Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Singapore International Festival of Arts bosses in public spat


SINGAPORE — A public spat has erupted between the two main figures behind the Singapore International Festival of Arts, with its Artistic Director, Mr Ong Keng Sen, accusing Chief Executive Officer, Ms Lee Chor Lin, of “hijacking” the festival, which is slated to run in August.

The conflict was aired in an email sent on today (March 18) by Mr Ong to Ms Lee, as well as to the Ministry Of Community, Culture And Youth, the National Arts Council and members of the press.

In the email, Mr Ong accused Ms Lee of not responding to his emails regarding the content and design of the festival brochures and described her as being “unprofessional and unethical”.

“I don’t think you should be treating the festival director in this way. I am not just your content provider. I have been providing materials but nothing has come back to me for review,” he said in the email.

Mr Ong is referring to the vetting of text and designs regarding the brochures and programmes of the Festival as well as the pre-Festival event OPEN, which takes place in June. He has been unable to do this, he said.

According to him, there has been a communication blackout since March 11. “I’ve sent 20 emails asking for information and there’s nothing coming back. It’s a hijacking of material and for seven days, they have been refusing to give me anything,” said Mr Ong in a phone interview.

“I have been appointed by the (National) Arts Council to deliver a vision of the Festival and this vision is being frustrated,” said Mr Ong.

“The bottomline is that the CEO has not encountered any of the artists at all — any of the films and productions I’ve watched. So how can she (come up with the brochures containing) these productions (without consulting me)? The CEO runs the business side and not to ‘project’ (a festival’s) content,” he added.

When contacted, Ms Lee denies that it was a case of “hijacking”. “There is an understanding way back in June (about the) division of labour. I’m in charge of the PR, marketing and collateral, and he agreed to it. It’s a process that is not creative anymore. We’re down to page number, figuring out the ticket prices, making sure what goes into the brochure will make sense to readers.

“Artists have a view of things, but this particular product goes to the audience, and this has to be taken into consideration. The whole design and graphic process is one that he is not familiar with.”

As to claims of not responding to Mr Ong’s emails, “We have responded. It’s just at some point there is a cut off line. It’s really a simple thing.”

She added: “Despite these very obvious creative combustions, I think we’re on our way to having a very good festival and producing a brochure will be a very important milestone because that’s when the information will be disseminated. I’ll just let this blow over then we pick up and go forward. It’s a very interesting relationship we have.”

Noting that it is "not uncommon for differences of opinions to emerge" in the lead up to any major event, National Arts Council Chief Executive Kathy Lai said: "Despite these differences, we acknowledge that both Keng Sen and Chor Lin have unique strengths and experiences that they bring to this partnership.

"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."