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Covid-19: Buskers take to the streets again at *Scape and Clarke Quay Central in NAC pilot

SINGAPORE — In a move welcomed by both buskers and members of the public, the National Arts Council (NAC) has launched a pilot that will allow the authorities to assess if street performers can resume their acts live in a safe manner amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Marionettist Patrick Wan, 64, performing at *Scape mall on Dec 5, 2020.

Marionettist Patrick Wan, 64, performing at *Scape mall on Dec 5, 2020.

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  • Launched on Dec 4, it will run for 10 days over three weeks 
  • Buskers will be required to ballot for limited slots at either *Scape or Clarke Quay Central 
  • The pilot will help the authorities assess whether to allow buskers to resume performing in more locations across Singapore


SINGAPORE — In a move welcomed by both buskers and members of the public, the National Arts Council (NAC) has launched a pilot that will allow the authorities to assess if street performers can resume their acts live in a safe manner amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pilot, which kicked off on Friday (Dec 4) at the *Scape mall at Orchard Link and runs for 10 days over three weeks, marks the first time in nearly eight months that buskers have been allowed to perform in public after the circuit breaker was imposed in April to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

However, not all of the over 350 buskers endorsed by NAC in Singapore will be allowed to perform. Instead, they will be required to ballot for a chance to perform for an hour at either *Scape or Clarke Quay Central mall along Eu Tong Sen Street. 

No fees are involved.

Depending on the location, performances will take place in the evening and last between four and six hours.

Aside from Dec 4 and 5, the next performance at *Scape will take place on Dec 11 and 12.

Meanwhile, performances at Clarke Quay Central will be held between Dec 10 and 12, and between Dec 17 and 19.

NAC received more than 80 bids for the 12 slots spread over Dec 4 and 5 at *Scape. 

Ms Koh Jau Chern, NAC’s assistant director for access and social participation, told TODAY on Saturday that the performances are scheduled only in the evenings from 4 pm to 10pm because this is when buskers typically will experience the highest footfall.

The two locations were chosen because the venue owners are able to enforce safe management measures, she said. 

These include ensuring that there is a safe distance kept between the performers and members of the public, that audiences do not gather in groups of more than five and that commonly used items are sanitised in between sets.  

Noticeably missing are the ubiquitous donation boxes that would typically be in front of the performers. In its place is a QR code to encourage digital donations instead.

Ms Koh said that when the pilot ends on Dec 19, the authorities will discuss with the stakeholders on the feasibility of allowing more buskers to resume performing in other locations around Singapore. 

She explained that the authorities were being cautious with busking due to the “very high level of interaction with the audience”. 

“The safety and health of members of the public, as well as our own buskers, has to take top priority,” said Ms Koh.

This was a point that Mr Jonathan Goh, the co-chair of the Buskers’ Association (Singapore), agreed with.

“The safety measures should be as tight as possible,” said Mr Goh, adding that they can then be further adjusted as needed.

On its part, the association has roped in buskers to help at the trial sessions as hired-help to remind the public to keep a safe distance from each other, among other duties.

These buskers will serve a secondary function of observing how the pilot is carried out so that they can provide feedback to the authorities once the pilot is over.

The pilot was first announced by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong on Nov 3 in a response to a parliamentary question by Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency Member of Parliament Louis Ng on the resumption of busking activities.

In his reply, Mr Tong, who is also the Second Minister for Law, said that the authorities were adopting a cautious approach with busking due to various challenges posed by the activity that have to be addressed. 

One challenge, he said, is that most busking activities involve singing, wind or brass instruments – “all which carry a higher risk of virus transmission as they require the expulsion of air”. 

The other involves crowd management and maintaining the safe distance of audiences in ungated spaces, which Mr Tong said is a key characteristic of busking.  


Marionettist Patrick Chong, 64, said he was delighted to be able to perform to a live audience again. Photo: Low Youjin/TODAY

Despite the current restrictions, Mr Patrick Wan was still delighted to be given a chance to perform again on Saturday.

The 65-year-old marionettist, who has been participating in street festivals in China for more than a decade, said being able to perform for a live audience is so much better than a virtual one as he gets to see their reaction.

Still, Mr Wan, who performs for a living, hopes the authorities will allow buskers to resume performing as normal, or he would have to tighten his belt further.

Mr Alan Ang Moncayo, a 21-year-old Nanyang Technological University physics student and part-time musician, echoed Mr Wan’s sentiments.

Although he was performing virtually during the circuit breaker, one of the issues he faced was that of exposure.

Unlike a live performance where passersby could discover him by chance, people would have to actively search for him online in order to watch him perform virtually.  

Other buskers had previously told TODAY while there are options to perform online, they yearn for a return to the streets.

Ms Anne Than, who happened to be walking past *Scape with her family before pausing to watch Mr Ang strum his guitar, said she was not worried that the performers would gather a large crowd as she felt the safe distancing measures were adequately enforced.

“I’m actually quite comfortable. This is a nice, welcomed change,” said the 47-year-old who works in marketing. 

Mr Jamie Chan, 30, was similarly glad to hear the performers again.

“Amidst the doom and gloom caused by the pandemic, it is heartening to see some semblance of normalcy resuming,” said Mr Chan, who declined to reveal his occupation.

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busking NAC arts and culture

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