Chan Heng Chee to head arts council

SINGAPORE - Veteran Singapore diplomat Chan Heng Chee will be taking over from Mr Edmund Cheng Wai Wing as chairman of the National Arts Council (NAC) from Sunday.

Professor Chan will serve a two-year term as chairman, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth said in a press statement on Friday.

She is Ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and chairman of the Singapore University of Technology and Design's Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities. The council's board oversees corporate and financial governance and advises the NAC's management in the planning of major arts initiatives.

Mr Cheng, 60, is the deputy chairman and deputy managing director of property company Wing Tai Holdings.

Prof Chan, 71, told The Straits Times that consultation tops her to-do list. She will consult fellow council members, the NAC management and various arts stakeholders "to get a sense of what we should do going forward".

She also plans to work on her wish list: raise the quality of the arts in Singapore; maintain support for the arts in the community and high-end art "to set standards"; and grow arts patronage and the audience base.

"We've come a long way and we've been moving from strength to strength, but there is always room for improvement," said Prof Chan, who was ambassador to the US from 1996 to last year and Singapore's permanent representative to the United Nations from 1989 to 1991.

A self-professed fan of the arts, she said her posting brought her into contact with US arts groups such as the Washington Opera and Washington Ballet. She hopes to introduce some ideas she was exposed to, such as how arts groups raise money.

The Necessary Stage founder and artistic director Alvin Tan, 50, hopes her inter-cultural work overseas, "pushing for things she believes in", will add an edge to the development of the arts here.

He said: "There is a mixture of cultures in Singapore and a potential that can emerge from that in terms of art, and now with foreign talent coming in, I feel we're not capitalising on that enough."

Mr Tan is one of 11 new faces from the private and public sectors who will join the 16-member council from Sunday. Another new member, Timbre Group managing director Edward Chia, 29, hopes Prof Chan will work with him on developing the local music scene. "She's a very sharp woman and she will bring tremendous value to the NAC," said the music industry veteran.

Other new council members include Banyan Tree Holdings senior vice-president Claire Chiang, GK Goh Holdings executive director Goh Yew Lin, and HSBC Singapore chief executive Guy Harvey- Samuel.

Mr Cheng has served 11 years on the council - three as deputy chairman and eight as chairman. He said: "I have enjoyed working with the NAC in deepening Singaporeans' engagement with the arts, and nurturing a vibrant and sustainable ecosystem for the creation of works that enrich and inspire."

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