National Arts Council (NAC)
Features | Arts & Heritage

A Bright Future for the Arts

The National Arts Council (NAC) is committed to developing arts and culture in Singapore, paving the way for local arts talents to blossom with ample opportunities for professional practice and development.

Imagination, creativity and flair – these are traits that characterise the bold and daring endeavours of artists who are continually redefining the growing local arts scene. As a young, multi-cultural nation, Singapore’s arts scene is remarkably diverse and fluid.

By cultivating a sustainable environment for the arts to enrich, entertain and inspire, NAC aims to develop Singapore as a distinctive global city for the arts.

Regardless of whether the medium of choice is the written word, the musical note or the theatre, the NAC Arts Scholarship identifies promising artistic talents and nurtures them to play an integral role in the arts and Singapore’s culture. NAC Arts Scholarship recipients Yang Jiwei and Izmir Ickbal tell us how they share NAC’s vision to create an environment where the arts can enrich, entertain and inspire.

Yang Jiwei
NAC Arts Scholarship (Undergraduate) recipient

Designation: Music Conductor
Executive Director, The TENG Company

Studied: Bachelor in Music,
Central Conservatory of Music, China

"As a music conductor, I am responsible for unifying my students through an orchestra and shaping the sound of an ensemble."

What sparked your interest in the arts?

Yang Jiwei: In primary school, I was captivated by a performance put up by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and joined the Chinese classical music group as a co-curricular activity soon after! I learnt the Sheng under Guo Changsuo, a renowned Sheng player in the Singapore Chinese Orchestra. Under his guidance, I clinched the first prize at the National Chinese Music Competition organised by NAC in 2004.

Izmir Ickbal: My love for the arts was fueled by my passion for drama, dialogue and the intricate works of Italian Renaissance painter Michelangelo. I also love reading plays and watching films! Furthermore, I have to thank my best friend in secondary school who taught me how to assemble my own personal computer from scratch as this really got me interested in technical work. My work as a Scenic Designer prior to taking up the NAC Arts Scholarship (Postgraduate) thus allowed me to combine my interests in the arts and technical work in the research and drafting of scale models for a variety of performances.

Share with us some interesting facts about your career and the creative industry.

Jiwei: As a music conductor, I am responsible for unifying my students through an orchestra and shaping the sound of an ensemble. After leading Jurong Primary School from a bronze to gold standing at the Singapore Youth Festival, I went on to coach Chinese Orchestra groups in Raffles Institution (Secondary), Catholic High (Primary) and Singapore Raffles Music College, one of Singapore’s most established private institutions of higher learning for a music and arts education.

I also get to work with young people and build their interests in classical Chinese music. Students nowadays are becoming increasingly curious. As mentors, it is very important for us to continually upgrade our knowledge and skills and actively engage our students with entertaining approaches. While younger students are more open and expressive, the older ones can be a little shy. To help my students learn, we watch concerts together and observe how other performers play on stage.

As a Sheng musician with The TENG Ensemble, I have the privilege to collaborate with artists from diverse fields. I have worked with filmmaker Royston Tan, turntable instrumentalist DJ KoFlow, contemporary music composer Dr Kelly Tang and Indian percussionist Nawaz Mirajkar.

"I have had opportunities to meet amazingly talented classmates, learn from the best designers in the world and derive satisfaction from producing beautiful work in a challenging and stimulating environment."

I also performed with the Ensemble at high-profile events such as the 5th ASEAN Culture and Arts Ministerial Meeting (2012), Singapore HeritageFest (2011), Shanghai World Expo (2010) and the Youth Olympic Games (2010).

Izmir: As I am currently undergoing my postgraduate education, my career is on hold for now. However, in my role of Scenic Designer, I could find myself working on projects that lasted from mere weeks to years! Even designing the National Day Parade Show takes a whole year, and that is actually considered a short timeline. The joy of the entire process is realised when you see an appreciative audience touched, inspired and moved by your creation.

However, many people are unaware that the role of Scenic Designer exists. There are also other misconceptions within the theatre industry – for instance, many theatre productions either do not spend money on a set due to budget constraints or view the role as a purely technical one. As a result, production quality is affected. In the future, theatre productions may even outsource the role to unrelated professions or perhaps hire Scenic Designers from abroad. This is where the NAC steps in to address these issues and guide the local arts scene and artists onto the path where they can flourish together.

How have you benefited from your scholarship?

Jiwei: While studying for my music degree in China, I had the honour of meeting Ministers and high-ranking officials who paid us a visit. NAC also provided me with a platform to be involved in many international projects such as the Asia Traditional Orchestra, which brought together musicians from the 10 ASEAN nations and South Korea to perform and exchange musical ideas.

To add on, the scholarship has opened many doors for me in the music industry. My four-year training at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing has equipped me with the necessary knowledge and skills and nurtured me as a professional Sheng musician. For instance, I am now able to lead the Catholic High Chinese Orchestra to scale greater heights and attain the Gold with Honours status in the Singapore Youth Festival.

As I see my students grow in their musical skills and appreciation, my confidence as a musician and educator is reinforced. They instil a sense of pride in me and my artistic practice. Coaching my students has also honed my communication skills – I’ve even mastered the art of being effectively bilingual!

Izmir Ickbal
NAC Arts Scholarship (Postgraduate) recipient
Scenic Designer

Studying: Master of Fine Arts in Scenic Design, Yale School of Drama, US

Studied: Bachelor of Arts,
National University of Singapore

"At the end of the day, we support education because we want a better tomorrow."

Izmir: I do not see a scholarship as simply a means to accrue benefits for oneself. At the end of the day, we support education because we want a better tomorrow. An arts scholarship is simply an altruistic mission for someone like me, who has been given a great opportunity to further my studies without financial burden and to better myself so that I can go on to contribute. It also brings together great people from all walks of life and enables them to pursue their respective passions. This is what will continue to make Singapore a great country in the future – I find that very inspiring!

If I had to pick one highlight from my scholarship journey, that would be the opportunities I have had to meet amazingly talented classmates, learn from the best designers in the world and derive satisfaction from producing beautiful work in a challenging and stimulating environment.

What advice do you have for aspiring NAC scholars?

Jiwei: The NAC Arts Scholarship allows recipients to pursue any path in the arts industry, as long as they contribute to the development of the arts and culture scene in Singapore. If you wish to grow and develop as an artist while helping the local scene to reach greater heights, the NAC Arts Scholarship is for you.

Izmir: In life, you have to discover where your passion really lies and pursue it. Don’t let your circumstances or the people around you influence you into doing something you’re not passionate about. If you have no idea what you’re passionate about, go and find out! Last but not least, live life to the fullest, travel the world and aim to be a master in whatever you do.