► An introduction to the Lee Kong Chian Collection on the official website of the NUS Museum.
I am also in charge of the personal collection programme of Mr TK Sabapathy, a historian who is considered as one of the founders of our museum. Mr Sabapathy, a Singaporean of Indian descent, is one of the first students of Michael Sullivan, the renowned British art historian and sinologist. In the 1950s, his collection was first built in the University of Malaya (the predecessor of NUS), which was the first university established on the Malay Peninsula during the British colonial period.
The context here is quite interesting, as the collector’s life, work, and academic research actually cover the entire history of art and curation in Southeast Asia. I have frequently interviewed him and done archival research in the past two years.
As an Institutional Curator, my mandate includes research, exhibition production, public programmes, and event planning among other things. For university museums, it is important to connect with university education. I teach modules related to curation and museums in the NUS Museum, so students can get hands-on experience in the area. My colleagues also incorporate their expertise and practices in the classroom.
Sometimes, I receive invitations from overseas organisations to organise programmes such as experimental image exhibitions, film festivals, and art museum showcases.
► A glimpse into a the lecture by Dr Jaime Hsu. Source: ADAPTING TO AN ALTERED REALITY in AlumNUS.
— No. 02 —
What example can you share to help prospective students of the MA ACE programme better understand what they will learn?
I can offer one example that would be significant for both the art museum sector and the preservation of cultural heritage.
For the past decade, Ms Natalie Pang from our department has been 3D-scanning burial objects at the Bukit Brown Cemetery in Singapore, which is the first and largest Chinese cemetery in Southeast Asia. The cemetery has been in existence since the 17th century, and a large number of burial objects there have become cultural relics.
When the government earmarked the cemetery for redevelopment, the remains and burial objects were sorted out for the descendants to claim. However, some burial objects remained unclaimed and faced possible destruction.
► A grave from Bukit Brown Cemetery with burial items. Picture used with permission from remembersingapore.wordpress.com
Thankfully, Ms Pang has been scanning and 3D-printing those objects for years. Therefore, the complete collection originating from the cemetery will be archived in our university, which is very important for academic research, the history of Southeast Asia, and the history of overseas Chinese.
I do not think there is currently any programme—other than the MA ACE at NUS—that can offer modules on the application of emerging technologies like 3D scanning and printing in the preservation of cultural heritage. Ms Pang will teach Cultural Analytics and Informatics as part of the programme. In Applied Heritage, students can also learn how to use AI and 3D modelling to pursue innovation in an intense engagement with the heritage-scape.
— No. 03 —
What led to the establishment of the MA ACE programme at NUS?
Singapore has been implementing the Renaissance City Plan (RCP) since 2000. The government’s cultural policy aims to promote industrial transformation, and this has become a model for other Asian countries to follow.
You might also notice that in cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, art museums have been springing up and assorted cultural activities have been flourishing in the last decade. Global cities have started to recognise the importance of CCI, which includes not only the art museums and art galleries that we are familiar with, but also auction houses, exhibitions, civic activities, and the like.
We have also noticed that leading multinationals such as Google have established their own dedicated cultural departments, and people are paying more and more attention to aesthetics in their lives. So I think one of the important reasons why the Department of Communications and New Media (CNM) at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences led the establishment of the programme is that we have a wealth of educational resources. For students, the training in each professional skill can establish “connectivity” with the industry, thus opening up numerous opportunities to participate in the field.
In the global market, CCI is geared to the needs of a wide range of sectors, including architecture, marketing, advertising, design, fashion, information technology, and content operations. There is currently a shortfall of three million CCI talents each year, indicating a huge demand for professionals in the area.
In terms of Singapore’s strategic plan, we want to develop talents by offering such a programme, and I believe we have the best resources in Asia to support the programme.
Singapore is characterised by its ethnic complexity and cultural diversity. In such a special and interesting environment, how can we encourage all cultural groups to respect each other and create the opportunities from them to express their cultural identities in a fair manner? It is a great place for training ethical thinking and the operation of cultural discourse power. We look forward to developing students’ Cultural Literacy.
You may read more about the Renaissance City Plan III in the downloadable PDF in this link.
— No. 04 —
What other unique resources and advantages does the new MA programme have?
Let me touch on the interdisciplinary background of the programme: It is a new programme jointly offered by the Department of Communications and New Media (CNM), Theatre Studies in the English Literature Programme, the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, and the Department of Malay Studies. In addition, the Business School offers certain elective modules.
The three core modules originate from different academic disciplines and represent different ways of thinking, integrating the competencies that you need before entering the CCI sector.
Why does the word “integration” need to be repeatedly stressed? Presently, all industries are facing severe challenges, especially with the COVID-19 situation. Even in the academic field, you cannot confine yourself to a single discipline. Integration and resource-sharing have become critical.
For example, Cultural Policy—a core module taught by Prof Audrey Yue, Academic Director of the MA ACE programme and Head of CNM— introduces cultural policy studies, not only as a research field of international communication, but also a distinct domain of cultural studies. It is thus the integration of two academic fields.
Thanks to the integration, our programme has a strategically professional structure. Students can choose their research interests once they are admitted. For example, whether you want to engage in curation, cultural preservation, business operations, or public communication, you can achieve your goals by studying of the relevant elective modules.
I would also like to highlight the academic power of “Digital Humanities”. It is a powerful instrument available to CNM, and our students will fully benefit from it.
Prof Yue was involved in the establishment of such modules when she worked at the University of Melbourne ten years ago. Back then, the popularity and importance of social media was far less than it is now. That is why she uses “Culture Management 2.0” to describe our current modules. Prof Yue is the Director of the Centre of Digital Humanities Research in Singapore. Prof Jack Qiu Linchuan in our department is a well-known scholar of digital humanities. The aforementioned Ms Pang also works in this field.
Why is it important for digital humanities to be involved in the CCI sector? In my personal experience, due to the pandemic, many public events of art museums have had to be held online in the past two years, and a lot of data has been generated in the process. We therefore have had an unprecedented opportunity to conduct data analysis and research. Digital Marketing Practices, for example, is offered to teach students how to analyse data.
The name of the programme itself, Arts and Cultural Entrepreneurship, integrates all aspects of the arts, cultural and creative industries. It also incorporates expertise in cultural heritage in Southeast Asia and Asia and provides practical opportunities in these industries. All these advantages make this degree programme uniquely valuable.
— No. 05 —
How would you interpret the word “Entrepreneurship” in the programme name?
Entrepreneurship is not easily understood term. To elaborate on it, the focus would be on the entrepreneur. Let me share on the entrepreneur’s characteristics.
First of all, the entrepreneur has the spirit of innovation. Political economist Joseph Alois Schumpeter proposed a concept called “Creative Destruction”, which captures the essence of entrepreneurs. Only people with such a mindset are able to abolish old systems and establish innovative systems. Therefore, “Arts and Cultural Entrepreneurship” not only sheds light on the industry, but also brings new possibilities to the industry. I think it is a core element of the MA ACE programme.
Another dimension of this word is that it implies a Transaction of the different values in the creator. So I think the focus is on an entrepreneur who is quite clear about what value means. Of course, value here refers not only to money, but also cultural value and social capital. An entrepreneur needs to be able to understand the significance of the complex transformation of value as well as justice, because aesthetics is basically a moral code.
The word alone represents an essential cultural understanding. When it comes to “entrepreneurs”, people may think of Silicon Valley in a flash, but that is not the whole story. Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, for example, have not only completed the primitive accumulation of capital, but have changed culture.
We want to train students to become professionals who have the courage to redefine the industry and can make decisions and propose plans based on the historical context of politics and economics.
— No. 06 —
How does the NUS MA ACE programme differ from existing programmes in curation, cultural and art management, museology, and other similar programmes that have long been offered at British and American universities?
Everything can be traced back to the source. We can start by asking: Why were CCI programmes initially offered in Britain?
Once a major colonial power, Britain has been largely managing the cultural resources of its former colonies through training in museum studies, exhibition studies, and the like. Its art galleries and museums mainly collect the cultural resources of former British colonies. In this light, it is easy to understand why the Netherlands—another major colonial power—has also taken the lead in training in CCI. Much of their cultural heritage too is based on the cultural resources of Asia and third-world countries as a whole.
At the end of the age of plundering and self-construction during the Second World War, business and industry could still be sustained due to the enormous need for reconstruction. However, at the turn of the millennium, industrial transformation became important, especially when the former major colonial powers could no longer sustain their economies through trade hegemony. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair introduced the concept of “Creative Britain” to find out how to make cultural consumption another industrial driver.
Against this backdrop, such programmes have been offered in Britain. If you are interested, you can check when they were established and how the names of the departments changed, some of which were renamed from museum studies.
However, the cultural relics and works of art in Asia and third-world countries as a whole have their own local cultural context. I feel that international applicants should come to Singapore for the programme because it respects the “local cultural identity”. It has to do with not just learning about technical management of collections, but also realising that culture is not stagnant, creativity is not stagnant, and they are both related to society. Our programme, offered in Singapore, provides exactly such a context and a local entrance.
Professionals in the Singaporean CCI sector come from Southeast Asia and the rest of Asia, as is represented by the structure of our faculty. So we have the cultural awareness to bring culture and art back into society and reconstruct the connectivity.
The MA ACE programme at NUS is a training programme for the CCI sector, which is established on the basis of the Asian social and historical experience.
— No. 07 —
What do practitioners in the CCI sector earn?
Some would say that practitioners in the CCI sector, especially newcomers, are poorly paid. In some surveys on salaries by occupation, arts practitioners do not rank well either. However, there are some issues we need to be aware of in this regard.
First of all, the terms “occupation” and “career” are different. “Occupation” refers to your work and corresponding salary, while “career” signifies that you have faith in your profession, have a clear understanding of its social status, and are committed to the profession. For example, many of my peer practitioners in Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other places insist on doing independent curation as freelancers.
There are many dimensions of freelancing that cannot be quantified, and the same is true of salary. For example, it is difficult to assess the value of the works created and sold by artists. Such practitioners usually do not live permanently in any one city or country. Instead, they sell their works all over the world. So, it is difficult to precisely gauge their monetary earnings.
In addition, practitioners in the CCI sector are employed in a wide range of areas, and their income levels vary greatly, so it is difficult to obtain an average value. The upper limit of the income of practitioners can be very high. For example, a famous curator or artist who undertakes major projects earns a salary much higher than that of a regular employee.
On the other hand, many practitioners enter the industries because they are unwilling to compromise. Such a person may possess a certain sense of autonomy and a desire to retain ownership of what he or she creates. A modern example would be the YouTube author; this person creates, produces and publishes content, but he has absolute control over the time in his life. By reaching a certain number of subscribers, he can even generate content during his holiday in Bali and thus earn money every month.
So in this sense, value is not just about income. Social contribution, self-actualisation, self-fulfilment, being immersed in the love of culture, and such are all values offered by the industries.
— No. 08 —
In what other ways does the programme prepare students for the future?
Continuous learning means more possibilities for the future.
As mentioned before, our programme has a strategically professional structure. Whether you want to engage in curation, cultural preservation, business operations, or public communication, you can achieve your goals by studying a portfolio of elective modules.
For example, I teach Arts Business. We also offer Art and Law, which will be taught by lawyers and researchers together. By taking the modules, you will be able to understand the relationship between arts and culture and business practices, and then decide how you want to define your relationship with business operations. This is open-ended, depending on the life goals of the student. It is our responsibility as instructors to give you a historical, social and economic framework within which you can make choices.
Cultural Policy, which is taught by Prof Yue, helps students understand how to define cultural innovation from the perspective of the government. These are the key issues for every country, region and political group. We need to remain conscious of the relationship between government and culture, and understand the relationship between the CCI sector and the government and international diplomacy. How can our students, as practitioners representing the future of the CCI sector, have pleasant conversations with the government from a professional perspective? In this module, there are not only cultural studies and historical studies, but also training in cultural policies.
Students will also practice in the modules so as to greatly improve their employability. Some of our modules are offered at the NUS Centre for the Arts, NUS Museum, and NUS Baba House, ensuring that students gain practical experience. We are in discussions with the Culture Academy of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) of Singapore and the National Heritage Board of Singapore to establish more cooperation, covering training in cultural policies, intangible cultural heritage programmes, and the like.
The graduation project/internship is also something students can look forward to. Singapore has a well-established CCI sector—among the best in Asia. You can take an internship in Singapore during the three weeks of the summer vacation, and then decide whether you want to write a thesis or even apply for a PhD, or you can do more practice and work on more projects.
If you are passionate about doing academic research during your studies, we will support you, assist you with your research project and suggest PhD programmes which are suitable for you. However, I would also like to emphasise that many of our Master’s and PhD theses today are “Practice-based Research”. For example, if you have developed an interesting concept of some phenomena in an art museum, then understanding and responding to it is the research you need to do. In this case, we may arrange for you to visit different venues and exhibitions for quantitative observations, which will lead to theses of high academic value.
The graduation project will be carried out as a team effort. Students with different research interests will work together on a project as the final task before graduation, and will also strengthen their training in teamwork.
— No. 09 —
Master of Arts in Arts and Cultural Entrepreneurship:
Who will enjoy the programme? Who is it tailored for? Who would find this programme essential?
Who will enjoy the programme?
I believe all those who are interested in the CCI sector will like the programme. It not only focuses on culture and arts, but also covers cultural heritage preservation and historical studies. So all students that are interested in culture, creativity, history and humanities and want to work in such industries will like it.
Who is it tailored for?
If you are already a practitioner in the industries and want to further develop your professional skills, or if you are pursuing a specific career direction, then you are well-suited to the programme. For example, local Singaporean public servants engaged in cultural policy work are likely to attend such a programme as it offers competency training in cultural identity.
If you are a fresh graduate and hope to gain experience in the CCI sector by studying an MA programme—instead of working on the fringes, with no access to actual CCI work—then you are also perfectly suited for the programme. We also welcome fresh graduates who are enthusiastic about the CCI sector, such as those who have interned in art museums or other relevant organisations, to apply for the programme.
Who would find this programme essential?
Can I say that everyone needs it? (Laughing) We live in an age of integrated skills and everyone needs multi-disciplinary competencies. The market currently accommodates the different cultures, habits and contexts of all countries. Only by understanding historical origins can you have a clear focus.
Everyone also needs to have the spirit of innovation and experimentation. Our programme offers a safe hands-on learning environment, giving you ample opportunities to try and innovate.
— No. 10 —
The programme is about to enrol students for the first time. What advice do you have for applicants?
You may consider applying for the MA programme regardless of your academic background. However, we encourage students with internship experience in the CCI sector to apply for the programme, since it involves a lot of practice and discussions. If you have participated in projects in related industries, you will be able to complete the modules more efficiently. We hope you submit relevant materials when applying for the programme.
Everyone is welcome to apply for the programme. We look forward to seeing you at NUS.
Check out the application requirements on the programme page here.