Arts fest leaders agree to work together after spat

Arts fest leaders agree to work together after spat
Ong Keng Sen (L) (festival director) and Lee Chor Lin (R) of Arts Festival Ltd, on Life!'s power list this year.

The two leaders of the Singapore International Festival of Arts have agreed to set their differences aside and work together for the success of this year's festival.

After their private disagreements became public last week, the festival company said on Satuday that festival director Ong Keng Sen and chief executive Lee Chor Lin had "reached an amicable agreement to resolve their differences".

In making public his disagreements with Ms Lee, Mr Ong, who is appointed for four terms, had declared that he "will not accept Ms Lee as the CEO for the next three years" beyond the first festival which opens on Aug 12.

On Satuday, the statement from Arts Festival Limited, the independent holding company set up to run the event, said: "With the shared goal of working towards the success of the Festival, Keng Sen will continue to direct the Festival into its fruition, together with Chor Lin leading the Festival company."

Mr Ong and Ms Lee declined to comment when contacted on Satuday.

Before tensions erupted last week, they were seen as the dynamic duo powering the national arts festival to a fresh start and for their work, making it jointly to the annual Power List of movers and shakers in The Straits Times' Life! section in December.

Barely six months into the partnership, they unveiled a stellar line-up for the six-week festival, including famous British composer Michael Nyman's opera Facing Goya as the opening act.

But last Tuesday, Mr Ong sent a strongly worded e-mail to Ms Lee and copied it to the media and key arts policymakers.

In it, he said that she had kept him out of the loop in the production of 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 for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong and arts council chief Kathy Lai.

Nominated Member of Parliament Janice Koh told The Sunday Times that the incident could be an "important learning point" for the council, which used to run the arts festival and turned over the reins to Arts Festival Limited last year.

She said: "Are they prepared to trust an artist to lead a major arts institution like the Singapore International Festival of Arts? The artists are certainly more than ready."

She added that running an arts festival requires collaboration, transparency, mutual respect and "most of all, trust in the artist and in the artistic vision".

"Given that artistic vision and programming is one of the most fundamental aspects of any arts festival, my view is that it is better for the festival director to be the one taking the lead in such an organisation.

"The CEO is there to support and deliver on the creative vision set out by the festival director."

Last week, Ms Lee had sought to downplay the dispute. "There are differences but we're going to sort them out," she said.

She had told Mr Ong that the deadline for the design of the brochure had been extended to take in his input and that there was no more time to make changes.

Film programmer Zhang Wenjie, 40, who worked with Ms Lee at the museum for about six years, said he was glad that the two had resolved things.

He said of Ms Lee: "She's someone who truly cares for and understands the arts. With her, I always knew that even though opinions and ideas might be different, we find ways to work things out."

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