A future full of hope | A List
Singapore’s highest honours in the arts, the Cultural Medallion, is into its 40th year. On this milestone occasion, we ask this year’s recipient – musician, composer, conductor and educator Eric James Watson, 73, about his hope for the arts in Singapore.
We also pose the same question to this year’s recipients of the Young Artist Award, which recognises arts practitioners aged 35 and below who have been inspiring role models and who connect diverse communities through their work and outreach in the arts. Read on and glimpse what could be the future of the arts in Singapore.
The replies have been edited and condensed.
Eric James Watson, 73, composer
My hope for the arts in general is for it to become so much a conscious part of our lives that it is the context within which we do everything else. It is through growing up with the arts all around us that we begin to gain a deep-rooted understanding and appreciation for how the arts really does enrich our lives. A great deal is happening in this direction already, with more arts available in the schools and at community level, so where possible, I would like to see it take on more depth.
My hope for music in particular is for community music-making to be available to all from an early age and at the grassroots level. Stemming from this is recognition on all fronts that music is a worthwhile, and essential profession, one that, considering the amount of pleasure it gives everyone, deserves to be rewarded properly. I would also like to see the standard of our music institutions rise to the point where to be known as a musician from Singapore comes with a stamp of approval. There is no reason why our musicians should not become ambassadors for Singapore in orchestras around the word.
Emily Koh, 33, composer
I hope that the arts in Singapore will be more diverse. There needs to be art that is beautiful, art that is difficult to digest, art that says the things nobody wants to hear, art that is wholesome, and more. The wider the variety, the more opportunities we have, to engage people, bring them in, and enrich their lives. I also hope that artists will be respected, supported and encouraged on the same level as our STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) counterparts, and that society in general will embrace spontaneity and chaos more readily, and in turn, lead more creative lives.
Gabriel Chan, 35, lighting designer
We are a multi-faceted society and our arts should reflect that diversity. I hope for the arts in Singapore to be as cosmopolitan as it is of the heartland, and as inspiring as it creates empathy. If our arts can capture these perspectives, it gives us insight to understand others better. In the same vein, I hope the arts will continue to inspire both our young and old, as well as people with accessibility challenges or special needs. Last but not least, my hope for local artists is that we continue creating works that resonate back home while setting sights on bringing them to the global stage.
He Shuming, 34, film director
As artists in Singapore, I hope we can continue to create works that respond to the world we live in; works that challenge and ask questions, with an audience that is unafraid to think and engage. The arts create opportunities for dialogue that help us be more conscious of the world we want to live in.
Tan Wei Keong, 35, animation artist
Art is a way of understanding the different ways in which we experience the world and I think it is important for us to grow an audience that is empathetic and compassionate towards diverse communities who have different world views. I hope the arts in Singapore will grow to be more inclusive by showing more diversity and representation in film and animation. In order to reach a wider audience, we must first allow the freedom to create. There is a lot of room for expression and experimentation in animation, and filmmakers can captivate audiences with bold and unconventional stories that connect universally.
Weixin Quek Chong, 31, visual artist
My hope is for a scene diverse in voices, artists and audiences, in which counterpoints and alternatives to institutional channels can be allowed to flourish alongside them. This is necessary for a healthy and vibrant local arts ecosystem. For example, when statistics-based results are wanted too fast from supported projects, things often don’t get to reach their potential. Nurturing creatives is a much more organic process; real fruits can be harvested when a plant matures.