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Developing talent through 80 years of arts education

GOH Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts’ (NAFA) 80th Anniversary Book Launch and Exhibition

10 December 2018

Excellencies and Members of the Diplomatic Community,

Chairman, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Board of Directors, Ms Low Sin Leng,

President, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Mr Chia Mia Chiang,

NAFA’s Board of Directors,

Alumni, staff, students and friends of NAFA,


1. Good evening. It is a pleasure to be able to join you on this joyous occasion. I would like to congratulate NAFA on its 80th anniversary, which we will commemorate today with a book launch and an exhibition.

2. This book, titled “Art and Soul”, was prepared by veteran culture journalist and NAFA Board Member Mr Leong Weng Kam. It documents NAFA’s journey from an art academy with modest beginnings in 1938 with merely 14 students, to becoming one of our premier arts education institutions today.

3. It was not an easy journey, and one that is tied closely to Singapore’s history. The school had to close during World War II, and the 1960s proved to be a challenging period with Singapore’s separation from Malaya, resulting in falling enrolment numbers. NAFA also faced tough fiscal times during the 1970s oil and economic crisis.Through it all, NAFA overcame great odds with strong support from its founding generation and unwavering dedication to its vision.

4. NAFA’s history is also a reflection of Singapore’s arts and cultural developments. The founding Principal of NAFA, Mr Lim Hak Tai, envisioned a school that would encourage a fusion of the arts from East and West, reflect an integration of culture of the four races, and enable our talents to reach out to the wider community. All three visions are still relevant today. NAFA was the first arts education institution that offered the Applied Arts course in 1974. Courses in computer graphics were introduced in 1982, followed by the departments of Interior Design, Music and Dance, and Fashion. NAFA has certainly achieved Mr Lim’s vision with its pioneering work in arts education over the last 80 years.

Developing talent through arts education

5. In Singapore, the Government recognises that exposure to the arts at an early age is important for us as individuals, and for the society as a whole.It helps us identify talents to be nurtured from a young age – and to encourage our youth to become artists, audiences, and patrons of the arts in the future. Arts education can also help us unlock our innate creativity, and help us better appreciate our multicultural heritage. Through the arts, we can share experiences as Singaporeans, and come together as one people.

6. Therefore, one of the key priorities under the Our SG Arts Plan is to grow diverse capabilities through arts education, both in schools and as part of Continuing Education and Training (CET). We want widespread access to arts education in Singapore. We want students to have the opportunity to engage with the arts as part of their studies, co-curricular activities or enrichment programmes.The National Arts Council (NAC) is working with the Ministry of Education (MOE) and other partners to extend the reach of the arts to more schools, teachers, parents and children. Beyond the school setting, NAC is also working on introducing capability development programmes to better support arts practitioners, including freelancers.

7. NAFA has been one of our key partners in these arts education efforts, supporting the aspirations of our young, and those who are more mature.NAFA has an array of diploma programmes and tie-ups with University partners. AFA also provides pre-school programmes for those as young as six years old, and has produced young, outstanding artistic talents.

8. Yesterday, I attended the National Chinese Music Competition co-organised by MCCY, NAC and the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO), and many NAFA students and alumni participated. In particular, I would like to mention, that the 1st prize for the Open category for Suona, the Chinese trumpet, was won by a NAFA alumnus Ng Chu Ying. She played with the SCO beautifully and showcased the sensibilities of this traditional Chinese instrument. And I must say, that not only was she mesmerising, she changed the impressions of many people in the audience about that instrument. That it can be expressive, gentle and delicate too.

9. In addition, NAFA’s Centre for Lifelong Education offers part-time certificate courses for working adults and senior citizens who have an avid interest in the arts.

10. With around 12,000 students from all levels of learning, NAFA plays an important role in providing opportunities for individuals from different walks of life to develop their artistic talents. This has helped many generations of Singaporeans engage with the arts in a deeper way, and is critical to growing and strengthening our arts ecosystem by making the arts and culture an integral part of the lives of all Singaporeans.

11. I would like to share about Thomas Yang, who graduated from NAFA with a Diploma in Graphic Design in 1993. As Head of Art & Design at DDB Singapore, one of the leading advertising agencies here, Thomas has helped to create work that has made DDB Singapore the most awarded Singapore agency at prestigious platforms celebrating the advertising industry such as Cannes and the Creative Circle Awards. The appreciation and application of art and creativity can truly happen in many aspects of our lives.

Culture strengthens national pride and identity

12. Our arts and culture reflect who we are as Singaporeans, and what we stand for as a nation.When our artists achieve success at home or internationally, we are inspired by what they have accomplished; we are proud of them, and proud to be Singaporean.

13. Khairuddin Hori is one such artist. A multi-disciplinary artist who graduated with a Diploma in Fine Art in 1995, Khairuddin wears many hats. He was an associate artist at The Substation, a curator with the Singapore Art Museum and the National Heritage Board, as well as a theatre actor and Associate Director of Teater Ekamatra. He held the prestigious post of Deputy Programming Director at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the largest contemporary arts centre in Europe. Khairuddin curated the “Secret Archipelago”, a show featuring 35 Southeast Asian artists which opened at the Palais de Tokyo in 2015. And most recently in November 2018, Khairuddin brought his expertise to the well-received “Atypical Singapore”, an art and augmented reality technology showcase in Yangon, Myanmar, as part of the Singapore Festival. Khairuddin produces wonderful works and I have been an avid follower on his social media.

14. With close to 10,000 members living and working in various parts of the world, it is no surprise that NAFA students and alumni have helped to show us what we can accomplish. The stories of these individuals and many others can be found in this commemorative book, which celebrates the historical legacy and contemporary relevance of NAFA in Singapore and the region.

15. Beyond these achievements, NAFA has also made important contributions to developing our sense of national identity. I am glad to see in the audience, a number of NAFA’s 13 Cultural Medallion recipients and 14 Young Artist Award winners. I would like to thank all of you for your contributions to Singapore’s arts scene. You, and many others among NAFA’s distinguished alumni, have played a significant role in shaping our cultural identity.

16. Amongst the alumni are our pioneer artists, such as Cheong Soo Pieng and Georgette Chen, who also served as notable teachers of NAFA in their early years. They bridged the best of East and West in their artistic techniques, which they sought to pass down to their students. Together, these artistic icons helped to develop the unique Nanyang art style in the 1950s. Till today, the Nanyang style is an important part of our culture, both for our Chinese community, and Singapore as a whole.The Nanyang style showcases how our culture has been influenced by the coming together of different traditions and practices from many parts of the region and the world. It also simultaneously reflects this multicultural diversity in a way that is unique to Singapore.

17. This unique position that NAFA holds in bringing together different cultures and creating new styles continues to be evident in its graduates today. Some of you will know Zechariah Goh, who graduated from NAFA in 1989 with a Diploma in Music. Zechariah was conferred the Young Artist Award in 2003 in recognition of his outstanding achievements in the field of music, where he fuses South East Asian sounds with Western traditions. Zechariah’s choral works have also won international competitions in Germany, China, Indonesia, and the United States of America, to name a few. He is currently the Head of Composition of NAFA’s Department of Music, developing the next generation of young talents and continuing NAFA’s legacy.


18. Let me conclude by expressing my three hopes for NAFA.You had 80 glorious years and we look forward to many more. Firstly, that NAFA continues to push her students towards excellence – that it will raise our standard of art relentlessly. Even as NAFA transforms and evolves to be relevant with times, NAFA must remain at the forefront of arts education where our artistic and creative talents can dedicate themselves to learning and perfecting their art. This is what artists do - never to be satisfied, always pushing themselves, always doing the next thing that will get them even better and better. I think NAFA has to remember that this must be one of your core missions in education.

19. Secondly, NAFA must build on its regional relevance by integrating elements from the diverse cultures in and around us. As Singapore is part of Southeast Asia and Asia, NAFA has a responsibility to facilitate conversations and ideas from the region. I encourage NAFA to strengthen its linkages to the artists and art institutions in the region for cross-fertilisation of ideas.

20.Thirdly, in this pursuit of excellence coupled with its regional outlook, NAFA is well placed to contribute to our national identity as a multicultural and multiracial society. Etch your creativity on the canvas of Singapore art; be the composer of our Singapore songs and music and be the minds and hands of creative Singapore. Write the next chapter of Singapore’s art and culture story.

21. Congratulations to NAFA once again on its 80th anniversary, and I look forward to many more milestones in the years ahead.Thank you.

Last Updated: 14 December 2018

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