MORE people spent on the arts and culture last year in spite of the economic downturn, according to figures released yesterday by the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts.

Demand for music, dance and theatre performances went up by 21 per cent, with 820,200 tickets sold last year compared with 675,200 in 2008. Box office takings also rose, from $37.5 million in 2008 to $42.6 million last year.

Arts practitioners are not surprised by the statistics. The Necessary Stage artistic director Alvin Tan, 48, said his theatre troupe weathered the recession well with full houses for various productions at its 80-seater Black Box in Marine Parade Community Club. It usually stages five runs for each show and sells about 400 tickets for each run.

Mr Tan felt that in troubled economic times, people turn to the arts to forget real-life woes: 'They may not go overseas as it is expensive, but then they need entertainment at home.'

In keeping with this idea, Esplanade chief executive Benson Puah, 53, said that early last year, the arts centre increased its free programmes and moderated ticket prices 'to ensure that Singaporeans would be able to find comfort through the arts'.

About 1.8 million people attended various ticketed and free events at the Esplanade from April last year to this March, an increase of 140,000 from the previous financial year.

Demand for arts, culture strong