Cultivating culture and an interview with Deniece

Multimillion dollar investments, expensive art schools, an iconic durian looking theatre and more art galleries than you can shake a stick at – does this mean that we have actually cultivated a healthy and productive environment for creative minds to thrive here?

T K Sabapath (a distinguished art historian with extensive published work on art and artists in Southeast Asia) doesn’t seem to think so. He thinks that Singapore has succeeded in becoming a hub for the transhipment of art products instead, where the finished product is merely displayed and sold, but not produced.

As he points out, the “circumstances in which production takes place have not been sufficiently cultivated”, and likens Singapore to a circus where “everybody decamps and goes off” right after a performance is finished. That’s artistic criticism that says we only know what “art” is superficially.

The real spirit of creativity involves an element of risk where an artist’s works may not interest a buyer or even be appreciated by its audience, and Sabapathy’s view is that “a complete re-presentation of the individual” is necessary in society before Singapore can become a genuine hub for the arts.

What he means by that is that the day Singaporeans are able to stop being materialistic and superficial is the day they’ll truly be able to appreciate art.

Too many people I know treat an art piece as an “investment”, seeing only the price tag and betting on the artist’s future legacy to get its value to increase. Too many vain and superficial people want to be seen in taste-of-the-month art galleries just so they can be seen holding free drinks and have their photo taken for a posh publication. Too many talented Singaporean artists have I met abroad because they were unable to hone their skills back home.

Sadly, this is made even clearer when institutions such as the New York-based film school Tisch give up their presence in Singapore.

That said, some MPs have called for the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) and its related agencies to champion artists and artistic freedom, and Budget 2013 seems to be looking to spur on the local arts community by bringing back the Singapore Arts Festival in 2014.

I also had the pleasure of recently meeting and speaking to a local champion of the arts, Deniece Foo. Deniece is a co-founder of the Singapore Show Choir Academy (SSCA), a non-profit training programme that imparts skills in the performing arts to the local community at large.

Here’s an excerpt of the interview and a video of one of their projects last year. Enjoy!


Q: How would you define what your business does?

All things art! We train and get our clients started in Show Choirs. What are Show Choirs right? Easy – triple treats who can sing, dance and act. Our goal is to provide people from all walks of life a platform to be able to sing and dance.  At the same time, we hope to encourage them to make use of the mediums of singing and dancing to reach out to others in need. We believe that a good performance has the potential to give voice to the voiceless and aid in social causes.

Q: How long have you been in the performing arts industry?

We’ve opened our doors for well over 3 years ago. But I’ve been in the industry for close to 5 years. John and I started off coaching show choirs and interest groups in schools before realizing that all the energy and verve put into a production can also be harnessed to benefit the community at large in many ways. We looked at media trends then and found that there was a void in the performing arts sector.

Q: What shows have you worked on?

There are too many to name but we’ve been the face of Ricola commercials, and we also got to work with Young NTUC in 2012. Right now we are preparing a musical for Garuda Indonesia’s Dinner and Dance.

Q: I just want to put business into context – could you share how different is operating an arts company from, perhaps say a retail outlet? 

For starters, our business is not static or fixed at one place. We are really dynamic, we move around everyday training young and old to sing and dance. We hold a lot of team meetings to develop creative concepts for our show choirs. Retailers probably have other business to take care of.

Q: Did you have easy access to funding to get you started?

Not really. Many companies don’t see how Show Choirs benefit society in general. We started from scratch with zero funds and we are a non-profit organization.

Q: What are the biggest hurdles you have to cross in your line of business?

Funds and talent are rare. Not many people can sing and dance and act at the same time! And not many companies get on board with our vision.

Q: Do you see cinemas and movies as a form of competition?  

Not really. They actually help boost our popularity because a lot of shows nowadays feature show choirs (like GLEE, Pitch Perfect, etc.)

Q: Are there any manpower-related wishes that you might have?

We need volunteers!


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