Singapore Art Week (SAW) that took place earlier this year saw a bounty of offerings with over 180 exhibitions and events put together by artists and curators from Singapore and beyond. We at Art Outreach observed strong attendance at many SAW events. The great number of programme offerings was coupled with the launch of ART SG, a new art fair which brought together a record-setting number of leading galleries from countries around the world. With the return of international visitors, we revelled in the diverse audiences united by their common love for the arts.
While art took centre stage, SAW also presented the occasion for long-time friends to reconnect, and afforded us the opportunity to make many new acquaintances. Art Outreach presented a slew of programmes that ran the gamut from supporting aspiring art practitioners and showcasing their talents, to organising a private collector’s first public exhibition. We were also grateful to be invited by ART SG to be their Cultural Partner, where we supported fair operations by facilitating a suite of working and learning opportunities for local art school students and art enthusiasts as fair workers and gallery assistants. Three months after SAW, the Art Outreach team is still mining the trove of contacts and ideas that we gathered.
The SEA: Contemporary Art in Southeast Asia Panel Discussion held in collaboration with The Institutum during ART SG Fair, featuring book editors Ute Meta Bauer (Founding Director, NTU CCA Singapore) and Karin G. Oen (Senior Lecturer and Head of Art History, NTU School of Humanities), and distinguished speakers Aaron Cezar (Founding Director, Delfina Foundation) and Alessio Antoniolli (Director, Gasworks & Triangle Network). Image credit: Colin Wan.
The connections that we built were not our only takeaways. The success of the season gave me pause to think about how else we can elevate the industry as a community of art aficionados and contributors to SAW’s slate of offerings. Here are some of my thoughts:
1. A longer planning runway
I am encouraged to learn that the SAW Open Call for next year’s programme has already taken place, as the National Arts Council (NAC) is starting preparations earlier this year to allow artists to have more time to produce quality works. This move, I believe, is not only more thoughtful and fair for artists and other programme organisers, but also helpful in improving the standards of programmes and establishing a benchmark for the visual arts sector throughout the year. Bringing the application date forward should provide the opportunity for better evaluation of the proposals, and more importantly, allow us the ability to galvanise the necessary support and resources that these projects will need.
2. A better mix of the established and the emerging
I was inspired to know that over 1,000 artists from diverse backgrounds, disciplines and experiences came together to showcase their works this year. This is a good referendum on NAC’s ongoing efforts to afford support and exposure to emerging artists in the scene. While it is important to provide younger practitioners with the opportunity to showcase their works, SAW should also include more established and pioneer artists.
The move to showcase artists at different stages of their careers will reveal more rich and nuanced insights into our visual art scene. Emerging artists may also be paired with their more senior counterparts or with art practitioners from other art and creative disciplines. Such partnerships will promote mentorship and collaboration which will in turn propel innovation and novel contributions to the creative economy.
3. Serving a diverse art audience
Careful curation continues to be key to the whole process.
While we take steps to focus on showcasing quality art to the public, we have to be balanced in our efforts. SAW should not skew towards a particular audience segment but instead be thoughtful in casting its appeal across a broad swathe of interests. There should be programmes that appeal to the mass public in an effort to cultivate art audiences. At the same time, there should also be offerings for the increasing number of aspirants who are keen to enter the creative and artistic industries, while also catering to new and sophisticated collectors who will help to ensure a viable and vibrant art market.
3. Engagements beyond our shores
A plurality of practitioners and perspectives is what we should be after.
To this end, we might want to consider welcoming the participation of curators and artists from abroad. In our interconnected and interdependent worlds, gaining fluency in communicating effectively with both local, regional and global audiences is key. Working with foreign practitioners might prompt us to be more thoughtful in considering our art narratives against the global discourse, and challenge us to better frame and articulate local contexts. SAW should not only celebrate our art practitioners, but also lend them the means to develop their work and extend their reach to new communities.
SAW 2023 was an exhilarating affirmation of how art is at an important confluence of social engagement, education, creativity and commerce. In preparation for the next edition, I hope that the community will continue to come together to push the boundaries of not only how we make art, but also in terms of who we make it with and how we present it.
Art Outreach hopes to accelerate our agenda as an arts intermediary, as we work closely with our artists, peers, partners, patrons and the many we serve to work together to progress arts and culture in Singapore.
Contributed by Mae Anderson, Chairman, Art Outreach Singapore. Mae is writing in her capacity as Chairman of Art Outreach and has not received any payment from any entity for the production of this piece.
Learn more about Art Outreach here.