Getting an Arts Scholarship: How & Why?

17 July 2020

by Kimberly Shen, Programme Leader & Lecturer (Fine Art)

Applying for a scholarship may seem daunting and time-consuming, while also being a strangely hopeful and positively affirming endeavour.

As a student, being awarded a scholarship is long tied to the realm of academia, inherently reserved for the brightest and most capable candidates. That very notion is altogether discouraging, alienating and divisive – how many of us can proudly proclaim we have straight As, a stellar track record and are ultimately, all-rounded individuals of excellence?

That is not to say that the act of recognising academic merits in awarding scholarships is redundant. It certainly does not help that the term ‘scholar’ is laced with elitism, sometimes synonymous with being a stuffy, rule-abiding individual and a mindless box-checker who fears to toe the line or actively push boundaries.

How do we look beyond grades and achievements, to also consider qualities that make us innately human? This is where an arts and creative scholar can shift perspectives.

“What is your story? In difficult times, it is our stories that make us whole and human. Be clear with this narrative and engage authentically with yourself.”

Photo by Kimberly, of Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, United Kingdom. A recipient of the National Arts Council Arts Scholarship (Postgraduate), Kimberly graduated from the University with a Master of Research in Art: Theory and Philosophy.

A leader and changemaker, the arts and creative scholar is given the flexibility in a field that prides itself on cultural agency and bold risktakers, with the heart and genuine desire to contribute positively and transform discourse within the sector.

“It certainly does not help that the term ‘scholar’ is laced with elitism, sometimes synonymous with being a stuffy, rule-abiding individual and a mindless box-checker who fears to toe the line or actively push boundaries.”

Photo by Kimberly (left) on her graduation day.

A quick online search on ‘art and creative scholarships in Singapore’ draws several results: This is a heartening and encouraging indication of not only crucial financial support, but also firm recognition by key organisations and stakeholders of the intangible value that arts and culture brings, with the importance of nurturing exceptional talents and leaders in the field.

For the inspired and undeterred, get started on your arts and creative scholarship application with these pointers:

Passion +
The prerequisite to these scholarships is ‘passion’ – it is the value that drives, motivates and catalyses change within the creative industry. However, this also becomes a ‘default’ trait when all scholarship applicants are equally passionate about their craft – what sets one’s passion apart from someone else’s? Beyond passion, what sustains your practice during challenging times? What validates and empowers your work? How do you harness that passion and contribute towards society at large?

What is your story?
A creative practice often stems from personal experience – a key inspiration, a transformative encounter, a pivotal moment – which serves as a point of departure. All of us have stories and it is these stories that define us. What compels you as an artist, designer and creative practitioner? What causes do you advocate, what values and beliefs do you live by, and why? In difficult times, it is our stories that make us whole and human. Be clear with this narrative and engage authentically with yourself.

Portfolio: What is your edge?
A staple within a creative practice, a portfolio is a curated collection of your work that best demonstrates your creativity, personality, artistic abilities and potential. The adage of quality over quantity holds true – a distinctive portfolio not only embodies an artistic practice cohesively, but there is also a clear line of inquiry, purpose and meaning that underpins your works and projects.

Understanding the industry
Demonstrate that you are informed and relevant – have a keen grasp of the creative industry you plan to contribute towards. Understand the trends, identify the gaps, know who are the key stakeholders (individuals and organisations) and ask yourself, where do you situate your work and practice within the ecosystem? In today’s volatile and complex world, are you able to forecast ways you can impact the current (and future) creative industries?

Be thorough in your application
Scholarship applications are heavily administrative, and it is necessary to be meticulous and thorough in the process. Read up carefully on the scholarship guidelines and application requirements – this is often a long list comprising of a written personal statement/essay, portfolio, reference letter(s), letter of admission, academic transcripts and certificates, etc.

Check the application criteria – how will each applicant be assessed and what fields of study are supported? Craft your application in close alignment to the requirements. Most scholarships require successful applicants to satisfy a bond or service commitment – are you able to fulfil this undertaking?

These pointers draw focus towards the intrinsic values and qualities of creative practices that is not merely hinged on academic excellence but epitomises personal narrative and achievements.

The prestige of being awarded an arts scholarship is an empowering experience and accomplishment, and more importantly, an unequivocal acknowledgement of your hard work and tireless efforts in your creative pursuits.

Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts offers scholarship and bursaries for aspiring artists and designers. For more information about the various programmes and courses, visit www.nafa.edu.sg.


Kimberly Shen is a curator, arts practitioner and educator based in Singapore. Currently Programme Leader (Fine Art) at NAFA, her artistic practice and research is situated between text, image and performance, drawn towards ideas of pluralism in a mediation of feminine narratives.