Hello from #Mydurian: CEO — YVONNE THAM
It is difficult to believe how quickly FY2020/2021 went by, yet how long-drawn the disruptions feel to the performing arts sector. This is a time of conflicting impulses. We desire as humans to gather physically, but we also desire safety and hence respect the need for restraint. We celebrate the new ways of bringing the arts and people together, particularly with the help of technology, but we also mourn or miss the old ways. Amidst such times, Esplanade’s calling as an institution to persist, to innovate, but also to pause, to reflect, mirrors precisely the many roles of the arts in our society.

One of these roles is to share and celebrate the resilience of human creativity, be they unique to our society or from cultures further afield. With the “Circuit Breaker” in place from April to June 2020, we selected some of the best recorded performances from our archives and presented them online for everyone to enjoy as part of Pesta Raya – Malay Festival of Arts, The Studios and more. When safe management measures eased in July, artists returned to perform without audiences, and we livestreamed our popular free programmes series such as Jazz In July and Red Dot August from the Concourse almost every day. We also pre-recorded many more performances and presented them during our regular festivals such Baybeats , Moonfest – A Mid-Autumn Celebration, da:ns festival, Octoburst! – A Children’s Festival, and Kalaa Utsavam – Indian Festival of Arts. From November 2020, we welcomed audiences back into our venues with new experiences on the Theatre stage and other new ways of experiencing the arts. Singapore and overseas artists experimented with a blend of both digital and live aspects of performance during “hybrid” festivals like Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts. And we continue such experiments today.

Beyond the present, the arts play a role in how society expresses its hopes for the future, charts new ideas and discovers new voices, particularly among the young. In FY2020/2021, Esplanade sought to inspire and build capacity for the future with new initiatives. To name just a few:

  • Munch!, a new lunchtime chamber music series which provides a platform for classical musicians to step out of their large community groups and orchestras and perform as soloists on our Concert Hall stage.
  • March On, a brand new annual festival for children which features programmes that delve into relevant issues facing the young of today and place children squarely at the centre of the creative process. It also brings together arts practitioners to create new work for young audiences, as well as in panel discussions and talks.
  • PLAYlab+, a new platform that provides opportunities for budding artists/collectives to research and develop new theatre works for young audiences.

Altogether, in FY2020/2021, we enabled the creation and presentation of 146 new works or initiatives, and involved 191 Singapore artists in our developmental programmes and activities. To support the performing arts sector’s training needs, we also launched Esplanade Academy, with programmes in technical theatre, venue management and professional arts practice.

And because the arts connect us to the fullness of human experience, it has often helped to bring comfort and courage or to give voice to the most vulnerable. In FY2020/2021, while we were unable to host beneficiaries of our social service partners to activities at Esplanade, we worked with artists to bring performances and activities to them instead. Through the pilot of Esplanade On The Go, over 350 participants from five welfare homes and eldercare facilities enjoyed live music performances staged on a mobile truck literally parked at their doorsteps. We also moved some of our regular programmes online, including Songwriting for Hope for youths and Sing Out Loud! for persons with dementia and their caregivers. In total, 4,357 beneficiaries participated in 185 community engagement activities.

As Esplanade’s facilities near their 20th year, we took the opportunity in FY2020/2021 to improve various parts of our centre. We renovated the Esplanade Mall and started the revamp of our Waterfront landscape. The construction of the Singtel Waterfront Theatre continued, with our team of contractors and consultants overcoming many disruptions and challenges along the way.

Such teamwork and resilience amongst Esplanade staff also marked FY2020/2021. I would like to thank an extended “Esplanade family” of full-time and casual staff, artists, contractors and also Mall tenants for their understanding, even sacrifices, and willingness to continually challenge themselves in adapting to new norms. Many have journeyed with us through the years, and remain passionate for what can be achieved at Esplanade. And in this light, I join Esplanade’s Chairman Lee Tzu Yang in also thanking our volunteers, sponsors, donors and funders for their support.

Writing this in 2021, we are contemplating now a post-pandemic future. It will call for even greater resilience, but also the qualities of imagination, creativity and empathy so that the future we envision continues to be compassionate, sustainable, even fun. The arts abound in these qualities. And I hope you will find in Esplanade their expression and inspiration.

Lee Tzu Yang - Signature
Yvonne Tham