One Small Voice: Mayo Martin

Published on 26 May 2015

What’s the role of the arts reporter in the arts ecosystem? TODAY newspaper’s Mayo Martin reflects.

As an arts reviewer, I truly believe no matter how bad a production is, there’s always something constructive to talk about — like the issues raised, for instance. And while I’d like to think there’s always been recognition of an arts writer’s role in the ecosystem, I understand completely the love-hate relationship the arts scene has with those writing about it.

I’ve attended my fair share of formal and informal artist gatherings to discuss issues and it’s not unusual for people to air their unhappiness with the media. There are times when I feel it’s unfair, but we — the media — aren’t particularly innocent of the charges either.

Just think of the role we played during the early 1990s, with the sensationalist coverage of Josef Ng’s protest performance that involved snipping his pubic hair, and of The Necessary Stage’s purported Marxist leanings. These had serious repercussions on artists and entire forms — like performance art and forum theatre — for years following.

Recently, there was a former A*STAR scholar and dancer, Eng Kai Er, who received flak online for being ungrateful because she’d been given a science scholarship and for one of her art projects, she criticised the scholarship system for bonding her. A newspaper had written a story in their education section. But I knew of her first as an artist and had followed what she did, so I had a context with which to approach the issue.

I wrote a mini-commentary on TODAY’s art blog, For Art’s Sake, to explain that you can contextualise what she did in terms of her practice as an artist. Later, she was kind enough to grant me an interview to explain her side of things. As a writer, it’s fulfilling to be able to do these kinds of stories, but it’s more fulfilling to know you’re doing your bit to help people understand an artist better.

Another role I see for arts writers is ‘normalising’ art. I’ve never really liked it when publications use the “Is This Art?” headline. It immediately creates a distance. I’d love for the arts to be part of our daily discourse. That means not being shy or defensive or dumbing things down when talking about it.

It’s great to be in the midst of rapid change, but it can be exhausting trying to keep up with everything. One huge game-changer is the Internet and social media, with the emphasis on speed, connectivity and free-flowing information. When I started, I just had to worry about writing stories for the newspaper. Then, it was the newspaper and the blog. Now there’s also Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s a reflection of the huge changes taking place in the world of journalism.

And these changes affect my role in the ecosystem. The more traditional function of the journalist/reporter as information gatekeepers, as the ‘middle-men’ between the public and the newsmakers, is being challenged. Having said that, my stories and reviews may automatically carry a bit more ‘weight’ by virtue of my affiliation with an established newspaper. But I’m not one to dismiss the impact and contribution of non-mainstream websites or blogs.

At the end of the day, I’m just one voice in this ecosystem. I just hope I’m contributing something worthwhile to the rich and exciting dialogue that’s taking place in the arts scene.

Mayo Martin is a deputy editor with TODAY newspaper, covering the arts beat. Prior to joining MediaCorp in 2007, he was an arts reporter for a Manila newspaper and a writer for a Singapore men’s magazine. Martin was named ‘Journalist of the Year’ at the MediaCorp News Awards 2013. He holds a degree in Comparative Literature from the University of the Philippines and has published two books of poetry: Babel (2004), in Tagalog, and Occupational Hazards (2013), in English, published by Math Paper Press.  

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