant for individuals and arts organisations. Applications for the National Arts Council’s (NAC) Capability Development Scheme for the Arts (CDSA) opened from 16 March to 15 June, before an extension to 31 July.

Similarly, IMDA announced that they would launch a set of initiatives, including a Content Fund to support national movement SG United and expediting its Capability Partnership Programme. Furthermore, support for Singapore’s freelancers was also announced, as well as a S$36m training support scheme to help freelancers to upgrade their skills

Later in the month, DesignSingapore Council would announce an open call for its Good Design Research program, an initiative that provides an opportunity for designers and design enterprises to develop projects that address global issues. 

(Screenshot of I Lost My Gig (Singapore) website)

Meanwhile, the MADEinSG community continued to help each other out through a steady flow of impact surveys, sharing of equipment and skills, and new initiatives. One such standout was the launch of I Lost My Gig (Singapore), a website dedicated to tracking the impact of COVID-19 in the creative and cultural industry. In the following month, the team behind the website would launch Creatives For Aid, a group looking to consolidate volunteer opportunities for creatives to lend their skills and time. 

The creative and cultural industry was dealt a significant blow near the end of the month. On 20 March, it was announced that Singapore was to suspend events and gatherings of 250 people or more, before announcing four days later that all entertainment venues were to close with gatherings outside of work and school limited to 10 persons or fewer. 

With stages shut, creatives would respond to these measures by bringing their craft online. For professionals in the film and television industries, the tighter safe distancing measures put productions in a temporary stasis, with growing concerns about how their work would be affected. The IMDA would clarify that shoots could go on, but productions would have to comply with safe distancing measures.

(Infographic of the Resilience Budget / Image credit: Ministry of Finance)

The month was capped off with the announcement of the Resilience Budget on 26 March. Totaling in at S$48.4 billion, one of the key support measures of concern to creative freelancers was SIRS, with its three quarterly cash payouts of S$3000 each in May, July, and October 2020. While they were welcomed, the scheme did raise concerns and issues amongst the MADE community such as by being unsure about the eligibility for the scheme, and troubles with the application process.

Packaged in the Budget is S$55 million in arts and cultural support, which included an enhanced Jobs Support Scheme, the establishment of a Digitalisation Fund, and rental waiver for up to two months for eligible tenants under the National Arts Council Arts Housing Scheme.

April

April hit hard and fast for the MADE industry with the start of an unprecedented two-month long circuit breaker period. Starting from April 7, the circuit breaker would ban all gatherings at home and public spaces, with Singaporeans only to leave their homes for essential goods and services.

The Resilience Budget would be supplemented 11 days later on 6 April with the announcement of the Solidarity Budget, pumping in an additional S$5.1 billion to the government’s relief efforts. The Budget would further enhance previously announced schemes and respond to some of the concerns freelancers had regarding SIRS. Company directors from the MADEinSG community, however, felt that they fell through the cracks with the measures, with a petition started to appeal for them to be supported under the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS)

Those severely affected included creatives in the performing arts and production industries, with most of their work being unable to be executed online. Regarding film and television productions, the IMDA released an official advisory at the start of the circuit breaker, announcing that all production work was to be put on hold except for some exceptions.

The arts sector received further support with a S$55 million Arts and Culture Resilience Package (ACRP). The package defrayed operational costs, looked to create jobs and upskilling opportunities for members of the community, and started the Digitalisation Fund.

During the circuit breaker period, some creatives would take up temporary part-time jobs to make ends meet, while others took their craft online. A brief compilation of how the MADEinSG community adapted during this period can be found here.

(Local actor Erwin Dawson took to food delivery during the circuit breaker / Image credit: Erwin Shah Dawson Instagram page)

The creative industries held firm. SAMPP launched a COVID-19 Relief Fund, offering cash grants of between $300 to $500 to needy members of the association. Previously announced support grants by the IMDA were launched on April 15, which included a fund initiative for media firms and a waiver of film exhibition and distribution licence fees. 

The Pasar Glamour Art Aid raised over $136,000, providing a one-time grant of S$500 to freelance and self-employed performing arts workers in urgent financial need and who have lost jobs in the Singapore theatre, dance and music scene due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Carousell worked with members of the community and the Singapore Brand Office to launch a platform for creatives. Website apART.sg was launched, dedicated to contributing to the digitisation of the arts and facilitation of greater engagement and collaboration within the creative communities.

April saw the mass outbreak of infections within the migrant community in Singapore, bringing to attention the appalling living conditions of migrant worker dormitories. The MADEinSG community heeded the call for aid with initiatives such as Creatives For Aid, Artists On Permits (Singapore) and Visual Aid

(An infographic by the NAC regarding its Arts and Culture Resilience Package (ACRP) / Image credit: National Arts Council Singapore Facebook page)

Much to the frustration of Singaporeans, the circuit breaker was extended for another month on 21 April. This led to the support measures detailed in the Solidarity Budget to be extended to May. Still, the extension led to another month of financial uncertainty for many in the MADEinSG community. The lack of work was a sore issue for most, while business owners also had to contend with issues regarding property tax and rental rebates.

May

The second month of circuit breaker was much like the first, albeit with Singapore’s creatives now settling in with the unprecedented period. Throughout the circuit breaker period, there were a bevy of podcasts, livestreams, and online townhalls, all of which helped in combating the isolation that had sunk in.

Grants and funding continued to be launched. This included Singapore Press Holdings’s call for proposals as part of IMDA’s Public Service Content Fund, and Gateway Theatre’s Solidarity Fund that looked to provide cash assistance to arts freelancers.

(Image credit: Gateway Theatre Facebook page)

9 May saw the announcement of requirements for safe management measures at the workplace post-circuit breaker. 19 May was when details of Singapore’s reopening was finally announced, with three phases planned. 2 June would be when the country moved to Phase One, with additional non-essential businesses and work permitted. This news was long-awaited for the MADEinSG community but there were still questions abound regarding the specificity of the measures. 

For example, while marriage solemnisations would be allowed in Phase One with a maximum of 10 persons, photographers were concerned if they could resume work. Similarly, creatives in the film and television production industries looked for details on how they can proceed in Phase One. In response, the SAMPP organised online townhalls with various segments of the industries as platforms for discussion. IMDA would announce its official advisory on 29 May

(Infographic of the Fortitude Budget / Image credit: Ministry of Finance)

The government announced the Fortitude Budget, its fourth stimulus package, on 26 May. There were further enhancements to previously announced measures such as the JSS, and additional rental waivers for commercial and non-residential tenants of government properties. It was also announced that Singapore’s budget deficit would be expected to be the largest since the country’s independence.

June

2 June saw the country emerge from the circuit breaker. Certain segments of the MADEinSG industries, such as the film and television production industries, were allowed to resume work, while others had to wait for Phase Three when arts and entertainment venues would be allowed to reopen. 

Despite videography being allowed, photographers were not allowed to resume on 2 June. The Professional Photographers Association (Singapore) (PPAS) would later clarify that there would be exceptions and permit requirements. All photographers would be allowed to resume work during Phase Two.

On 3 June, it was announced that the Law Ministry would fast-track amendments to the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act, making it legally required for landlords of commercial, industrial and office properties to shoulder their tenants’ rental burden. Adding on to previously announced measures from the previous budgets, this was much-awaited for property owners.

(Image credit: Straits Times Graphics via The Straits Times Facebook page)

14 June saw local paper The Sunday Times publish the results of a commissioned survey, asking 1000 respondents “which jobs are the most crucial in keeping Singapore going”. Amongst its key findings were that most Singaporeans were willing to pay more for essential services, and that artists were deemed the top “non-essential” job. These results sparked lively discussions amongst the community. Topics included feeling unappreciated by Singaporeans, what exactly being essential means, and even the goal of the survey. 

Two weeks after entering into Phase One, the government announced on 15 June that the country would move towards Phase Two starting from 19 June. Most businesses and activities would be allowed to resume with safe distancing measures in place. The second phase, however, did not include the reopening of cultural venues, large scale events, and entertainment venues, leaving creatives affected by these closures since March to await Phase Three.


Resources for Research 

While this recap is in no way a complete summary of the MADEinSG community’s battle with the pandemic, this brief timeline endeavours to be a starting point for future research purposes looking back at these unprecedented times. 

Beyond the first few Google results, here are a few key sites of interests:

SG Press Centre

The government’s official press centre and its archive of press releases would be integral in following along the measures employed. Do note that certain links – even at the time of writing this article – tend to be broken.

The Facebook pages of key associations and organisations

Throughout the pandemic, Singapore’s key associations and organisations within the different sectors of the MADEinSG community have done an excellent job with updates and facilitating discussions. These include the SAMPP, PPAS, and SG MUSO.

SG COVID-19 Creative/Cultural Professionals & Freelancers Support Group

Started in the early days of the outbreak, the public Facebook group is one of many that has sprung up during the pandemic, serving as a hub for resources, discussions, and work opportunities. As of end June, the group has amassed more than 8000 members from the MADEinSG community.


Read more:
Sinema’s coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak

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