WARNING: Long, wordy, and possibly preachy post to come, though I hope it will help provide perspective.
A good couple of weeks after CAFKL2, I still have the same afterthoughts which have been plaguing both my and perhaps some of my other friends’ minds. It feels like an expected side effect, especially for Singaporeans who go to these independent conventions – you know it’s going to happen, so you can either lament it or be inspired by it. Or both.
Now, I try to reduce the amount of laments I produce, mostly because I get too motivated to get off my butt and really start doing things.
Looking back, I believe I am justified in asking if this is a Singaporean thing or is it just prominent with creatives in general – Many friends, who are passionate about their creations, want to leave Singapore the moment they have an opportunity to do so. Or at least, out of 10 people I know, around 8 have no intention of settling here or contributing to the creative industry here. And that’s myself from half a decade ago included.
I could name the reasons in a list but I think that will take forever. As such, here’s something I pick up from friends who have attended both Singaporean and Malaysian comic events.
|Booth application open to public
Affordable (Booth rent & Event tickets)
Quality and individual style put first
|Lack of Opportunities
||Active indie / non-profit organisations for artists
|Lack of Support
Active but informal groups for development
||Supportive and regular fanbase
Fans more open to original work
Regular opportunities for promotion (CF, CAFKL)
||Most independently-produced work have quality
||Cheaper production costs (printing etc…)
You get my gist.
Regardless, I’m not going to add to the abovementioned points, I believe everyone relates better and will probably know more about those problems than I will. Instead, this will be my take on creativity and opportunities in Singapore.
WE HAVE TO GET OVER OURSELVES.
It’s not the best thing to hear, especially from a nobody like me. However, I believe there are many potential creators (Arts, Humanities, STEM etc…) who can do so many things to help the world, society, or even themselves, if they could just stop telling themselves that “the market is not good”, or “no one will buy my stuff”, or “it’s not practical” all the time.
The Excuse of “Circumstance”
One of the most repeated phrases I hear when I go to Comic Fiesta or CAFKL is…
“These artists are in a place which is very chill, they have time to do what they want, or even turn their art into a career. We’re too competitive and our day jobs leave us very tired. We have so many things to be responsible for and our families don’t support us etc…”
Regardless of country, the chances of artists, writers, musicians, creators in general having to have a day job in order to live stably, are very high. So if you’re talking time and support alone, we’re all dealing with the same fatigue, same familial objections, same Groucho Marxists (Thanks Ms. Allen!). I will not go into details here because further detailed comparison will not help any case.
First thing many of us need to be reminded of – our problems are not totally external. Our circumstances will always be against us, as it has been and is and will be around the world. Circumstance is the line between privilege and vicious cycles. It can also be an excuse.
Everyone sees Lady Gaga. No one sees her history of eating crap until she made it.
Everyone sees J.K. Rowling. No one sees the independent author who’s just as good, next door.
Everyone sees Scott McCloud. No one sees the indie comicker behind a booth at another indie event.
And yet some indie creators push on. Why? Do they not have people constantly asking them, “Why do you still do this? There’s no profit!”? Do they not have post-work fatigue after a long day? Do they not have to worry about making rent or whether or not to splurge on that new book or movie?
Perhaps their KPIs are only two sentences long:
- To create what they want and enjoy both the process and end product.
- To share their end product for others to appreciate.
That is not to say that creatives do not need to pay bills (Reminder: PLEASE PAY YOUR WRITER/ARTIST/CREATIVE REASONABLY), but if you intend to do art just for the money and the fame, I suggest you shift your paradigm.
What can we do? As groups? As individuals?
We seem to want a lot of things and we want them now. I will be the happiest person when someone tells me that I can gain a career of writing mystery / dystopia fiction or board games with a salary which will allow me to live better than I do now for the rest of my life, starting tomorrow.
Another word of warning: the road is going to be endless and full of desert and dusty heat, but if you can, you might just enjoy it. (Maybe that’s why artists sometimes call themselves masochists. LOL.)
This will not be as easy as it sounds, but if we could take what we appreciate from creative communities overseas and emulate them in Singapore, we will be one step ahead of where we are now. (Apart from practicing and honing your craft)
If you like the dynamics of Comic Fiesta or Comic Art Festival, Kuala Lumpur, perhaps interested friends can band together and do something similar in conjunction with 24-Hour Comics Day (if things like logistics and sponsors get too overwhelming).
If you like the community cohesiveness in writer’s centres or festivals overseas, form your own collective and make it a point to produce work semi-regularly or regularly. Join things like Nanowrimo (which started as a group of people writing in a café anyway)! Locations can be a problem, so maybe rotate places, or go online (make sure to nudge everyone into meeting).
A great example of an independent collective and an event they hosted (thanks to the contributors of their Indiegogo campaign), was the Handmade Movement and their Indie Craft Fair, held at Fort Canning Park in 2013. Despite the rain, many of us had a great time finding many different locally-produced crafts.
From there, you can pick another point to take home. If you have no money / funds, perhaps it is time to allocate a little bit for your own pursuits? We can all save for holidays and material things, I believe we can all save for our own passion. You can also crowdfund – IndieGogo and Patreon are good places to start – and in addition, crowdfund perks gives you the motivation to produce and develop your art more.
Government grants are another way to go, though the competition for them is real. Do note, however, that grants come at a price (and rightly so) – if you want to take someone else’s money, you have to give something in return. It is the same principle with doing crowdfunding or business at an independent event – people pay for goods.
But your creations have nothing to do with me!
The short version of this section for me will be: SUPPORT.
I do not mean support blindly – I do not want to force you to buy books, comics, food products, furniture, clothes etc… just because they were designed or made by a local. I mean looking out for things you can relate to. (And please do not tell me there is nothing you like about Singapore.)
We still have that stigma of “local = bad quality”, and that can only be stopped when every individual erases it and starts speaking with their actions.
Like books? Read Gene Whitlock’s “The Unsavoury Alphabet”, Loh Guan Liang’s “Transparent Strangers”, or SherMay Loh’s “Archibald” Series?
Like baked desserts? Dine at Plain Vanilla, Windowsill Pies, or Tiong Bahru Bakery?
Like fashion? Check out Hansel, SECTS, or Chalk?
Yes, I know we have a long way to go in terms of local entertainment and all that, but the standard is probably going to stay where it is, or never expand if there’s not going to be enough support. In this chicken-and-egg scenario, I guess the only thing we can do as individuals is to support and spread the word.
And again, if you have no money, there are many other ways to show support – spread the word about new books, talk about local food or movies, show up at events like design markets, free plays, or open exhibitions. If you are passionate or interested in something, I’m sure you can find something affiliated or similar to your interests here.
Instead of lamenting that we are in a hopeless environment, I guess we need to create the hope ourselves. The only time I will start ranting against “the authorities” is when they start intruding into harmless activities when people are just trying to look after themselves or the community they’re passionate about.
Singapore has always been promoting itself as a place of possibilities, opportunities, and where things can happen when you work well to get it. Circumstances have to change – but we need to get it ourselves. I know pragmatism is the name of Singapore’s game, perhaps it’s time it stopped being an excuse.