MICA: Grooming Creativity

Singapore has embraced art, design and music as viable economies, and has executed various incentives and programmes to develop local creative talent. For would-be artists, musicians and filmmakers, it means more money. And if that isn't enough, what’s cooler than telling your friends that you’re a creative?

By Edwin Tam

Jeremy Monteiro and Olivia Ong; Royston Tan and :phunk studios.

One’s a jazz pianist and another’s a singer; he’s a filmmaker and they’re a graphic design collective.

You might have seen, heard or experienced their works in movies, concerts, posters, or even on television. That’s not too surprising as they are part of Singapore’s creative industries – defined as “industries which are inspired by cultural and artistic creativity and have the potential to create economic value”.

It was these industries that helped countries such as China, the United Kingdom and United States to grow. As such, Singapore has recognised the need to groom these industries and our people. This is why Neo Jiet Shern, 27, and Chok Kerong, 25, received scholarships to pursue their creative passions.

Same same, but different
Jiet Shern graduated with a diploma in 3D Animation and Visual Effects from the Vancouver Film School on a Media Development Authority (MDA) Scholarship, while Kerong is currently studying for a master’s degree in Jazz Performance at the Manhattan School of Music on a National Arts Council (NAC) Scholarship.

These come under the Creative Industries Scholarships programme which consists of scholarships offered by NAC, National Heritage Board, DesignSingapore Council and MDA.

As explained by Kerong, the biggest gain is the “financial assistance that covers a large proportion of total expenses”. It is the same with Jiet Shern. Moreover, if you do not like to be governed, prodded or poked, then you’ll like the sponsor organisations’ hands-off approach. “Unless there are administrative issues, NAC does not really contact me that often, and leaves me to concentrate on my studies,” says Kerong.

Given the recent push for the creative industries, one would think that more scholarships would have been made available to would-be creatives. Unfortunately, there isn’t much choice in this matter beyond the public sector. “At that time, it was one of the few scholarships to my knowledge that covered my field of study,” says Jiet Shern. “However, I am thankful that this scholarship exists because without it, I would not have been able to pursue my further studies.”

Stay focused
Most creatives have been stereotyped with a reputation for being flaky and unfocused. However, when asked why they thought they were awarded the scholarship, both scholars had very definitive ideas and beliefs, and a refreshing take on the question.

“I believe it was because I had a clear vision of what I wanted to achieve musically by attending Manhattan School of Music,” says Kerong.

Jiet Shern thinks he was able to impress his interviewers. “I showed that I had made my own efforts in learning things about my field. In my field, it is really important to constantly learn and upgrade yourself, so this attitude of self-discipline and self-motivation could be the reason why I was awarded the scholarship.”

Get the good
Every scholarship has its perks, and the same goes for the Creative Industries Scholarship.

Jiet Shern enjoys interacting with other people from different cultures and races. “I learnt a lot from them and expanded my knowledge of different countries and understanding of different cultures. I realised there is a big world beyond the borders of Singapore and we should not limit our horizons to just our home country,” he says.

Of course, it’s not all just about experiencing new things or people.

The opportunity to study with master musicians and hone his craft ranks highly on Kerong’s list of things to be thankful for.

He says, “Now, seven months into the course, I am definitely more open-minded about music and the possibilities within it. Studying the architecture of music in great detail has allowed me to appreciate what I previously could not. It has also given me new, alternative methods of improvising and composing.”

Plus, scholars have the flexibility on how they would like to serve out their two-year bond in Singapore. Kerong can work in any full-time capacity connected to the arts, while Jiet Shern can join any media-related company, as long as they work in Singapore and contribute to the creative industries here.

At this point, Kerong intends to enter teaching, perform or work on various musical projects – basically, work that’s related to his discipline. Meanwhile, Jiet Shern has already been employed by Lucasfilm Animation as a rigger – someone who makes an animation model move!

Final Thoughts
Kerong and Jiet Shern hold bachelor’s degrees in Law and Computer Science respectively. From their perspective, the Creative Industries Scholarships represent a way to either switch careers or further their expertise.

The leap from law to music was quite a major change for Kerong. To those in the same position, he says, “If you choose to pursue something you believe in, you will already be at an advantage. Your passion and drive will be obvious, and I believe those are the qualities that agencies like NAC are looking for.”

As for those who want to further their expertise, you would do well taking heed of Jiet Shern’s advice. “Your portfolio speaks a great deal about your work ethics and ability, so work hard on producing the best portfolio you can, and it will get you what you desire,” he says. “The one thing that many people do wrongly [for a portfolio] is that they want to do some creative project that tells a great story. Produce something that can demonstrate your skills in a clear and direct way instead.”

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