Taking Entrepreneurship to the Arts

By the SMU Social Media Team

When we speak about entrepreneurship, we think about business, innovation, technology. But how often have you heard it spoken in relation to the arts?

SMU undergraduate trio, Karl Gan (year 4), Kritika Lohumi (year 4) and Syed Mahera Masuda (year 3) from the Lee Kong Chian School of Business, are looking to break new grounds in perceptions of the Singapore arts scene.

We spoke with Karl about his thoughts and dreams for art in Singapore and what he hopes to bring to the table with their upcoming The stART! Series exhibitions.


Hi Karl, so tell us a little about how you first discovered your love for the arts.

We’re all creative people at heart, and I think that’s the basis of all artistic expressions – that creativity finds its way into what we draw, write, sing, design, or film.

The three of us are generally curious people, and I think that curiosity really bonds us, and allows us to be creative. Creativity is really about curiosity. You want to discover more and more, and so you try to pick up more and more from the world around you, and put it down in a way that you find familiar.


Have you see your relationship with art evolve over time?

I think at the beginning, art for me was more like a class in secondary school. I dabbled in it, I tried drawing and painting because I thought that was what art constituted. Then I realised I was really bad at it!

As I grew older, I began to find appreciation for beauty and creativity in general, and did not confine them to any one medium.

So I discovered that my art form was in words, and in creating stories visually. That is what art is for me, and what I have grown to nurture for my artistic ability. I just like creating things, seeing them come to life.


This seems like such a niche community. How did you manage to find an avenue into the arts scene in Singapore?

I’ve always been interested in emotion and expression. I used to be – still am, actually – a playwright and writer. To me, emotions and expressions define the human experience. So I was always interested as a young kid in writing, creating new work, and letting people read or watch what I’ve written.

That just developed slowly when I was in SMU, where I was exposed to more courses like ‘Creative Thinking’ (with Prof Alan Tea!) and Prof Margaret Chan’s ‘Drama and Scriptwriting’ and ‘Introduction to Museum Management’. Even ‘Statistics 101’ with Rosie Ching nurtured a sense of appreciation for creativity and arts. All these experiences eventually led to some work opportunities with Art Stage, for me.


What projects in the arts have you been involved in so far?

I have taken a couple of Arts and Cultural Management courses in SMU, in particular ACM001 ‘Art, Society and Culture’, and ‘Introduction to Museum Management’, where I learnt a lot about the value of art. Art is not just something esoteric and for the rich. It really carries significance and importance in defining who we are as a society and culture. And given a culture like Singapore’s, where we are a blend of so many different cultures, it is important to nurture local artists and works.

By nature, most of us are very visual people – we love images of art, beauty, and landscapes. Tumblr is one of our favourite resources for these beautiful images!

I also worked at Art Stage Singapore with one of Singapore’s top galleries, Chan Hampe Galleries, where I learnt firsthand how to talk about art and interact with people who want to know more about the artist and the work. I also had a chance to engage with our very own SMU Prof Kwok Kian Chow at Art Stage this year where he was moderating a very interesting panel discussion on the role of art in society!


The stART Series to launch 2 April 2016


We heard that you guys are launching a new series of pop-up art exhibitions called The stART! Series. Can you tell us more about it and who are the artists involved?

This idea began with the realisation that artists in Singapore rely so much on networking within the arts community to get their work out there. When you’re fresh out of university, you rarely have the contacts to grow interest in your art, so you have to struggle for a bit, rely on social media and friends. Not many people have heard of you, and your work. It’s difficult.

What we’re trying to achieve with The stART! Series is to create a platform where these artists and the arts can be made more accessible to a wider audience in Singapore, particularly those who might have interest to be more exposed to art, but do not necessarily have academic or professional knowledge of art.

This is also why our theme for the inaugural event is “An Exploration of Colour”. We believe that colour is an aspect of art that many people can relate to and appreciate better, as well as there being so many interesting dimensions to explore.

We also want to showcase a variety of emerging local artistic talents, which are often overlooked or even underestimated in Singapore. There aren’t many avenues for new entrants in the art scene to connect with potential buyers and collectors, and we wanted to change that too.

We also made sure that in our curation process, we selected and showcased six very different artists, each with their own unique styles, mediums, and distinctive voices. The artists we will be featuring for this series are: Michael Ee, Andre Wee, Joscelin Chew, Deborah Lim, Priscilla Tey, and Samrita Ravi.


Who would you like to see visiting this exhibition? Can we visit too? What can your visitors expect?

Of course you can!

Our goal is to break out of the stereotypical perception that art galleries are exclusive and that only a certain “calibre” of people can attend and appreciate such events. We also want to create a platform for local artists to reach interested buyers — sort of like an Uber for art, I guess.

So we are hoping to welcome anyone who loves creativity and visual beauty, and is keen on learning more about our outstanding local artists. The key message which we are focusing on is that #ArtIsForEveryone.

Of course, we are hoping to see some artwork sales. So we would definitely encourage collectors with an interest in developing and supporting the local art scene to attend as well.

The exhibition is a fairly intimate affair and the pieces are all one-of-a-kind. Guided by the theme “An Exploration of Colour”, we have curated a distinctive experience that showcases everything from the quirky, to the avant-garde.

We will be hosting our Gala Night on 2 April, where invited guests can look forward to mingling with the artists themselves to find out more about their work. So if you’re interested in an exclusive invite to the Gala Night, please drop us an email at thestartseries@gmail.com. We still have a limited number of open slots on our guest list!


What are your final thoughts about the current challenges facing the local arts scene and what are your hopes for the future of Singapore art/artists?

A recent survey shows that only 44% of Singaporeans read a literary book in a year. We wonder what the percentage of Singaporeans who have attended an art exhibition or event each year would be!

Many people in Singapore are not familiar with our local artists, and they feel disconnected from the arts scene. Having been to a few local art shows and exhibitions ourselves, we feel that the art community in Singapore is still a very exclusive one that appeals particularly to people within the industry, people who already know about the art or artists, and collectors who are already involved with the shows or galleries.

In other words, art appreciation is currently very much removed from the rest of the Singapore population. And that’s something we want to change.

We want to make art more accessible and have more platforms for artists to be able to reach out to a wider audience – and we’re starting right here with our stART! series, which we hope will strike a wide appeal and could possibly be further developed.

Also, as business and marketing students, we want to help advance the careers of our Singapore artists, particularly from a branding perspective. More than just buyers and collectors, we want to be able to grow the population of audiences who will appreciate their creativity and work.

We want to help develop ‘arts entrepreneurship’, if you will.

In a recent interview on 938LIVE’s “On the Record” with Bharati Jagdish, theatre veteran and director of the Singapore International Festival of Arts, Ong Keng Sen, questioned if there is truly a viable arts scene in Singapore, stating that we are producing but there is no demand.

We, too, have come to see that there really is an immense amount of talent in Singapore. Sadly, that’s not something that everyone really internalises and believes in. So we want to change that as well. Perhaps The stART! Series can be a pathway to bigger and better things for the art scene in Singapore.


The stART! Series will be exhibited at Shophouse 5


Catch the inaugural exhibition of The stART! Series, from 2 April to 10 April 2016, at SHOPHOUSE 5, #5 Lorong 24A Geylang, Singapore 398529. Find out more at https://www.facebook.com/thestartseries