The 2021 edition defined a working model for arts festivals amidst a pandemic – a landmark achievement capping Festival Director Gaurav Kripalani’s final term
Singapore, 23 June 2021 — The Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) successfully concludes its 43rd edition, marking a milestone as one of the largest arts festivals in the world to be staged since the outbreak of the global pandemic last year.
Having had to cancel its 2020 edition and implement last-minute new restrictions announced during the Festival’s opening weekend this year, SIFA 2021 presented over 70 productions, with over 200 performances and activities, both live and online. Its video-on-demand platform, SIFA On Demand, reached audiences globally.
Commissioned by the National Arts Council and organised by Arts House Limited, the festival was held over five weeks from 14 May to 20 June.
SIFA 2021 also marked the end of the four-year tenure of Festival Director Gaurav Kripalani (2018-2021). The staging of SIFA 2021 in pandemic conditions was a landmark achievement for Kripalani. It showcased his approach of curating game-changing artists and works that speak to our times. As an affirmation of his approach, SIFA over these four years has also seen a significant increase in first-time audiences.
Mastering the art of shape-shifting
Nicole Taney, Director of Artistic Planning for the Spoleto Festival, remarked, “SIFA has become one of the most exciting and important festivals to watch in Asia. It is inspiring to see what SIFA 2021 has achieved, despite the trying conditions. It offers festivals around the world a roadmap for how to adapt in these times.”
At a time when the pandemic situation remains extremely volatile, SIFA 2021 demonstrated a model for how an international arts festival could function. The Festival implemented safe management measures, including show admission via contact tracing app Trace Together, safe distancing and pre-event testing to ensure the safety of the public, artists and staff.
“From the US, we’ve seen how Gaurav’s team has adjusted to the fast-changing circumstances over the last two years. It has been exciting and terrifying to embark on a new way of working in the pandemic. Gaurav’s good spirits, flexibility and belief in us have made it possible to present Three Sisters at SIFA 2021,” said Anne Bogart from New York-based group SITI Company.
Nelson Chia, Artistic Director of Singapore’s Nine Years Theatre, said, “When SIFA 2020 got cancelled, SIFA facilitated both Nine Years Theatre and SITI Company in New York adopting digital technologies to continue our work. Three Sisters was successfully presented in a hybrid format, with actors from the SITI Company appearing ‘on-stage’ via film – a first.”
Innovation takes centre stage
After SIFA 2020 was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Kripalani and his team pivoted to create SIFA v2.020, a six-month-long digital festival programmed in real time. Key to SIFA 2021’s success were the lessons gleaned from SIFA v2.020, which saw SIFA piloting new online programmes and performances and implementing new safety protocols at venues amidst tight restrictions.
Curating a wider spectrum of hybrid performances in SIFA 2021 meant the Festival would be able to proceed under various scenarios. Equally crucial was the adoption of digital technologies to facilitate live performances. These included shows where artists interacted digitally with audiences, such as As Far As Isolation Goes and The Journey, to live theatre that utilised video to stream international actors who could not travel to Singapore.
SIFA’s commitment to working closely with various government agencies and health and safety protocols enabled international artists to bring their works here despite restrictions on international travel.
“When SIFA approached us, it was almost impossible to believe we could take en route, which is a walking, listening, immersive journey, to Singapore. There were many administrative hurdles to overcome, but the SIFA team has been instrumental in helping us take the necessary steps,” said Suzanne Kersten, from Melbourne-based group ‘one step at a time like this’.
Another lesson learnt was the importance of investing in high-quality recordings of live performances. SIFA On Demand, a new video-on-demand platform, extended the Festival’s reach internationally and allowed more audiences to enjoy shows from SIFA 2021.
Tan Boon Hui, Executive Director of Arts House Limited, remarked, “This year's festival is a testament to the dedication and 'never say never' attitude of the Singapore arts scene. In the face of great constraints, all the artists, technical and supporting teams, media, patrons and the public stood by us. SIFA 2021's success shows how the arts are loved and how important it was to have a pinnacle arts festival happen as part of Singapore's recovery from the ravages of the pandemic. Thank you all for being our champions nationally and internationally."
An important stage for Singaporean works
SIFA has been working closely with local artists since the start of the pandemic last year to chart a new path for the industry. The 2021 edition championed 9 new Singaporean Festival Commissions, with 500 artists, production crew and freelancers employed during SIFA v2.020 and SIFA 2021.
Huzir Sulaiman, Joint Artistic Director of Singapore-based Checkpoint Theatre, said, “SIFA enables Singaporean companies to do their best work because we’re measured against the best in the international art scene. The Festival offers us the resources and platform to rise to that challenge. Every production at SIFA is a wonderful opportunity to push ourselves artistically in the creative process.”
Reshaping SIFA, growing audiences: Gaurav Kripalani ends four-year term
Over the last four years, SIFA has seen an over 47% increase in its first-time festival-goers, affirming Kripalani’s approach of strategically curating a wide range of programmes for diverse audiences.
His $10 Front Row ticket initiative for youths made all the shows in SIFA accessible to a younger generation. SIFA 2021 saw further innovation – with SIFA On Demand, a video-on-demand platform, presenting Festival offerings to a global audience.
In addition, over 800 local artists, production crew and freelancers were involved in SIFA 2018 to 2021, with a total of 18 productions commissioned.
Rosa Daniel, Chief Executive Officer of the National Arts Council said, "NAC extends our deep appreciation and congratulations to Gaurav for 4 successful years helming SIFA. He has steered our national arts festival through one of the most turbulent times in our history by his artistic vision, stoicism and positive energy. Gaurav and his team from AHL have together with our leading artists and companies indelibly shaped SIFA through their resilience and innovation. They have given us the gift of the arts to uplift our spirits and open our minds to exciting possibilities.”
Kripalani remarked, “It has been an honour and privilege to helm SIFA over the last four years, and to guide the team in this difficult but historic time. I have been an arts curator for the last 25 years, and have never experienced a rollercoaster like these last 18 months. I am blessed to have been surrounded by the very best in the industry. The SIFA team undertook a Herculean effort to pull off a Festival in such turbulent conditions. We did it because we wanted to support Singaporean arts practitioners. We also did it because art has the cathartic power to heal and give hope and bring communities together.”
He added, “I wish my successor, Natalie Hennedige, all the very best and have no doubt she will continue to take SIFA to greater heights.”
For more information on SIFA 2021, please refer to Annex A: Highlights of SIFA 2021
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About the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA)
As Singapore’s annual pinnacle performing arts festival, the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) presents captivating and diverse works across theatre, music, dance, film and visual arts. First launched as the Singapore Festival of Arts in 1977, the festival has gone through several evolutions and inspired generations of arts lovers and practitioners. Today, the highly anticipated festival is a high point on Singapore’s arts and cultural calendar. SIFA continues its festival mission to champion the creation and presentation of Singaporean and international works.
About Arts House Limited (AHL)
Arts House Limited (AHL) is a not-for-profit organisation committed to enriching lives through the arts. AHL manages two key landmarks located in the heart of Singapore’s Civic District – The Arts House, a multi-disciplinary arts centre with a focus on literary programming, and the Victoria Theatre & Victoria Concert Hall, a heritage building that is home to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. It also runs the Goodman Arts Centre and Aliwal Arts Centre, two creative enclaves for artists, arts groups and creative businesses, and performing arts space Drama Centre. AHL presents the Singapore International Festival of Arts, the annual pinnacle celebration of performance and interdisciplinary arts in Singapore commissioned by the National Arts Council.
AHL was set up in 11 December 2002 as a company limited by guarantee (CLG) under the National Arts Council and was formerly known as The Old Parliament House Limited. It was officially renamed Arts House Limited on 19 March 2014. In 2020, AHL was appointed cultural place manager of the Civic District.
About National Arts Council (NAC)
The National Arts Council champions the arts in Singapore. By nurturing creative excellence and supporting broad audience engagement, our diverse and distinctive arts inspire our people, connect communities and profile Singapore internationally. We preserve our rich cultural traditions as we cultivate accomplished artists and vibrant companies for the future. Our support for the arts is comprehensive – from grants and partnerships to industry facilitation and arts housing. The Council welcomes greater private and corporate giving to and through the arts, so that together we can make the arts an integral part of everyone’s lives. For more information on the Council’s mission and plans, please visit www.nac.gov.sg.