Bridging arts and audiences

Four years working on the Singapore International Festival of Arts showed theatre-maker Ong Keng Sen that artists and audiences are growing apart.

Ong, who helmed the festival until last year, hopes to help build bridges between viewers and creators through a new two-year initiative, The Curators Academy. It is organised by his troupe, TheatreWorks, in partnership with the Goethe Institut.

The German cultural organisation helped TheatreWorks offer open calls for participants in major South-east Asian cities last year, including Hanoi, Jakarta, Manila and Kuala Lumpur.

Thirty curators were selected for the initiative, which starts with free workshops, panels and exposure to genre-bending art from today to Sunday, at TheatreWorks' space in Mohamed Sultan Road and other sites in Singapore.

Some sessions are open to observers who write in ahead of time.

Speakers include curator Sigrid Gareis, who initiated the Salzburg University's curating programme and Israeli choreographer Arkadi Zaides, who uses dance to document and share human rights issues in high conflict areas in the West Bank.

The Curators Academy programme also includes Apichatpong Weerasethakul's immersive projection-performance Fever Room at Victoria Theatre from today to Sunday, and, on Saturday, the Singapore premiere of Taiwanese film-maker Tsai Ming Liang's short films No No Sleep and Autumn Days.

Following the Singapore segment of the programme, participants will propose projects they wish to undertake in their home countries. Three will be selected to receive funds from TheatreWorks to help that happen next year.

Ong says: "The main focus is asking aspiring curators to think about what is their context and what are the conversations they need to develop in that context."

A growing issue is that artists and audiences are divided by their own desires. "Artists want to do their own thing and audiences want art to be accessible."

Curators are needed to make art real and understood. First of all, they are often the "buyers" who ensure that art has an audience at a museum or gallery or theatre.

There is an additional responsibility as a gatekeeper, says Ong, "not to keep people from coming in, but developing the environment for art".

Akshita Nanda

•Visit curatorsacademy2018.wordpress.com for the full schedule of offerings from The Curators Academy and to apply to observe selected sessions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2018, with the headline 'Bridging arts and audiences'. Print Edition | Subscribe