In a discussion looking to tackle sustainability in Singapore, the impactful growth of new business models and means in which patronage is encouraged, Lisa Polten, Director of Chan + Hori Gallery Contemporary, Uma Parameswer, Director of Athina Consulting and a Board Member of ICOM, and moderator Kay Vasey, Chief Connecting Officer of MeshMinds address “The Waiting Game: Growth, Sustainability and Support” at the 3rd annual Singapore event.
Kay: Many medium sized galleries all over the world are closing their doors, and Gillman has gotten quieter over the years. How does Chan+ Hori tackle this?
Lisa: We have a new approach, mainly working within three sections:
- Gallery shows to support our artists, conduct residencies and place works into private and institutional collections
- We develop projects together with the NAC, STB and the public. Projects include public arts festivals in Gillman inclusive of performances and workshops
- We work with corporations. Examples include a residency and exhibition with Johnson and Johnson, working with mental health institutions in Singapore; We also worked with the Maybank foundation who have a program for women only in Southeast Asia. We sent our artists to work with these women and in turn they transformed their designs into fabric which were showcased in an exhibition at the Maybank Foundation
Kay: We want to engage more in partnerships. We can’t just rely on the NAC’s funding forever. Uma you wrote an interesting report where you discussed public-private partnerships. Can you tell us more about it?
Uma: I wrote the report years ago. As you know, India is an emerging economy which means focusing on the arts is not considered a priority industry. Therefore, the question was how do you approach the most suitable business model to maximise what you already have but also involve talent from the private sector? How do you divert precious government funding to the arts rather than pumping it into healthcare?
I devised a business model on the best way to approach it. With every new government comes a new strategy. In Singapore, museums have focused on bridging the private and public sectors to attract more talent from private sector into public sector – it’s very different!
Kay: While working for the British Council I approached a lot of companies who would mention they have their APAC offices in Singapore but had no marketing budget. Their response was “Why do we need to give you money to organise exhibitions where it’s hard to measure return on investment?”
For large banks for instance, the National Gallery mentions they can use their venue and in return they guarantee footfall. What about smaller initiatives that are equally as important culturally for the creative economy of Singapore? How do we get on the radar of such companies and how do we convince them that it is beneficial to invest in the arts?
Lisa: As a private company we believe there shouldn’t only be governmental storytelling and initiatives, but that the private sector should play a crucial part in Singapore, producing shows and content. I therefore think local companies should be approached first with creative opportunities rather than big league players like Facebook and Capitaland. Let’s put public sculptures in offices.
When referring to patronage it’s not just about money but also putting in the time, effort and engagement to speak about it. These are all things that need to be emphasised in the NAC SG 2020 plan which should be defined.
Kay: How would you define them?
Lisa: Donating money to museums is outdated. This is not what people want anymore; they want involvement, to be part of the storytelling and the option to visit the artist. That’s something we have to change in our minds.
Uma: Look at the FOM (Friends of the Museum), they aren’t actually paid. They voluntarily put in the time to understand the exhibition and the artists, and offer a free guided tour once a week. In my mind, that in itself is a way to raise awareness amongst the masses. The arts are still bizarrely a segment where if things are free, they fight it.
Kay: At the British Council all our events were free. I worked with Singaporean and British architects and designers to create the Future Nomad project, an enormous metal M on the grounds of the National Museum. I’d tell my taxi driver do you want to see it and he’d say “it’s not for me”. That is still one of the things we have to break down but how do we get there?
Lisa: There’s still that term “disruption”. The NAC says we need to conduct market research and better understand what kind of shows our audiences want. I think this approach should change and instead look at Palais de Tokyo’s first exhibition of the Michael Jordan shoe which explained “street culture”; they generated a new audience and following. The V&A museum in London curated the first David Bowie show which was incredibly successful.
We need to disrupt what we believe art is and what we believe is worth showing at the National Gallery. We can then reach new audiences and think of new ways of showcasing.
I was listening to a talk given by the CEO of the National Gallery and she mentioned Marcel Duchamp and his ability to completely disrupt art. Nowadays many Singaporean artists are still influenced by Marchel Duchamp and this is a good example proving that no market research would have told you to put a urinal in the gallery nor that it would have such a lasting impact. So we have to emphasise this disruption in our minds, our shows and in our audiences.
Kay: I’m going to throw out something a little controversial – the NAC formerly published the Renaissance City Plan with three consecutive stages, and now there’s the SG plan. In every published report they refer to arts education, audience building and yet we are still here even after so many years. Is there something we’re doing wrong in Singapore?
Uma: Globally, the arts are not the main industry and especially in emerging and developed economies like Singapore, it’s fairly new to the scene. In its 53 years they have come a long way, adapting to new trends and sharing innovation and involvement.
Lisa: When we speak of education, we naturally refer to school, but with educational centres for children in the National Gallery for example, play has nothing to do with the arts. As a start, I think this should drastically change. Children’s play should be associated with the exhibition so they can learn and play with the artworks and the respective narration.
People always say “I loved art at school.” Clearly, at a young age art makes a difference but as soon as you leave it’s forgotten. That’s something we need to look at, taking generations from 20 – 30.