Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On Developing the Arts in Malaysia... and Singapore

I've often come across times when it seemed appropriate to compare and contrast the decisions of supporting the arts in Malaysia and in Singapore. Reading Dr Marc Rochester's recent blog post touching on that area, I couldn't help but submitting my two cents in the comments, duplicated below. For the record, it's fine if Malaysia prefers to show that Petronas can buy a great orchestra rather than that Petronas can make Malaysians as good as the ones they can rent. I don't believe in anyone owing anyone opportunities - for each and every one of us, it's about making things happen for ourselves. But if the ones who do find their own way don't find their own way back, well, look in the mirror when looking for a culprit rather than saying that the brain drain is because they somehow lack patriotism.

Hello Dr Marc,

As a newcomer to your blog, I must say that your writing comes across as being not only knowledgeable and well organized, but from someone who cares about the development of the arts - and thus, best wishes to you.

I have a somewhat differing opinion about the best strategy towards artistic progress, in that I feel that it is not always a choice between a 'domination of foreign talent' and encouraging local ones. Rather, I believe the solution is somewhere in between. As you have already noted, the MPO, despite its presence in the country for over a decade, has not radically upgraded the standard of music here - a sign that the 'domination' model is at the very least, not working in this setting. Whatever might be lacking in the consistency of the SSO on the other hand, due to locally provided scholarships to the orchestra more Singaporeans have received international level training, and due to the bonds attached to those scholarships, have returned to Singapore.

Put another way, if some catastrophic event resulted in both the MPO and the SSO meeting an untimely demise tomorrow, there would be a far higher tally of Singaporean professionals than Malaysian ones who remain as a lasting product of expenditure towards national artistic development.

Don't get me wrong: much like the sport of pole vaulting, setting the bar high is a great idea. It's just that after you set the bar high, you have to make sure that the locals have a pole with which to jump.

Best wishes,

Andrew Filmer

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