8 April 2015: Bringing art to the community

Written by Clare Isabel Ee | Image by Bozy Lu

Banner - arts fest

In March 2015, Yale-NUS students launched the Yale-NUS College Arts Fest 2015, a collaborative festival that celebrated the arts through a series of activities, including events, workshops and exhibitions.

The Arts Fest Planning Committee was formed by a group of students from both the freshman and sophomore years who have a likeminded passion and enthusiasm for the arts. With support and guidance from Professor Mark Joyce, Director of Art at Yale-NUS, and the Educational Resources & Technology (ERT) department’s Art and Media staff, the students pulled off a month-long series of well-attended activities.

“It has always been clear that Yale-NUS houses amazing talent, and that the art scene here is bustling – we have always had enough content to fill a festival!” said Jevon Chandra (Class of 2017), the Director of the Planning Committee.

“Organising a festival was thus the next natural step; an overarching event that will provide the arts scene in the College with a synergy it deserves.”

With the impending move to the College’s permanent campus coming up, the festival was aptly themed ‘Before we leave’, and included commemorative artistic ventures for the community to enjoy.

Jevon explained that the Planning Committee wanted the theme to be relevant to the community, “something that’s both universally relatable but time-specific to where we are as a College”.

In line with the theme, some of the festival activities involved the Yale-NUS community interacting with its temporary home in Residential College 4 (RC4).

For instance, ‘Stairwell to Heaven’ was an experiential performance that aimed to commemorate the many steps taken for each project, interaction or initiative created while at the temporary campus. From musicians and singers to spoken word poets, the much-used stairwell was filled with a beautiful cacophony of sound that echoed into the hallways.

Other activities looked at the people in the community. ‘Get Your Head Shot’, was a photography project by Janel Ang (Class of 2017) that captured the faces of students from the pioneering batches of students. The black-and-white photographs document the vibrant identities that form the diverse student body, and were displayed in the Dining Hall throughout the Arts Fest.

Beyond the internal community, the Arts Fest also showcased Yale-NUS’ strong ties with and care for the wider community. One such event was CANVAS, which aimed to bring art into the lives of foreign domestic workers through a series of art workshops. The students from The G Spot and the Visual Arts Society (VAS) invited foreign workers from the Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics (HOME) Women’s Shelter to participate; HOME is a nonprofit organisation that provides free, temporary accommodation for female migrant workers in Singapore.

Over four weeks of art workshops, students and workers bonded, talked, laughed and created art, culminating in two final exhibitions of the works. One, held in Theme Room 4 (TR4), showcased all the works of the foreign workers.

“The HOME exhibition at TR4 was curated such that the audience would receive the narrative we were trying to tell,” said Yap Zhiwen (Class of 2017), a member of the Visual Arts Society (VAS) and one of the main organisers of this event.

“The workers’ portraits of each other and paintings of what ‘home’ means to them were complemented by displayed quotes from VAS instructors about their experiences interacting with the workers, and a screened video of the workshop process.”

Sherice Ngaserin (Class of 2018), a G Spot member and another main organiser, said that her group was inspired to organise CANVAS after witnessing the National Library Board’s Migrant Worker Poetry Competition held last year.

“The Migrant Worker Poetry Competition was an astounding initiative that reminded us of art’s power to humanise and break down barriers,” Sherice explained. “We knew from the beginning that the final product would hinge on [the workers’] experiences and aspirations, and we definitely wouldn’t have undertaken this project if we hadn’t been drawn to their powerful stories.”

Jolovan Wham, executive director of HOME, commented that the foreign domestic workers enjoyed themselves thoroughly.

“The women liked it so I am positive about the programme. It was a good opportunity for them to learn, do something different and express themselves,” he said.

Sherice added: “Some of the foreign domestic workers who attended the CANVAS exhibition were already asking us to do the workshops again next year… While we haven’t made any concrete plans, there has been some discussion about exploring different artistic mediums and increasing the scale of the project to accommodate more participants.”

By the end of the month, the Arts Fest had hosted a few workshops, including a theatre workshop by Ms Sharda Harrison; a songwriting showcase; performances by various groups; and plays put up by the Yale-NUS drama group, The Fifth Wall.

The festival ended with a closing ceremony held at the Multi-Purpose Hall (MPH), with many from the Yale-NUS community in attendance.

As for future arts festivals, Jevon shared that they would like to see even more open concepts applied to such events, so that each individual in the community would be included.

“We tried as much as possible to make the festival something that is by everyone as it is for everyone, but I think more can be done in this aspect,” he said. “Also, given that we’re a liberal arts college, it is only logical that we try to integrate the traditional camps of arts, sciences, humanities, and so forth! I do think that this integration is a worthwhile endeavour, for I believe that the arts, in one form or another, do have the potential to be meaningful for everyone.”

Watch a video of CANVAS here