Arts House chief Lee Chor Lin to leave in December

Ms Lee Chor Lin declined to disclose future plans, but says she is likely to remain in the arts sector.
Ms Lee Chor Lin declined to disclose future plans, but says she is likely to remain in the arts sector.PHOTO:  MELISA TEO.

Ms Lee Chor Lin will officially leave her post in December

After three years at the helm, Ms Lee Chor Lin, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Arts House Limited, which manages 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 with the festival's director Ong Keng Sen two years ago. 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 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 yesterday 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 borrowing 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.

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

At the invitation of Mr Benson Puah, former CEO 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 Singapore International Festival of Arts when it was put on in 2014, after a two-year hiatus.

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

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2016, with the headline 'Arts House Limited CEO quits'. Print Edition | Subscribe