For Art's Sake

From ‘A’ to ‘huh?’, artists rate Benson Puah’s NAC tenure

Published: August 5, 7:03 AM
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Last week, Benson Puah wrapped up his four-year stint as chief executive of the National Arts Council. His deputy, Yvonne Tham, is filling in for the meantime as he goes back to his other job as Esplanade CEO. It’s been a pretty eventful tenure that began with the huge question mark of handling two big arts portfolios at the same time (can he do it? is there a conflict of interest?). Then he had last year’s cancer scare. Throughout, there were lots of changes, in terms of arts housing, the council’s continuous dialogue with the arts community, the Singapore Arts Festival revamp, the Venice Biennale non-participation, etc.

So how do artists rate his NAC tenure? Read on for Benson Puah’s, erm, final “report card” courtesy of some of the artists we’ve asked. From the “yay” to not exactly “nay” but something more amusing — the “huh”?

And if you want to chip in as well, feel free to email me at mayo@mediacorp.com.sg or post your own rating at the comments section below.

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GRADE: A. In the last 4 years, I feel that NAC has become more open to the local arts community, frequently engaging the community in active dialogue. During Benson’s tenure, NAC dared to make bold decisions and introduced creative “solutions” to long-drawn concerns, such as arts housing. Regardless of whether such decisions are successful, since their impact may only be seen many years down the road, I feel that the courage and determination to make these different kinds of decisions is important for the council. NAC occupies a “leadership role” among the local arts industry and such a spirit (of daring to make a change) is necessary. — Kuik Swee Boon, THE Dance Company

GRADE: A. For making fundamental changes and being in touch with artists (relative to past CEOs). He’s the only NAC CEO who made fundamental changes to how NAC runs. Under him, his team did numerous consultations and dialogues with the artists and the arts community. He changed the arts housing policy, reviewed the Singapore Arts Festival (took it out of NAC’s purview so it could focus on the quality of policy implementation), made changes to the grant schemes. Basically, he updated the role of NAC. Whether one agrees with his changes is another story. The fact is he did them. He’s truly a prime mover and shaker. Hopefully, the one who fills his shoes will have the guts to implement the new policies with as much guts. He was controversial in some ways: Conflict of interest, holding two portfolios (NAC and the Esplanade), centralising power, the making Esplanade arts space into a shopping centre. (Some artists who are critical of him) want nuanced readings for their work, preach multiple positions, et cetera, but they view him as establishment and therefore oppositional. — Alvin Tan, artistic director, The Necessary Stage

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