Thoughts: Why is it important to give to arts education?

12 November 2020

with Jessica Kyla Ong, Senior Manager (Corporate Communications Office), Marketing and Sponsorship

COVID-19 threw down the gauntlet to humanity, challenging us to bring our best foot forward to make a difference. From the brave sacrifices of our frontline workers, to Singaporeans singing in unity to cheer the nation and its fighters on, to the myriad of fundraising and volunteer initiatives sparked by our want to do good for different communities – we’ve witnessed a surge in goodwill which illuminates that silver lining in this crisis.

While giving campaigns such as Migrants We Care, SGUnited Buka Puasa and Feed The City shine a light on how we can contribute, there are sectors that have been hit hard that could still use a hand. The arts, for example, has seen exhibitions and performances cancelled due to social distancing measures. Lessons and rehearsals were put on hold for the same reasons. Many arts administrators, educators, performers and freelancers have lost their income, with no other job alternatives.

How then can we help our artists and the future of arts in Singapore? We spoke to Jessica Ong, Senior Manager, Marketing and Sponsorship at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), on why it is important to give to the arts during these tough times and how you can be the difference.

  1. Tell us more about your scope of work regarding Marketing and Sponsorship at NAFA.

    I oversee the development and implementation of NAFA’s fundraising programmes which includes donor cultivation and engagement. Donors are especially important to NAFA, as their pledges can make a crucial difference in nurturing and inspiring our next generation of creative talents. These funds go toward supporting scholarly initiatives including students-in-need and improving the capability of the academy.

    As NAFA is an approved Institution of a Public Character (IPC), it is also imperative that these funds are used prudently and effectively, with full transparency.

  2. How has your work been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

    As a nation, most if not all of Singapore has been negatively affected by COVID-19. NAFA is no exception.

    For one, our annual golf tournament, a key fundraising event, had to be cancelled. Additionally, a couple of donors withdrew their pledges to student awards as their businesses were badly affected by the pandemic. It is an unprecedented time and we fully empathise with their challenges and difficulties.

    However, this has a huge impact on the kind of support that NAFA can continue to provide for our students. Facing a possible recession, we foresee that more students will need financial assistance that enables them to continue with their studies. Hence, we are currently thinking of new ways to reach out to the donors.

  3. With Ms Tabitha Surita S Paramjothy and Mr Rino Junior John, recipients of NAFA Scholarship (Diploma) AY2017/2018
    “It is our conviction that no deserving NAFA student should be deprived of their opportunity to pursue an arts education due to financial difficulties”

  4. How are the funds raised channelled to help students at NAFA?

    All funds raised are channelled to the NAFA Education Fund, where we give out scholarships and financial awards aimed at recognising academic achievements and helping students to cope with education costs.

    Every year, NAFA provides up to $800,000 worth of scholarships and financial awards for this cause, largely contributed by our very supportive donors. It is our conviction that no deserving NAFA student should be deprived of their opportunity to pursue an arts education due to financial difficulties – so long as they have passion for the arts.

  5. Tell us more about the individuals and lives that have been impacted.

    There were a pair of brothers studying in NAFA, who were very passionate about music. Sadly, their parents were diagnosed with cancer in 2013. To fund their tuition fees and household expenses, the brothers had to work as freelancers, played for hired performances and gave private music lessons. Life was a struggle, having to juggle between work, studies and caring for their parents. But that did not deter them from pursuing their dreams.

    Through their hard work, both received scholarships and financial awards during their studies at NAFA. That really took a huge burden off their shoulders. Grateful for the assistance they had received, the brothers paid it forward by volunteering with The Purple Symphony - an inclusive orchestra comprising talented musicians with and without special needs.

    This is just one of the many examples that I have witnessed. About 1 in 3 of our local NAFA students come from less privileged backgrounds. I have seen many passionate students struggling in their pursue for an arts education due to a lack of financial support. Many of them supplement their finances by taking on part-time work, which inevitably has a detrimental effect on their academics. The financial assistance schemes are a lifeline to these students.

  6. “The gift of education will make a big difference that will not only affect the lives of art students but their future contributions to society”

    With Ms Lucy Leong and Ms Cecilia Leong, family of the late Leong Yoon Pin; and Ms Yeo Zeng Ying and Ms Chen Yue, recipients of Leong Yoon Pin Scholarship (Degree) AY2018/2019

  7. Compared to other sectors, what are some of the challenges you face while seeking sponsorships and donations in the context of the arts?

    Many people tell me, ‘I only want to help the needy’ or ‘I don’t know anything about the arts’. This lack of awareness about the arts sector and its needs does translate to lesser support for the arts. While supporting the arts might not have immediate impact compared to putting food on the table for a family-in-need, its long-term impact cannot be downplayed either. Thus, it is our duty as fundraisers to educate potential donors and share with them the significant impact of their donations.

  8. For people undecided on where to give in Singapore, what do you wish to tell them?

    Recently, I came across a post on the Internet that read, "If you think artists are useless, try spending your quarantine without music, books, poems, movies and paintings". I think this statement resonates with many of us, particularly after staying home for two months.

    Some people might think that the arts are only for society’s elites. But this is not true. The arts is an essential dimension of our daily lives and we need artists to make that happen. That is why it is important to give to the arts and arts education to sustain and bolster its continued growth.

    I hope that more donors will choose to take the road less travelled, and support what seems like a ‘less important’ cause amongst other more popular needs. Stronger support from both the public and private sectors is important for our arts community to thrive.

  9. If we want to support arts education and NAFA, how can they get in touch?

    You can write in to me directly at [email protected]. I will be delighted to assist with any information you might require. Alternatively, you could also visit our website GivetoNAFA to find out more.

    As an IPC, your donation will be entitled to tax deduction and eligible for matching through the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth’s Cultural Matching Fund. The gift of education will make a big difference that will not only affect the lives of art students but their future contributions to society.

    Additionally, the NAFA Alumni Relations Office will be launching a Scholars Give Back Series in December 2020. Comprising four webisodes, it will feature music performances by alumni scholars from NAFA’s School of Music. This series gives our scholars a platform to showcase their talents and help raise funds for less privileged students. Do tune in and show your support! You can stay subscribed to NAFA’s social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube) to be updated on the Series.

Jessica Kyla Ong is a Senior Manager at NAFA’s Corporate Communications Office and oversees Marketing and Sponsorship at the academy.