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Building strong foundations for our culture sector

Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, at the Launch of the Master of Arts in Museum Studies and Curatorial Practices Programme
17 January 2018

Professor Subra Suresh, President, Nanyang Technological University,

Ms Chang Hwee Nee, Chief Executive Officer, National Heritage Board,

Excellencies,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Good evening. It gives me great pleasure to be here today to launch the NTU Master of Arts in Museum Studies and Curatorial Practices. I would like to congratulate NTU and NHB on their collaboration for this new master’s programme.

Singapore’s vibrant arts and culture sector is well-placed for growth

2. At the release of the Singapore Cultural Statistics 2017 last December, I shared that opportunities for engagement in arts and culture activities have increased from previous years. This was met by equally strong demand, with over 9 million people attending such activities, the highest on record since 2012. More than 5 million people visited our national museums and heritage institutions in 2016. The number of museums in Singapore has also steadily grown over time, from 28 in 2004 to 57 in 2016. All these point to a growing and vibrant arts and culture sector.

3. At the same time, we have invested substantially in developing museum infrastructure. The National Museum of Singapore and the Asian Civilisations Museum were both upgraded recently. National Gallery Singapore opened in 2015 with a total floor area spanning approximately 64,000 square metres and oversees the largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asian modern art. In addition, the Singapore Art Museum will soon be undergoing a major revamp to incorporate double-volume space for the installation of large-scale contemporary artworks. These investments ensure that our museums are equipped with the facilities and resources needed to present their collections, and provide for the community to be more engaged through our arts and heritage.

Museums as cultural ballasts in a changing world

4. What we have done in the culture sector in Singapore cannot be divorced from international developments, and particularly an increasingly dynamic world. Rapid technological changes and the forces of globalisation are resulting in greater divisions and polarisations in our society. Our understanding of who we are, and where we come from, will continue to be tested. To safeguard and promote the cultural heritage which makes us uniquely Singaporean, our museums must continue to play a critical role in telling the Singapore story and how we relate to the rest of the world.

5. For our museums to be able to do this effectively, we need curators and administrators with the passion and ability to create strong narratives and weave together stories that speak to the heart and not just the mind. Our museums will not only have to make the past relevant to the present, but also the present relevant to the community and the nation.  By doing so, we can encourage deep thinking and considered conversations to prepare ourselves for the future. 

6. The launch of NTU’s new Master of Arts in Museum Studies and Curatorial Practices, developed in consultation with the National Heritage Board (NHB), is therefore a milestone.  It will be the first master’s programme dedicated to this particular area of study in Singapore, and has been specially designed to prepare graduates for leadership roles in the interpretation and development of the arts and heritage – whether in curatorship, care and management of collections, education and outreach, or the planning and designing of exhibitions for museums, art galleries and public spaces.

7. NTU, as one of the world’s leading research-intensive universities, with an inter-disciplinary approach to research and learning across many fields, is well-placed to offer this programme. The university’s firm belief in finding innovative solutions to increasingly complex and constantly evolving issues and challenges will no doubt be reflected in the programme’s philosophy and curriculum.

8. Under the master’s programme, learning is extended beyond lectures through practical, hands-on opportunities. I am happy to learn that students will have the option to pursue a professional attachment at local or overseas museums and art institutions. Such opportunities will enable students to gain invaluable exposure through learning from museum professionals worldwide. This will place them in good stead for their future careers in the arts, heritage and culture.

Building strong foundations for a strong and sustainable culture sector

9. The programme will also complement Singapore Management University’s “Introduction to Museum Management” course, which has been offered since 2014, and the National University of Singapore’s Minor in Art History launched last year.  As both of these are at the undergraduate level, a post-graduate programme in this field not only affords our cultural sector professionals an additional pathway for professional development, but will also support discourse and interaction between the arts, heritage and academic community, as well as the public and private sectors. Such dialogues are critical to raise the bar for the arts and heritage landscape in Singapore.

10. Furthermore, the programme will supplement MCCY’s existing initiatives in building a vibrant and sustainable cultural sector. For instance, MCCY established a Culture Academy in 2015 to groom the next generation of cultural leaders, professionals and administrators in the public sector. Guided by its vision to be a centre of excellence for capability development, the Culture Academy’s work spans three areas: Education and Capability Development, Research and Scholarship, and Thought Leadership. In these areas, the Culture Academy Singapore provides networking opportunities, platforms for exchange of creative ideas and offers professional development workshops, public lectures and publications to nurture thought leaders in Singapore’s cultural scene.  There are therefore many opportunities for collaboration between the Culture Academy and NTU through this new programme.

11. I am also heartened to note that NTU and NHB have signed a Memorandum of Understanding in October last year, to further cooperation and exchanges in areas such as research opportunities, curatorial and exhibition projects, and information sharing. With our commitment to the growth and development of our arts and cultural professionals, the partnerships we forge with the larger community will play a very important role. Be it academia, heritage organisations, interest groups, museum docents, educators, heritage volunteers or enthusiasts – we want to reach out to them, and involve them in our heritage. NHB’s partnership with NTU forms part of our efforts to step up our engagement with the community, in the celebration and promotion of our shared heritage and culture, and the development of a thriving and vibrant arts and heritage sector in Singapore.

12. There is also a lot going on in the technological side that we are very excited about. We see real potential with technology, such as augmented reality and visualisation, which has actually allowed the constraint of space to be removed as collections are no longer restricted to the space in a museum. It actually challenges museum curators and management – what is the reason for having a museum, as there is so much resources, information and images online that allows users to access collections and artworks from the comfort of our homes. How do we, a small country with a short history, and a relatively smaller collection compared to the major art galleries in the world, tap on technology to place ourselves at the forefront of the arts and heritage industry? This offers us tremendous opportunities and challenges – something that I have challenged our museum and art institution leadership to think about: how technology can be a tool for us to accumulate knowledge; how can it be a platform for our collections to be made available and accessible; how do we study the behaviour of people who come through our museums; how do we know what they are reading, what they are looking for? These are all very interesting and exciting areas where technology can be applied. If applied meaningfully and effectively in museums, it will help us tremendously in our understanding of visitorship and in the promotion of our culture.

Conclusion

13. I am confident that this new programme, coupled with the partnership between NHB and NTU, will contribute significantly to strengthening and transforming the museum and heritage sector. We hope that this transformation will extend the reach of our sector and institutions not only in Singapore, but regionally and globally as well.  I would like to wish all faculty, staff, and students an enriching and fulfilling experience as you embark on this exciting journey. 

14. Thank you.


Last Updated: 05 March 2018

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