Public row erupts between arts festival leaders

Differences between the two leaders of the revamped Singapore International Festival of Arts have erupted into the open five months ahead of the festival launch in August.

The incident throws a shadow over how the festival, slated to open on Aug 12, will unfold.

Festival director and Cultural Medallion recipient Ong Keng Sen, 49, on Tuesday sent a strongly worded e-mail to chief executive officer Lee Chor Lin, 50, and copied it to the media and key personnel in the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) and the National Arts Council, including MCCY Acting Minister Lawrence Wong.

The disagreement appeared to be over two festival brochures and Mr Ong's access to their content.

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

In his e-mail, Mr Ong said: "I have been providing materials but nothing has come back to me for review. We have consistently asked to see how the artistic information is being presented."

He added: "I don't think you should be treating the festival director in this way. I am not just your content provider. The direction of the festival was given to the festival director by the National Arts Council. It was not given to the CEO of Arts Festival Ltd, the holding company."

When contacted, Ms Lee said this was not the first time Mr Ong had become angry and sent e-mail messages.

"But the most important thing is that we are able to patch up and move on."

Mr Ong told The Straits Times he had not been given the chance to evaluate the festival brochures properly.

He said of the design of the O.P.E.N. brochure: "It needs to have a new look, something which is fresh, which allows the public to really get this feeling and not to think it's a museum engagement programme, which is what it looked like."

He said that deadlines were not properly communicated to him, and that he was met with silence when he asked to give the brochure a final look before it went to print.

In her e-mail to Mr Ong, Ms Lee said that the deadline for the design of the brochure had been extended to take in his input and that there was now no more time to make changes.

The festival, previously run by the arts council, became an independent company last year, when the appointments of the two took place.

Many in the arts community declined to comment but expressed hope that they could overcome their differences.

In an e-mail statement, arts council CEO Kathy Lai said: "In the lead-up to any major event, it is not uncommon for differences of opinion to emerge.

"We have spoken to both of them and we have their commitment that they will move beyond this episode and focus on their vision of a world-class festival."

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