Corrie Tan Arts Correspondent

Leadership changes and more local fare in the arts scene

With Singapore celebrating its Golden Jubilee this year, the arts calendar is packed with retrospectives and a heavier emphasis on local content.

Arts organisations and artists in Singapore have lined up big-bang openings on the international stage but, at home, a changing of the guard at arts institutions leaves quite a few shoes to be filled.

There will be pomp and celebration: The Esplanade commemorates the nation's 50th birthday with a raft of events, including a theatre retrospective in April and May presenting excerpts and full-length productions of 50 iconic Singapore plays.

Production company Dream Academy has started the ball rolling with Great World Cabaret, a nostalgia-soaked variety show at Resorts World Sentosa from next month until March that looks at Singapore's nightlife legends of the swinging 60s and 70s.

The Singapore International Festival of Arts, due to take place in the second half of the year, is also looking homeward after last year's international spread, with at least a dozen new commissions from local groups and practitioners.

As with all art, there is the desire to push beyond the expected celebratory narratives of Singapore's success, and peel back the veil from alternative narratives and marginalised stories.

Project 50/100, with the tagline Alternative Narratives, New Perspectives, Other Truths, seeks input from civil society groups, artists and arts groups, academics and other members of the public to put together a diverse programme of events.

Theatre company Wild Rice, with its programming based on the Singapore flag's five stars - democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality - is also bound to offer performances viewed by establishment figures as contrarian but refreshingly so, given its edgy track record.

Taking on the world stage

SINGAPORE has always tried to vie for its share of the international spotlight, and this year will see its return to the prestigious Venice Biennale exhibition, featuring multimedia artist Charles Lim and curator Shabbir Hussain Mustafa.

Singapore has taken part in every edition of the biennale since 2001 but it was absent from the 2013 show because its participation was under review by the National Arts Council.

A contingent of visual and performing artists and arts groups are also headed to the Singapore Festival In France, which is taking place from March to May. The event will be hosted by various cultural institutions across the country, including the Palais de Tokyo, Theatre des Bouffes du Nord and Cinematheque Francaise. Those going include theatre director Ong Keng Sen, mime artist and theatre performer Ramesh Meyyappan, classical music conductor Darrell Ang, dance group Frontier Danceland and traditional Chinese music group Siong Leng Musical Association.

A bit of France will also come to Singapore by way of the Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris, a 5,480 sq m offshoot of Paris' largest private art museum, set to open at Fort Canning Hill in May. It will have an art academy and a heritage gallery, and will be helmed by art historian Marc Restellini, founder of the renowned French institution. About 40 to 50 works from the museum's collection will be on display in the ground-floor permanent gallery.

Baton changes and deputies in the wings

2015 will see several handovers in the arts scene, as one wave of arts administrators makes way for the next. Succession is always a tricky issue: Will the incoming leadership opt for a transition that is seamless or revolutionary? Will they carry on the good work that their predecessors have done, and make sure not to repeat their mistakes?

Two prominent arts spaces, The Substation and The Arts House, are on the lookout for new blood with the impending departures of their directors this month. Noor Effendy Ibrahim and William Phuan have announced their resignations; hopefully the edgy, underground Substation and the eclectic Arts House will end up in good hands.

Two festivals have also undergone leadership changes. School of the Arts faculty member Sean Tobin has taken over the reins of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival from director Alvin Tan and playwright Haresh Sharma.

The festival opens next week. Poet and former Straits Times journalist Yeow Kai Chai steps into the shoes of festival director at the Singapore Writers Festival in November.

His predecessor Paul Tan was appointed deputy chief executive of the National Arts Council in June last year. He took over from Yvonne Tham, who became assistant chief executive of the Esplanade arts centre.

The National Gallery Singapore, beset by a number of management changes over the past few years, will open at the end of the year, tying together what will be a buzzy arts district downtown as the Asian Civilisations Museum and the National Museum of Singapore emerge from major revamps.

These careful strategic moves may not spell immediate changes but time will tell if these deputies in the wings might eventually move up the rungs.

corriet@sph.com.sg