Mike Fromowitz
Nov 14, 2011

Unlocking the potential of Singapore’s Creative Industries

Singapore’s focus on its Creative Industries will ensure its position as the “creative hub” of Asia.Singapore never fails to amazed me. Its government, always visionary, has moved the island ...

Unlocking the potential of Singapore’s Creative Industries

Singapore’s focus on its Creative Industries will ensure its position as the “creative hub” of Asia.

Singapore never fails to amazed me. Its government, always visionary, has moved the island country from an Information Economy to a Creative Economy to enhance it's competitiveness. Technology is revolutionizing business models in the creative economy, altering the way culture is created, sold and consumed.

Singapore’s creative cluster, which is broadly categorized by Arts and Culture, Design, and Media, is a key contributor to this new Economy. Arts and culture industries play a vital role in attracting people, business, and investment, and in distinguishing Singapore as a dynamic and exciting place to live and work.

In 2002, the Singapore government produced a most ambitious and comprehensive blueprint on the creative economy, which included explicit and specific plans to develop the media and design sectors. Borrowing from the UK, the Singaporean authorities defined the creative cluster as “those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property”.

Singapore’s three defined creative sectors include:

  1. Arts and Culture: performing arts, visual arts, literary arts, photography, crafts, libraries, museums, galleries, archives, auctions, impresarios, heritage sites, performing arts sites, festivals and arts supporting enterprises
  2. Design: advertising, architecture, web and software, graphics industrial product, fashion, communications, interior and environmental.
  3. Media: broadcast (including radio television and cable), digital media (including software and computer services), film and video, recorded music and publishing

Since that time, companies like London-headquartered VFX facility Double Negative have opened their first office outside of London in Singapore. Lucasfilm (one of the most successful independent production companies in the world) has set up with a fully integrated digital animation studio. Others include game developers Electronic Arts and Ubisoft.

The creative atmosphere remains positive for Singapore’s ad industry too. Several start-up agencies including Upbrandbuzz, Alchemy, Newton Circus, Arcade, The Mill (a visual effects studio and joint venture with ad agency BBH), and Blak Labs, to name but a few, have opened their doors confident that they can compete with the big, established agency brands. Integrated micro-agency Blak Labs offers heavy-weight, senior talents on their clients' businesses so they can deliver superior creative thinking. The super-talented agency has so far attracted new business from Maybank, Fuji Xerox, Coca-Cola, NParks and other clients, as well as attracted some of Singapore’s top creative talents.

Singapore’s fashion industry also exudes creativity and entrepreneurship. Local fashion brands are no strangers to striking out in order to gain footholds in markets in South-East Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Brands such as Ashley Isham, alldressedup, Raoul, Iora, and Charles & Keith are flying the flag locally and globally.

For the media industry, Singapore is developing hubs including the Fusionopolis media park, which will be the new home of Double Negative, Ubisoft and Lucasfilm. Meanwhile, plans are also underway to open a media park dubbed Mediapolis. The complex is expected to cost $80 million to $120 million and could house three sound stages when completed in 2013.

The creative industries are one of the fastest growing sectors on the island. From 1986 to 2000, the sector's growth was 13.4%, outpacing overall economic growth of 10.6%. In 2008, Singapore's creative industries made up 5.6% of GDP, and employed more than 172,000 employees. Singapore has invested more than USD 120 million to facilitate its goal of raising the share of creative industries to 6% GDP (2010).

Why Singapore? Because it is home to some of the most appropriate and creative talent. In advertising and design, the market has truly international standards. Singapore has always been the creative hub in Asia for giant consumer product makers like Procter & Gamble and Unilever.

Singapore schools offer wide courses in advertising, new media, interactive visual arts, graphics design, filmmaking and communications. Singapore’s School of Art, Design and Media by structure alone, is jaw dropping. The building is a five-story piece of award-winning architecture with a spectacular grass-turfed roof.

Creative ideas and innovation, once considered impractical, are now part of everyday life in Singapore. Creativity and creative thinking is an important and much talked-about topic. The visionary government of Singapore has long realised that knowledge capital is by far superior to physical capital and without creativity and innovation, the country cannot progress and could lose its competitive edge in the global markets. It’s become obvious to them that creative ideas, innovation, and new technology are the forces that drive an economy—especially in a country which is not endowed with natural resources.

All over Asia, countries are producing goods at comparatively lower cost to survive in this global economy. Singapore’s strength must therefore reside in its knowledge and innovation to compensate for what it lacks. According to the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Competitiveness Index 2011-2012, Singapore is the most competitive economy in Asia, and ranked #2 behind Switzerland.  Japan is now 9th globally among the 125 industrialized and emerging countries. Singapore has consistently been one of the most competitive nations for the last 2 decades. The United States and Germany rank 5th and 6th. To be competitive today, a country has to have strong institutions, skilled management, top-notch education, and be a driver of new technology and innovation.

The creative economy is the next big thing in Singapore, as the government sees this sector as necessary for the country’s economic survival. In a report on Singapore’s economic future, the Ministry of Information and the Arts declared:

"In the knowledge age, our success will depend on our ability to absorb, process and synthesize knowledge through constant value innovation. Creativity will move into the centre of our economic life because it is a critical component of a nation’s ability to remain competitive. Economic prosperity for advanced, developed nations will depend not so much on the ability to make things, but more on the ability to generate ideas that can then be sold to the world. This means that originality and entrepreneurship will be increasingly prized. The creative economy depends less on natural resources and more on labour, services and brain power. Making money from music, films, concerts, fashion, computer games, architectural services and other creative products is thus attractive for Singapore”.

Tourism has also played a lead role by both supporting and benefiting from the creative economy. Tourists consume many of Singapore’s creative products, especially those in the arts and cultural sector. A lively and exciting creative economy has promoted Singapore’s image abroad and attracted more tourists.

The Singapore Tourist Authority (STB) has actively sought out international conferences, exhibitions and events in various creative industries to be hosted in Singapore. In 2009, Singapore hosted the International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers Congress, helping inch the design industry into the global limelight.

Singapore is fast becoming a regional hub attracting global media industry leaders. MTV, Discovery Channel, HBO and BBC have already made Singapore their regional headquarters. The Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) is tasked with advancing Singapore’s media industry. MDA is promoting Singapore as a vibrant global media city and Asia's leading media marketplace “where quality content is produced and digital media is developed”. Media services and projects are created, developed, traded and distributed to the international market.

Behind the move to enhance recognition of its creative industries, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is continuing to market Singapore’s brand story as a creative and culture hub. In 2010 the STB launched an evolution of Singapore’s destination brand – from “Uniquely Singapore” to “YourSingapore” – which underpins the island-state’s ability to offer the traveller “a personalised travel experience”,  given its concentration of sights, sounds, tastes, culture and attractions coupled with unparalleled user-centricity.

The approach promises to provide a concentration of multi-faceted and user-centric travel experiences as well as position Singapore as a destination that is future-facing,  and culturally inspiring. At the heart of the campaign is a digital approach that includes a new website, significant investment into search engine marketing, blogger engagement, mobile, social media and travel e-commerce.

When it comes to art and culture, Singapore is no match for some of its global rivals like London, Paris, New York, and Tokyo. Yet, it is aiming high, as the Lion City realises the need to make significant investments in order to establish itself as “a leading cultural capital” in Asia. It has earmarked its creative industries as a high economic priority for the next decade.

One of its key projects is Art Stage Singapore, a new international art fair starting with 90 galleries and “a clear Asian identity”. It’s six year goal is to become an international flagship event. Another project milestone for the the government is a National Art Gallery slated to open by 2015 in two heritage buildings, the City Hall and the former Supreme Court.

In 2010, Singapore played host to some 33,884 arts activities, an increase of 16 percent from 2009 and a more than twofold leap from 2003. This equates to more than 92 arts events being held each day. The number of museums and galleries has also increased steadily from 28 in 2004 to 53 in 2010. The total number of museum-goers went up by close to 1 million in 2010 to an estimated 7.609 million from 2009.

As the name suggests, “creative industries” create. Not just films, visual arts, music, dance, theatre, design or architecture, they create jobs, careers and the wealth an economy and society needs. Even more importantly, they help create a country’s cultural identity and the social environment we live in.

With its focus on Creative Industries, Singapore is embarking on a journey of reinvention, harnessing the multi-dimensional creativity of their people and leveraging it  to their competitive advantage. It will mean a shift in the way people think about the link between the arts and the economic growth. The fusion of arts with technology and business will give rise to exciting new opportunities and possibilities.

The potential is huge for Singapore. Creative industries are a serious, dynamic and innovative part of the nation’s future economic growth. Though the creative industries are still under-recognised, I believe they will be one of Singapore’s great success stories.

Mike Fromowitz



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