Home News Featured News NAC: Stop quarrelling with The Substation and help Chiya Amos

NAC: Stop quarrelling with The Substation and help Chiya Amos

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah




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The late DPM, Foreign and Culture Minister S Rajaratnamonce observed that many Singaporeans knew the exact price of almost everything but could not always appreciate the real value of certain things. I might add until it’s too late. Is this trait being manifested lately in Singaporeans’ attitude towards the arts? Three developments – one good and the other two not so good – brought about this question.

Well, there is the hallelujah-ly good news.

Singapore will, at last, have its first arts university through an alliance between the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and the LASALLE College of the Arts, Education Minister Lawrence Wong announced on March 3. It will be a private university supported by the government, with LASALLE and NAFA as its two constituent colleges, and both will continue to remain as distinct schools offering their own programmes, he added.

Speaking during the Ministry of Education Committee of Supply debate in Parliament, Wong said: “MOE believes strongly in the need to nurture more diverse talents through our multiple education pathways. In our next phase of development, we will need this diversity of talent in STEM(science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and also in the arts, design and media.”

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All the non-technical and not too academically inclined young Singaporeans will soon have a local tertiary pathway to get that treasured degree to show their parents and hopefully pursue a fruitful career without an undeserved “it’s the end” tag. I say local because they will not have to let their parentsfork out hard-earned CPF money to fund such an education inAustralia, Canada or Britain. Many young Singaporeans have soft talents that deserve better recognition. They should be nurtured and properly harnessed and rewarded by organisations and industries in our increasingly dynamic, diverse and highly liveable society.

As Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp would say, “it’s all good”.

What may not be so good to read about is the case of ChiyaAmos, 30, a Singaporean orchestral conductor now delivering food for Foodpanda.

He wrote in his Facebook: “I returned in December (last year), and despite applying for more than 40 jobs, including sales, management and academic positions, I received rejections from every single one of them. Facing financial instability, I found myself feeling depressed and anxious. I was constantly feeling frustrated and dejected. Wanting to do something more useful, I applied to deliver food for Foodpanda, and have been doing so since January.

“For several years, I worked as a conductor based in Russia, specialising in opera and ballet, and performing around the world, winning some accolades along the way.

“After finishing my national service, I won a scholarship in 2011 to study music in London before moving to Saint Petersburg in Russia with an FJ Benjamin-Singapore Symphony Orchestra bursary to complete my postgraduate studies in conducting in 2013.

“I was a prize winner at several conducting competitions, and an assistant conductor to leading French conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and BBC Philharmonic. “

There are at least two things not quite right.

Amos has served his country through his NS, a real true-blue, and he ends up where he is while non-true-blues get free passes to suck up our economy and game the system.

He has genuine artistic talent. What are all these characters sitting on board the National Arts Council doing?  Have they never even heard of him? Can’t they help? Is Amos’ talent so useless and untappable?

Talking about the NAC.

It may be making itself look silly, wasting taxpayers’ money and time engaging in a war of words with The Substation, which has led to the centre’s management deciding to close it down instead of agreeing to work with the council.

The NAC will be renovating the place at 45, Armenian Street and has offered to work with The Substation on the arts centre’s review of its artistic and financial strategies, and transform its business model for long term sustainability. The Substation has turned this down and prefers to close shop and leave the building in July.

The main dispute is over whether The Substation will be the sole tenant or a co-tenant and over whether it is an arts centre or an arts incubator.

The Substation said that it is an arts centre — like the Esplanade — arguing that the “essence of an arts centre is autonomy of physical spaces, such as a theatre and gallery for artists to make their art and interact”.

A number of questions:  Has The Substation management messed up? If not, it should be given enough leeway to continue to operate independently, given its rich and irreplaceable heritage.  Is it about control? Is the NAC over-reaching in its role?

It is not too late to work out some arrangement acceptable to both parties. We just cannot afford to lose yet another iconic piece of Singapore’s heritage – just because of the not too diverse visions of two involved parties.

Meanwhile, with all due respect to our delivery people, the sight of a talented conductor wasting his talents is also something the NAC should be spending its time correcting. It does not gel well with any kind of national effort to encourage development of the arts. We want our artistic talents to deliver food for the soul – and not the stomach.


Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.Follow us on Social Media

Send in your scoops to news@theindependent.sg 

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