National Arts Council (NAC)
Features | Arts & Heritage

Nurturing Singapore's
Artistic Ambitions

The NAC Arts Scholarship aims to nurture outstanding and promising arts practitioners like Julian Wong and Dave Chua to elevate Singapore's growing arts scene to greater heights.

The National Arts Council (NAC) champions the arts in Singapore and aims to develop Singapore as a distinctive global city for the arts. The NAC cultivates artists and arts companies, and promotes the arts for self-expression, learning and reflection.

NAC Arts Undergraduate scholarship recipient Julian and NAC Arts Postgraduate scholarship recipient Dave recall how their scholarships have helped nurture them into bold, creative and passionate individuals who play vital roles in the music and theatre, and literary arts fields, respectively.

NAC portait candidate

Dave Chua Hak Lien
Recipient of NAC Arts Scholarship (Postgraduate)

Designation: Independent Writer/Editor and Lecturer
at Nanyang Technological University

Studied: Master of Creative Writing,
University of East Anglia, UK

"Getting up-close and personal with some of my literary heroes was quite exciting – in fact, I was lucky enough to help Kazuo name his most recent book The Buried Giant!"

What sparked your interest in the arts and persuaded to apply for the NAC Arts Scholarship?

Dave Chua: My background is in computer science, but I started to develop a gradual interest in writing over the last few years – in fact, my novel Gone Case, which won the Golden Point Award for Short Story, was adapted into a graphic novel and this strongly encouraged me to finally further my career in literary arts.

I was also on the NAC Scholarship panel in 2012 and through my numerous interactions with candidates, I was inspired by their enthusiasm for the literary arts and I eventually decided to do a Master's degree in Creative Writing under the NAC Arts Scholarship (Postgraduate).

Julian Wong: I was fortunate to be taught by three very important teachers who have inspired and motivated me to pursue the arts. One of them was the late Mr Iskandar Ismail, who nurtured my love for music when I joined a children's ensemble for one of his musicals. He also instilled in me the precepts that I carry with me today – work very hard, stay humble and never be late.

Through my other two teachers, I also learnt to push myself to excel and to put my heart and soul into music. The NAC Scholarship panel is made up of fellow artists and musicians and this shows that the NAC really understands and cares deeply for its artists. Furthermore, the NAC Scholarship gave me considerable autonomy and flexibility in choosing my course and modules, not to mention the ability to freelance while studying!

What opportunities did you enjoy during your scholarship journey?

Dave: While studying my master's degree at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK, I had the privilege to be part of its 50th anniversary celebrations – definitely a unique experience as we had special sessions with many renowned writers like Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan. Getting up-close and personal with some of my literary heroes was quite exciting – in fact, I was lucky enough to help Kazuo name his most recent book The Buried Giant!

Julian: As a student in Boston, I lived and breathed music. I immersed myself in film scoring, orchestra, chamber music, pop, jazz and many other genres of music. Furthermore, after my time as a student accompanist and conductor, musical discovery, the rigour of research, and fine-tuning one's ears are aspects that I continue to bring to my work even today.

I also count myself privileged to work with Nyol Manswell, an incredible singer-songwriter who is visually-impaired. I even accompanied him on a performance for my idol John Clayton, which turned out to be a truly moving and memorable experience. I felt truly blessed to have supported him – both as a friend and as a musician – so he could communicate his feelings through the song and inspire the audience.

How has your scholarship journey developed you for your career?

Dave: At UEA, we met with publishers and agents to listen to their frank views on the writing and publishing industry, which is in flux right now and this definitely made me think deeper about the craft of writing and its business aspect. I feel that this knowledge will help me decide on how I can best carry out my writing endeavours.

Julian Wong

Julian Wong
Recipient of NAC Arts Scholarship (Undergraduate)

Designation: Accompanist, Arranger and
Music Director/Conductor

Studied: Bachelor of Music in Professional Music,
Berklee College of Music, US

I have also discovered better, more interesting ways to conduct my creative writing workshops which have made me a more efficient mentor! I feel it's important to keep youths actively engaged while giving them the best experience and I am definitely thankful that the skills acquired during my scholarship journey have helped both me and my mentees grow.

Julian: What I like about the NAC Scholarship is that it strongly encourages you to be independent and diligent. I find that when people entrust you with large-scale projects and more responsibilities, they do so based on your performance – not just on your paper qualifications or scholarship background. As a Music Director, I feel I have to put my best foot forward and take the initiative to improve myself through each performance.

I also wear other professional hats and one invaluable asset my music education has given me is the ability to work out musical details in my head and to then transfer them onto paper for a performance later. As an Arranger, the pieces of music I write also need to be detailed enough to convey clear musical intentions to the copyists, performers and music directors for every performance.

What things should aspiring NAC scholars take note of?

Dave: Have a good understanding of the industry. Establish good relationships with existing practitioners and be connected to the scene. Be sure to organise your relevant documents and portfolio before the interview.

Young writers should remember one thing: You have to be thick-skinned and keep on writing no matter what obstacles get thrown your way. Make the effort to grow from the inevitable rejections and persevere, come what may – never take them too harshly!

Julian: The artists I admire the most are humble and never complacent about their achievements. Cultivating such traits from day one is important.

Never forget that many music greats have paved the way for future generations to succeed locally. The most exciting aspect of being a musician in Singapore is immersing yourself in a melting pot of cultures. If you are determined to work hard, then you should be open to have many 'masters' who are willing to nurture you to fulfil your true potential!