Arts fest stand-off continues

Arts fest stand-off continues
After a public e-mail complaint by festival director Ong Keng Sen about its chief executive officer Lee Chor Lin, he said he would not work with her for the next three editions of the festival.

SINGAPORE - The stand-off continues between the leaders of the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

Festival director Ong Keng Sen has refused to write a message for a festival brochure or to work with chief executive officer Lee Chor Lin after the inaugural festival starting this August.

"The relationship has to continue until the first festival is over but I don't think it needs to continue for the next three years," Mr Ong, 50, told Life! on Wednesday.

This is the latest development in a ruckus which erupted on Tuesday, when Mr Ong sent an e-mail to Ms Lee, copied to the media and key arts policy makers, alleging that she kept him out of the loop in the production of two festival brochures.

These are the main festival guide and a brochure for pre-festival programme O.P.E.N. which will run from June 26 to July 12. The brochures were to be ready for public distribution next month.

"I have been providing material but nothing has come back to me for review. We have consistently asked to see how the artistic information is being presented," Mr Ong wrote in the e-mail, copied to the Acting Minister of Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong and National Arts Council chief Kathy Lai.

Ms Lai said in an e-mail statement later on Tuesday that Mr Ong and Ms Lee had agreed to "move beyond this episode and focus on their vision of a world-class festival".

But on Wednesday, Mr Ong told Life! that he "will not accept Ms Lee as the CEO for the next three years".

A Cultural Medallion recipient and artistic director of home-grown theatre company TheatreWorks, Mr Ong was appointed last year as the festival director for four editions of the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

This is a revamped version of the Singapore Arts Festival, a national arts festival which is being run for the first time by an independent holding company, Arts Festival Limited.

The festival was previously run by the arts council. The independent company was set up last May with Ms Lee, 50, as its CEO. The inaugural Singapore International Festival of Arts will be held for six weekends from Aug 12 to Sept 21.

On Friday, Mr Ong will give a talk at the National University of Singapore about how the public can engage with the arts festival during O.P.E.N.

However, he said on Wednesday that he would not write his message as festival director for the guide to O.P.E.N. as he had not received the brochure for review before Tuesday's deadline for his input.

In a separate interview, Ms Lee played down the dispute, saying she and Mr Ong would "work things out".

She adds: "As with every relationship, there are moments of differences and learning to find middle ground. It is not any different between Keng Sen and I. The intention has always been to create a wonderful festival for audiences. Something we're both passionate about and, hence, creative combustions arise. I hope that we will be given the time to work this through."

The arts council declined to comment on this latest development. Online chatter had a few voices supporting both Ms Lee's capability and Mr Ong's artistic achievements.

Commenting on Mr Ong's e-mail outburst on Tuesday, the Substation's artistic director Noor Effendy Ibrahim, 40, told Life!: "For someone of that stature to make such a public announcement, it shows that there are big issues within the organisation itself that probably need urgent addressing. I'm not here to take sides or blame anybody. I hope that it can be resolved soon."

Another theatre practitioner said under condition of anonymity: "I've worked with a lot of creative people who are very headstrong and strongly visioned, and they are who they are for that very reason. I hope it's something the two of them can work together on for the sake of the festival."

Human resources consultant Paul Heng, 56, managing director of NeXT Career Consulting Group, told Life! that Mr Ong should not have made internal company issues public. "Whether this person is your boss or your colleague, you don't wash dirty linen in public. We all have choices, so you should try to resolve the issue as adults."


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