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Top 4 Reasons to Apply for the 2023 NAC Arts Scholarship

Visual artist Zulkifle Bin Mahmod (Zul) and playwright Faith Ng

It’s that time of year Plural pals, when scholarships are open for applications and it’s time for those passionate about the arts to consider whether to embark on that next step of further studies. The National Arts Council Singapore (NAC) Arts Scholarship is one of the hot tickets in town and applications for this year’s award are presently open till 30 March 2023.

Here’s our list of the top 4 reasons to apply for this scholarship, if you’re keen to work in the arts sector or an arts worker looking to further your studies.

1. You’ll be in excellent company

The NAC Arts Scholarship aims to nurture outstanding individuals who can play a leadership role in shaping the future arts and culture scene in Singapore. As future leaders of the arts and culture sector, scholars are game changers who push artistic boundaries and lead their peers to create positive impact for the Singapore community through the arts. The award is offered for full-time arts and arts-related degree programmes at reputable universities or arts institutions in Singapore or overseas. Awards are available for both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and the full list of priority areas this year can be found here. (We’re personally feeling rather joyous to see that ‘arts criticism and writing’ tops the list this year in terms of focus points!)

We checked in with visual artist Zulkifle Bin Mahmod (Zul) and playwright Faith Ng, both postgraduate recipients of the 2022 and 2012 NAC Arts Scholarships respectively. Zul is presently pursuing his Master of Arts (Fine Arts) degree locally, at LASALLE College of the Arts, while Faith completed her Master of Arts in Creative Writing (Scriptwriting) degree in the United Kingdom, at the University of East Anglia.

Visual artist Zulkifle Bin Mahmod (Zul). Image courtesy of the artist
Zul, whom you may know from coverage in this very magazine, is one of Singapore’s leading sound artists. Image courtesy of the artist

Well-known for integrating 3-D forms with ‘sound constructions’ and ‘soundscapes’, Zul’s work crosses genres both in his own practice and through collaborations with other artists. He holds the distinction of being Singapore’s first sound artist featured at the Singapore Pavilion of the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007.

Zul, working on one of his sound sculptures. Image courtesy of the artist
Zul, working on one of his sound sculptures. Image courtesy of the artist

Faith of course, is the critically-acclaimed and award-winning playwright behind plays such as Normal, and The Fourth Trimester. As the Associate Artistic Director of Checkpoint Theatre, her plays have been performed to sell-out crowds.

Playwright Faith Ng who was also a 2018 recipient of the prestigious Young Artist Award. Image courtesy of NAC
Playwright Faith Ng who was also a 2018 recipient of the prestigious Young Artist Award. Image courtesy of NAC

It’s clear that NAC Arts Scholarship recipients create significant impact in the arts sector and perform at the very top of their game.

2. You can study (almost) anywhere

There’s an openness to the NAC Arts Scholarship which is very appealing. While successful admission into a well-established programme will be favourably considered, NAC does not prescribe local or foreign institutions that applicants should or should not apply to.

For Faith, the opportunity to study outside Singapore added depth and nuance to her work as a playwright.

She reminisces, “Back in 2012, I had just graduated from university. I had studied playwriting and theatre-making under my mentors Huzir Sulaiman and Claire Wong from Checkpoint Theatre, but I was also interested in equipping myself with a more academic foundation.”

“Unfortunately,” she elaborates, “there were no Creative Writing postgraduate programmes being offered in Singapore then. I knew that in order to grow as an individual and as an artist, I needed to step outside of home and immerse myself in a totally new environment. The scholarship enabled me to do that.”

Of course, with the rapid development of the arts scene over the last few years, guided by the Our SG Arts Plan (2018 – 2022), one can now pursue a postgraduate education in creative writing.

Back then however, things were different and in a frank reflection Faith tells us, “Like many Singaporeans, I grew up being taught that in order to ‘make it’, I would have to ‘succeed’ overseas, and I embarked on my Masters with that lurking in the back of my mind. But my time (in the United Kingdom) made me acutely aware that the people I was writing for, and whose stories I was telling, were back home. In my works, I try very hard to capture dialogue that is authentic and honest to how people in Singapore communicate with one another – be it through different kinds of Singlish, or what we say or leave out. There is nothing more gratifying than an audience who instantly and intimately understands these nuances, and when that happens, I really feel like I have ‘succeeded’.”

3. You can serve out the service commitment flexibly

One common consideration about the acceptance of scholarships is the service commitment that accompanies the funding to pursue one’s studies. It is undoubtedly a complex decision to make and one that requires acceptance of a pre-determined career path for a certain period of time. To us, the service commitment goes to the very heart of an arts education and conveys the important role that art can play in changing a community for the better, and in bringing its people together.

In line with the unique needs of creatives and artists, the NAC Arts Scholarship offers scholars a measure of flexibility in how their commitments will play out. There is for example, a whole list of cultural institutions that scholars can choose to work with after graduation, as well as a broad general requirement that they should be engaged in arts or cultural-related work or projects relevant to their courses of study, in Singapore. In short, there are many possible ways to fulfil the service commitment.

Zul admits that he definitely “thought a lot about the service commitment period” when applying for his scholarship.

However, he tells us, “I decided to pursue it anyway because even with the service commitment, I know that I will be contributing back to (the) arts in Singapore. I believe this is still in line with my professional practice.”

“The NAC Arts Scholarship definitely eases my financial burdens and allows me to solely focus on my MA. With this grant, I can fully concentrate and give full commitment to my MA work,” he explains.

Faith too acknowledges that the scholarship allowed her to deepen her craft as a playwright and develop herself artistically and professionally without having to worry too much about paying for her fees.

More importantly though, she tells us, “fulfilling the service commitment period required me to work within the local arts community, which was what I had earnestly wanted to do to begin with. Being able to contribute to the community in meaningful ways is something that remains important to me, and it is what I aspire to do no matter what role I undertake.”

Faith Ng’s play The Fourth Trimester. Photography by Zakaria Zainal, courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre
Faith’s play The Fourth Trimester billed as a “must-watch play about parenthood,” by the Straits Times, took home the prize of Production of The Year at The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards 2023. Photography by Zakaria Zainal, courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre

4. You’ll have the chance to live out your dreams

It is clear that the pursuit of further studies has served Singapore creatives well. Zul tells us that his future plans involve the creation of sound art exhibitions and performances so as to share his practice more widely and engage with the public both in Singapore and internationally.

Zul’s sound installation work, Sonic Horizon. Listen But Why, 2019. Image courtesy of the artist
Zul’s sound installation work, Sonic Horizon. Listen But Why, 2019 was presented in the Art Stays 2019 Festival in a Dominican Monastery in Slovenia. Composed of metal plates, spring coils, subwoofers, audio amplifiers, SD cards and media players, the work urges viewers to not lose themselves in new technologies, but to instead “pause and listen.. to the meaningful messages, details, textures, and tone of sounds” around them. Image courtesy of the artist

Zul observes that he is now more patient in developing his artwork and is able to take the time to go really in-depth in his research.

“I have good MA supervisors who really push me in terms of developing my art work and ideas,” he says.

Faith tells us that the scholarship helped her to gain new experiences, meet new people, and through them, encounter different ways of thinking and making art.

“I don’t think I would have had the courage to pursue a career in theatre if not for the scholarship. It gave me a much-needed vote of confidence to really just go for it and give it my all,” she explains.

To round things off, we asked Zul and Faith if they had any advice for future scholarship applicants.

“My advice to them is to follow their passion no matter how young or old they are. It is not going to be easy but I believe with hard work and passion, nothing is impossible. As to how to achieve a successful interview, just be yourself, be honest and take pride in what you do,” says Zul.

Faith commiserates, “I’ve been there – I know how hard it is.”

“You feel like you have to be perfect at everything. But it’s good to remember that your interviewers are human beings too. They are trying to make sure that they’re selecting someone who will add value to the community, so don’t try too hard to impress them with things that aren’t quite true about yourself. Instead, focus on showing them how excited and passionate you are about what you do, and what your goals are.”


The NAC Arts Scholarship is open for applications from now till 30 March 2023, 5pm. Find out details on how to apply here.

 This article is produced in paid partnership with the NAC. Thank you for supporting the institutions that support Plural.

Feature image courtesy of NAC.

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