Projecting for the future: Partnership and Collaboration Opportunities

19 September 2022

with Xin Xiaochang, Head (Special Projects Unit)

The value of an arts education constantly evolves with how effectively arts graduates find success and establish their profiles in societies. In a sense, how efficaciously they apply their learnings to working landscapes determines future accomplishments and access to windows of opportunities.

In a recent opinion piece by Professor Chan Heng Chee in The Straits Times, titled “Why a university of the arts now?”, Prof Chan referenced Daniel Pink’s case for the world’s progression from a Knowledge Economy to a Conceptual Economy. She stated that “jobs are now created by people who can empathise and express themselves… people with creativity and empathy will be high in demand.” As an arts education institution, how can we then ensure that our graduates land said jobs?

We speak to Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts’ (NAFA) Head of Special Projects Unit, Xin Xiaochang, on how industry partnership and collaboration opportunities impacts our students, helping them maximise their potential.

1. What is your role as Head of NAFA’s Special Projects Unit?

The Special Projects Unit (SPU) was established in January 2020 to consolidate efforts — past, ongoing, and future — on talent development across NAFA and to focus on identifying and creating synergies to seek out opportunities between disciplines and organisations. I oversee the talent development initiatives and platforms catering to the students, staff and alumni through local and international projects, while establishing links with institutions and organisations in the arts, education, and industry.

The NAFA Talent Development Programme (NTDP) and Talent Accelerator Programmes (TAP) provide equitable access to coaching, networks and opportunities, with robust administrative, funding and technical support – to help hone creativity and its expression among the NAFA community and beyond.

2. What are some of the highlights of your journey so far, and what are some of the more memorable moments?

It is a joy and fulfilment to see the growth of the students under the NTDP. It is also heartening to receive positive feedback from collaborators and participants of the Special Projects.

One recent memorable project is Project Solitude, a commissioned work by the National Museum Singapore (NMS) for Singapore Night Festival. Led by designer Wendy Chua (Forest&Whale) and theatre director Koh Hui Ling (Drama Box) for the Singapore Night Festival 2021, Project Solitude is an immersive installation, developed by a group of students from NAFA and National University of Singapore (NUS) in a co-creative, interdisciplinary design process. The event was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, and I am very thankful that NMS has persisted to put it up for this year’s Festival.



“Collaborations and partnerships with the industry can provide exponential learning and exposure for NAFA’s students/creatives when they make real-world connections.”


It was a memorable project as the mentors/facilitators designed the workshops for the students to be highly experiential, however, due to the heightened alert measures, they had to translate that experience for the virtual space. The workshops opened the students’ minds to new approaches to design.

Participants of the project had positive feedback on their learning experience where the co-creation and collaborative design process equipped them with new skills and perspectives on open design and dramaturgy.

A recent graduand from NTDP, Aleesha Rane, who helped document the project, shared that she had gained new knowledge of other disciplines following the workshops during the design process. She appreciated the opportunities given and in the spirit of giving back, she mentored her NTDP juniors in directing and editing for another Special Project, Renew Earth Sweat Shop. View Aleesha’s works here and on YouTube.

3. Based on your personal and corporate experience, can you detail how important partnership and collaboration opportunities are for NAFA students/creatives?

NAFA’s curriculum is practice-led and industry-focused. Collaborations and partnerships with the industry can provide exponential learning and exposure for NAFA’s students/creatives when they make real-world connections. At the same time, our collaborators and partners also gained insights and fresh ideas from our young creatives, potentially developing new products and value add to their companies.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” - Aristotle

Everything is interconnected in the world; there is so much we can learn from people with different expertise. Expanding the network of collaborations and partnerships opens the way to enriching knowledge and building stronger communities and ecosystems.

4. What are some of the key opportunities that have borne fruit thus far?

Another meaningful project we did was a collaboration with White Jacket, a multi-disciplinary design studio based in Singapore. Ten uniquely designed stools were created by selected NAFA students and alumni in partnership with White Jacket.

Working on the theme of community and 'lepak’ (a Singlish word for relaxation while doing nothing), the artists' interpretations were translated into visually engaging pieces that are set to brighten up any given space. Chen Jiawen, an alumna of NAFA, created three different stool model types, elegantly crafted with soft rounded edges and exposed wood joinery. Inspired by the concept of community, this collection reflects the idea of bringing people together. Each piece of furniture is built with a common and similar structure and yet, it has its own identity and character.

Through 'White Jacket x Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts', the collaboration sees artworks and designs that elevate the visual expression of the stools and user experience, while aspiring to bring communities and artists together. A portion of the sale proceeds of the stools was also donated to the NAFA Education Fund.

  “Expanding the network of collaborations and partnerships opens the way to enriching knowledge and building stronger communities and ecosystems.”

5. With regards to the upcoming Peel Here exhibition, what are your thoughts on the different collaborators coming in to make a difference to the exhibition and projects?

The upcoming exhibition Peel Here, is an interactive exhibition which examines the art of peeling, encouraging audiences to revisit their everyday gestures and other menial tasks in our sensorially-overloaded world. Here’s a snapshot of how our collaborators worked jointly with us to enhance the experience in the wonders of peeling:

Atelier HOKO (Project Lead and Mentor)

Atelier HOKO has a unique approach and methodology in design research. Their projects often result in outcomes across different disciplines and provoke curiosity through experiences that encourage one to think, explore and wonder. Their mentorship drove the NAFA researchers to dive deeper into questioning and making new discoveries through the gesture of peeling. The insights presented in this exhibition are refreshing and raise one’s awareness and sensitivity to the sensorial experience of peeling.

The Doodle People (Augmented Reality experience)

The action of peeling is tactile and haptic. What is it like peeling virtually? The Doodle People is a Creative Tech Studio that harnesses emerging technologies to produce augmented reality (AR), virtual reality, interactive experiences, and animation videos. They bring in the AR experience with fun and interactive elements, enabling the audience to discover what lies behind each ‘peel tab’ graphic installed within the gallery space and NAFA campus with their phone cameras. The AR experience will add another dimension to the physical exhibition.

6. Do you have anything else to share with our readers?

NAFA has a great diversity of talents in different fields. We are happy to connect and explore potential collaborations and partnerships. You may contact me at [email protected] if you have any ideas for working together with our diverse and dynamic community of artists and creatives. Do follow NAFA’s SPU on Instagram to stay updated on our projects and initiatives.

I look forward to you joining us at the upcoming exhibition Peel Here, happening from 11 October 2022 (Tues) to 30 Oct 2022 (Sun), at NAFA’s Lim Hak Tai Gallery. We welcome you to rediscover the mundane and commonplace, revisiting habitual actions for a glimpse into the wonders of peeling.

Xin Xiaochang heads NAFA’s Special Projects Unit, focusing on talent development initiatives and lectures while continuing her creative practice. She is an artist whose work is informed by her cross-disciplinary background in art and design.

Notably, she was inducted into the committee of the Sculpture Society (Singapore) in 2014, a role that saw her active participation and organisation of activities and shows, curation of works, and overseas exchanges.