Arts House chief Lee Chor Lin to leave post in December

Ms Lee Chor Lin is set to officially leave her post as chief executive officer of the Arts House Limited in December.
Ms Lee Chor Lin is set to officially leave her post as chief executive officer of the Arts House Limited in December. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - After three years at the helm, Ms Lee Chor Lin, chief executive officer of the Arts House Limited which puts on the Singapore International Festival of Arts, has quit.

But the 52-year-old says her decision to "move on" has nothing to do with a public spat two years ago with the festival's director Ong Keng Sen. The duo were tasked with reviving the ageing festival, which started in 1977.

But five months before the 2014 edition kicked off, the pair locked horns when Mr Ong accused Ms Lee of keeping him out of the loop about the content for festival brochures. He sent a strongly worded e-mail to her, and copied it to the media and National Arts Council, among others.

Ms Lee says: "The disagreement between us was quickly resolved. I never let these things bother me. If it did, I would have left then and not let myself drag on. That would be unthinkable."

She says that her decision to leave was "not made overnight", and key people, including Mr Ong, knew about it.

Her resignation was reported on Sunday (Sept 25) in the Chinese daily newspaper Lianhe Zaobao, where she has been a columnist for the last seven years. She officially leaves her post in December.

"I have finished what I have set out to do and it's time to go," she says. "It might seem like a short time, but I've done a lot of things and given the company a good foundation."

Aside from organising the arts festival, Arts House Limited also manages The Arts House, which is near City Hall, Goodman Arts Centre in Mountbatten and Aliwal Arts Centre.

She says: "My task was to provide a good and steady environment for both the festival and these art spaces. We've done a lot of the repairs and upgraded the facilities, formed teams and given each art space a distinct individual identity."

Ms Lee, who is married, is a well-known figure in the arts scene.

She started her career in 1985 as a curator of South-east Asian art at the National Museum of Singapore after getting her master's in history from the National University of Singapore.

When she later moved to the Asian Civilisations Museum - she played a key role in setting it up - she was instrumental in loaning pieces from Hong Kong collectors to show at the museum's Chinese Gallery.

In 2002, she became the director of the National Museum. She oversaw the construction of the museum's extension, and was tasked with reviving the museum's direction.

Ms Lee was applauded for drawing the crowds with creative programming. In her time there, the museum hosted many important exhibitions, such as the Louvre's Greek and Roman sculptures, and Kunst Historisches Museum Wien's (Vienna) Egyptian mummies.

At the invitation of Mr Benson Puah, former chief executive officer of the National Arts Council in 2013, she left to set up Arts Festival Limited.

The company - it was renamed Arts House Limited a year later when it merged with The Old Parliament House Limited to run the three art spaces - was set up in a move by the National Arts Council to rejig and privatise the Singapore Arts Festival.

It was renamed the Singapore International Festival of Arts when it was put on in 2014, after a two-year hiatus.

Ms Lee declines to disclose future plans, but says it is likely she will remain in the arts sector.

And while she does not know who her successor will be, she leaves this parting shot: "I hope the person will keep an open mind, and remember that Arts House Limited is an institution dedicated to the arts."

natashaz@sph.com.sg