A Devotion to the Arts and Heritage

Left: Dominic Low | Right: Kok Tse Wei

With the push towards greater recognition in the creative industries, more and more creative professionals are getting the recognition that they truly deserve. We meet two scholars who reveal more about the burgeoning arts and heritage sectors.

By Eliza Hamizah

“It’s a misconception that local talent equals to bad talent. I’ve seen many gifted local youth designers, artists, filmmakers, and musicians,” enthuses Kok Tse Wei.

The 30-year-old, who is a serious weekend trombonist with a local wind orchestra, is the Assistant Director for Youth Arts in the National Art Council. His role places him in the perfect position to make such a statement; he talks to fellow arts enthusiasts, organises festivals, meets youths in talent auditions, and shapes the arts landscape by influencing and formulating policies.

Another common myth that 21-year-old Dominic Low wants to dispel is that someone in the creative industries has to be ‘arty-farty’.

“In the area of conservation in the United Kingdom, the likes of art historians and even scientists come together to preserve and understand the nation’s heritage. It’s not just for the artistic,” reveals the National Heritage Board (NHB) scholar who is currently pursuing a degree in History of Art with Material Studies in University College London.

And that is exactly what Dominic hopes to achieve by being part of NHB, the organisation that is dedicated to making Singapore’s heritage an enriching part of everyone’s life, quaintly summarised in its slogan – Treasuring Our Past, Enriching Our Future.

The two scholars discuss more myths and misconceptions and share with us how the cultural eco-system is expanding.

What attracted you to the creative industries?
Tse Wei: My love for the trombone during secondary school was the catalyst for my initial liking for the arts and being exposed to various instruments and types of music cemented this love. I wanted to be a professional musician but the lack of music conservatories in Singapore at that time led me to the next best thing - the policy sector.

It is another misconception that artists need to be poor. Many established professionals in the industry make a comfortable living. However, this misses the point completely as people who choose to make a living in the arts are not here for the money. They do what they do because of their love for the arts.

Dominic: I agree. I didn’t join the creative industries not to strike it rich but to help it grow. Singapore is certainly well placed to continue growing as the confluence of culture in the region and beyond.

Much like Tse Wei, my love for the arts was sparked when I started reading up and volunteering and going to exhibitions. I did stints as a guide for the National Art Gallery Open House and the Singapore Biennale. These activities played a big role in displaying to me the wondrous possibilities of my interests.

Tell us how you are contributing or plan to contribute to the flourishing creative industries.
Tse Wei: My team and I identify pressing issues that the arts scene is facing and try to resolve them. Most young people hesitate to participate in the arts because they have no time to form a band and spend long hours rehearsing, especially when they are at the start of their careers.

By ensuring that there are low-commitment arts activities that they can have fun with and arts programmes that can excite them, we hope to encourage them to begin involving themselves in the arts. We’ve also supported youth initiatives involving exhibitions, competitions and mentorship programmes to help spur them on.

Dominic: When I graduate, I hope to curate and bring shows into Singapore, and showcase what our country can offer in a way that visitors would enjoy and find enriching.

Personally, I feel that there is the public is indifferent towards the visual arts. Much progress has been made by NHB but there is no panacea to making people change their minds overnight. I hope to reach out and provide an array of tantalising options.

Tse Wei, share with us various talents that you’ve met during the various projects that you’re involved in.
Tse Wei: Recently we partnered Objectifs, a local photography school to do a mentorship programme for budding photographers where they can expand their skills and get in touch with professionals. The youth who won the Most Promising Photographer award has now gone on to think about photography as a serious profession and has also contributed to policy discussions in focus groups organised by agencies like the National Youth Council. At only 18, he is already planning to become a photography activist who organises photography camps and activities! Seeing the rapid growth in him is very heartening.

Noise Singapore is another inspiring area of work for me because I get to support very gifted individuals. The winner of 987FM’s singer-songwriter competition, ‘The Next Big Thing’ was an apprentice of Noise Singapore 2010. To watch someone with hardly any performance experience grow over the short span of two years to become someone who is now building a music career is very satisfying.

Dominic, give us a sneak peek into your course.
Dominic: There has never been a dull moment to say the least. The theoretical, historical, and technical components of the course provide a wonderful balance. It is interesting that the ideas don’t pertain to art alone but numerous other disciplines.
Some of my more memorable lessons were actually held in the museums themselves. To be able to hear my lecturers talk about a work of art that’s actually in front of me is an extremely special and invaluable experience.

What advice do you have for prospective scholars and future flag bearers of the creative industries?
Tse Wei: Firstly, have a great sense of empathy as you will need to understand the viewpoints and interests held by different stakeholders. These include being mindful that you’re involved in managing public funds and balancing the responsibilities that come with it coupled with an understanding of the varied needs that artists and the Singapore audience have.

Secondly, you need to have an open mind. Many issues faced by the arts sector are complex and there is often no clear-cut or one-size-fits-all solution. You’ll need to be able to handle this complexity and uncertainty in your work.

Dominic: Scholars needs to recognise the importance of loving what they do. It is a foregone conclusion that the arts and culture enrich lives, amongst many other things. If you find your interests leading you in this direction, don’t let them go.