For Love & Money

Published on 26 August 2017

While crunching numbers is often regarded as being diametrically opposed to making art, some artists actually manage to make fundraising, well, fun.

By Jo Tan

You’d think that after staging any number of big-budget productions with his acclaimed theatre company Pangdemonium, fundraising would be a walk in the park for its founder, the actor and producer, Adrian Pang. Well, not quite. “Getting cash by any means in order to fund the arts is the proverbial drawing blood from a stone. Very often, it feels like you are whacking your own head with said stone to draw blood,” he says, only half-jokingly.

The fact is, presenting quality art to the public isn’t cheap. Venues and equipment need to be rented, performers need to be paid, designers need to be hired. So much so that sales of tickets, albums and paintings alone are usually not enough to cover costs. As Stephanie Dogfoot, poet, performer and co-editor of SingPoWriMo 2017: The Anthology — a collection of poems written during this year’s Singapore Poetry Writing Month — explains, “It’s not that easy to recoup funds from selling books. You have costs of printing, design, marketing, and distributorship.”

Which is where wooing cash contributions becomes necessary.

SWEETEN THE DEAL -Funding for Tropicana the Musical came not only from government grants, but also through small and sincere contributions by people making or buying pineapple tarts. (Photo: Crispian Chan)
EVENT HORIZON - Numerous art events like OH! Open House and publishing events like the SingPoWriMo anthologies rely, at least partly, on fundraising efforts by individuals. Stephanie Dogfoot organised a party in her house to raise funds for the Lit Up Festival.

While grant monies and sponsorships are often available, these might not always be sufficient to cover costs. In any event, Dogfoot takes the view that public fundraising has the benefit of having fewer strings attached — as opposed to getting cash from organisations who might have their own vision and agenda — as well as the chance to build up the artist’s audience base.

Pangdemonium’s 1 September fundraiser, The Jam, is an example of a less conventional approach that will, hopefully, bring in enough cash to support its upcoming productions. While established performance companies sometimes stage white-tie balls, Pang says this is not his style. “On the whole, I find that balls can be a little dull. We wanted something fun and free-spirited, and a bit naughty.”

And so, The Jam fundraising concert will feature some of Singapore’s hottest young musical talents: Nathan Hartono, Inch Chua, Benjamin Kheng and Andrew Marko. All alumni of Pangdemonium productions, they’re prepped to serve up an unforgettable night of song, storytelling and even some surprises. “It’s going to be a kick-ass party, Pangdemonium-style,” says Pang, “even if a huge demographic will be young people who are probably not going to have the kind of disposable finances one would normally expect at your usual fundraising ‘ball’.”

Pang is not alone in wanting to shake things up, and redefine the arts fundraising model. To stage its performance Foreign Bodies last year, the burlesque troupe Skin in SIN offered higher-priced ticket packages that included bonuses of feather boas, and burlesque classes with risque accessories and a drink. For this year’s SingPoWriMo Anthology, which sought funding on the Indiegogo platform, donors of $68 and above received a poem written specially for them by an Anthology editor, and which was presented on a specially-designed poster.

Dogfoot, meanwhile, has staged some imaginative fundraisers. For the 2014 Lit Up Festival, for instance, “we had a house party at my place when my parents were away. I did tell them about it later, but I don’t think they realise that it was quite huge,” she recalls with a chuckle. “We cooked food and people donated drinks. Different rooms of the house were sites for different events, like art workshops, and a band called Wobology. We didn’t make a tonne of money, but it was nice. Personally, I prefer to fundraise by doing things that I enjoy doing as an artist anyway, like organise gatherings, put up a performance, build communities.”

THE FAB FOUR Four famous friends (from left to right) Inch Chua, Andrew Marko, Nathan Hartono and Benjamin Kheng combine musical forces to headline a fundraising concert for Pangdemonium Theatre Company. (Photo: Crispian Chan)

Veteran actress and producer Tan Kheng Hua agrees. While many artists find fundraising a chore, she has always enjoyed the process. “If I am taking people’s hard-earned money, I want to do so in a way that is right and meaningful,” she says. “So, I only raise funds for people, institutions or causes that I really feel for. I personally conceptualise the manner in which I raise the funds so that it’s something I enjoy. For the Joo Chiat edition of OH! Open House (a series of art walks that aim to take art outside of museums and galleries), I had a little fundraiser in my home where guests came to eat lovely food cooked by my mother, and to enjoy a concert of original songs written by my family about living in Joo Chiat. For Tropicana the Musical, I taught a yoga class. For both these events, I just put a jar for contributions somewhere, and nobody would know how much or little you put in. These may not have raised a lot of funds by the standards of others’, but even if it’s five dollars and it’s given in a really great spirit, that means a lot to me.”

While Pang doesn’t necessarily enjoy the lead-up to his fundraisers, he’s generally had a ball at the events themselves. “For The Jam, we are very grateful that all four artists are giving up their time and talent pro bono, and that’s another reason why it’s important that they have fun. For us in the background, it’s all tears, tantrums and tedium while planning a fundraiser, but it often does become fun at the event itself, by which time it’s a case of ‘Oh well, there’s no point fretting about it now, let’s just try to enjoy it!’”

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