As the announcement of Singapore’s first arts university sweeps the nation, TheHomeGround speaks with local artists and arts students to understand what this means for them, and their hopes for the future of the arts industry.
Lee Xue Jing, 24, is a freelance dance artist and graduate from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), and she welcomed the proposed arts university.
The move, she says, is “a recognition of the arts industry’s efforts and significance” and signifies the fruits of labour of those who pioneered the movement of the arts in Singapore.
Meanwhile, Tricia Ding, 24, a theatre studies major at the National University of Singapore, remains cautiously optimistic.
While she acknowledges that the new campus “sounds like the perfect dream of combining the arts with the ‘university path’ that is very centred in Asian perspectives”, the lack of information at the moment means that she will think twice before choosing to pursue further education there.
What does this new university entail?
The new university will be a private institution, born of an alliance between NAFA and LASALLE College of the Arts (LASALLE), and supported by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth.
At the moment, both NAFA and LASALLE offer specialised arts, design, and media education at the diploma and degree levels, with the latter currently being awarded in partnership with overseas universities.
The new private university will allow students to get a local degree. It will draw on strengths from both NAFA and LASALLE to provide a more holistic and diverse range of offerings for students. Details have yet to be finalised, but MOE highlighted that prospective students can anticipate access to cross-institution modules and projects, as well as shared learning resources.
An elevation of Singapore’s art scene
Just last year, the arts industry expressed outrage at the sentiment that their jobs were considered to be “non-essential” by nearly three quarters of society, with many local artists speaking out about the value of the arts.
This university may well be a stepping stone in changing these perceptions.
Yee Soo Xien, 24, a design art student at Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) School of Art, Design and Media (ADM), believes that having a dedicated university for the arts is the first step to “raising the world of arts in Singapore onto a higher platform”. She added, “the decision to build a school for the arts would introduce credibility [to the arts industry] to the majority who holds no faith in us.”
Similarly, Chia Yee Shan, 34, a dance educator, feels that the establishment of a new arts university is “very much all wins”, citing reasons such as an elevation of the arts scene in Singapore, greater opportunities for local artists, better arts education, and a greater network and connection with the world’s arts scene as plusses for this move.
Considerations for pursuing a local arts degree
Ziyaad, 28, a graduate (BFA in Animation) from NTU’s ADM mentioned that the new university also presents students with more options, as compared to the meagre two options that he had when choosing to pursue animation on a tertiary level.
Lee and Chia also highlighted that having a local university dedicated to the arts will mean a lighter financial burden on those who choose to pursue the arts in tertiary education, especially if grants and subsidies were made available by MOE.
Yet, Chia admits that he would still be inclined to pursue an arts education abroad.
“I think taking an art degree abroad would give me more respect from people of this country,” he mused. “The perks of seeing the arts form of other countries would be more helpful and inspirational since they have an even longer and stronger art culture.”
On the contrary, Yee conveyed that should the option be available to her, she would want to pursue her masters in a local institute as she believes in “staying true to one’s culture and flourishing the land which cultivated [her]”.
Lee, too, has concerns. She acknowledges that pursuing the arts in Singapore comes with benefits such as allowing her to establish connections in the local arts community, but would still base her decision on the nature of the syllabus across different universities, as well as whether she intends to continue working in Singapore or eventually venture overseas.
Hopes for the new university
A pro-tem committee, chaired by Professor Chan Heng Chee, has been appointed to develop the structure and operating model of this new university alongside NAFA and LASALLE.
This is expected to be completed by early-2023, with the university projected to be set up in the next three to four years. Even so, the artists we spoke to had high hopes for what is to come.
“Resources! Campus life! Student-led interest groups! Diverse exchange opportunities!” enthused Ding, when asked about what she would like to see in the new campus. “And a good canteen,” she quipped.
As a theatre studies major, Ding would like for the new university to provide a balance of both theories and academia alongside practical skills, to better equip future performers with “both the intellectual and the physical”.
Meanwhile, Lee looks forward to more cross-disciplinary opportunities afforded to future students, and for a greater emphasis on well-being.
“It would be helpful to offer modules educating students and providing them support on emotional and mental well-being and/or practices that encourage healthy management and processing of emotions (e.g. continuum movement, yoga, etc.) as part of the school curriculum,” she suggested.
The arts university is only the beginning of change
The new university is a step in the right direction but Singaporean artists are still seeking greater recognition for the work that they do.
Ziyaad and Chia expressed their wishes that more people will come to appreciate the importance of the arts in Singapore, with Chia adding that he hopes the public will give artists the respect they deserve both financially and emotionally.
Indeed, the establishment of an arts university is only one step on a long road that artists have been walking for decades, and there is still much room for improvement.
Ding would like to see a continued expansion of the arts scene, with more options being made available instead of a singular university entity that typically caters to a specific age group. She calls for “more initiatives to fund smaller institutions [to train] actors and practitioners who did a mid-career change to pursue their dreams.”
As the arts gain greater recognition institutionally, it is the hope that the younger generation of artists will have a more favourable platform from which to launch themselves. Yee concurs, saying that she hopes people will have an open mind and “not let stigma restrict the potential of young individuals.”
To end off, Lee shares her aspirations for the local arts scene, “I hope that… Singapore’s colourful arts industry continues to flourish, and that the arts can be reintegrated into our lifestyles.”