Charlotte Koh on Fund Raising and Growth for The Arts

The National Arts Council is one of the biggest organisations that local companies turn to for grants and funding for their artistic endeavours. With a mission to inspire and spread the appreciation of the arts here, the governmental organisation has been expanding its reach to communities and having a hand in funding more arts festivals to promote accessibility.

But beyond knowing about the types of funding they provide, and the activities they do, how much do we really know about the people within the office and what they believe in for The Arts?

Popspoken speaks to Ms Charlotte Koh, deputy director of Communications and Marketing under Arts and Culture development office.

Popspoken: What’s your ambition as a child?

Charlotte: As a child, I always knew I had a penchant for storytelling. I’m known not to shy away from the spotlight, and wanted to pursue either a career in journalism or acting. Turns out that storytelling is a great asset to a good fundraiser. I see myself as an advocate for the causes I’ve fund raised for through the years and you cannot have one without the other, as fundraising and advocacy goes hand-in-hand. You are entrusted with personal stories of people who may not necessarily have a voice, and it is up to you to ensure their stories are heard and needs met.

Popspoken: Have you ever wanted to enter the Arts industry yourself as a performer or artist?

Charlotte: I have been fortunate to grow up with the arts in my life. From the age of 4, my mother had the foresight of giving me piano lessons as a potential source of alternative income “in case you don’t do well in your studies”. My love for the arts continued in my pursuit of doing arts and humanities in university, and now, I enjoy working on my pottery over weekends at a ceramic studio at the office.


Popspoken: How did you find yourself as the Deputy Director of Arts & Culture with NAC?

Charlotte: Both giving and asking people to give are deeply personal choices. I do not believe that you can be successful in a developmental role for something you care little for. Arts philanthropy is still nascent in Singapore, with majority of donors (80.9% ) giving to social and welfare, health and education causes. However, I believe that if more people can see the passion, talent, resilience and rigour displayed by our artists, as well as witness first hand, how people respond to the arts and how the arts have that power to change mind-sets, perspectives and bond communities, we would be able to encourage more people to support and nurture local talents.

Popspoken: How vital are art administrators to the eco-system of the arts industry here?

Charlotte: As with any professional industry, arts administrators are integral to the arts ecosystem. Sometimes, professional artists may lack the expertise and capabilities when it comes to operations, business development or fundraising, and arts administrators can help bridge this gap with their complementary skill sets. On a deeper level, arts administrators may also advise senior management and the board on strategic planning and management decisions. For this, arts administrators can steer the direction of arts organisations in their art making, to best work with the constantly changing external environments.

Arts administrators also act as a champion of the arts scene in Singapore. For the National Arts Council, we shape and grow the scene through our policies and support schemes. To nurture creative excellence and support broad audience engagement, we contribute to the eco-system through our comprehensive support of grants, partnerships, industry facilitation and arts housing.

Everyone has a part to play in helping to grow the local arts scene – artists, arts groups, intermediaries and arts administrators alike.

Popspoken: What is the most misunderstood aspect about your career?

Charlotte: Sometimes arts groups misunderstand the work that we do in the Arts and Culture Development Office. They either see us as a competitor for funds or see our office as a fundraising arm of the Council to fundraise collectively for the arts charities.

My role in the NAC is to ensure that artists get the resources that they need to seek private investment from the type of whales that buy Amazon shares, for their work. Not only do we help to advocate for arts philanthropy, we also provide funding through the Cultural Matching Fund, which is a dollar-for-dollar matching grant from the government for every dollar raised by eligible arts and heritage charities. Being the custodian of the CMF is a heavy responsibility that I do not take lightly. The CMF is a $350 million fund, and by the end of 2016, we have already given out more than $150 million to over 80 arts and heritage groups. The impact of the CMF can be felt across the arts sector and beneficiaries, and has certainly catalysed arts philanthropy in Singapore.

To complement that funding, we also focus on building fundraising capability for artists and arts organisations by providing workshops to share tips on building their case for support, online giving, donor stewardship and other best practices. My office also aims to forge corporate partnerships in the arts, and welcome both corporates and individuals to come speak to us and would link them up with the arts groups directly for partnership opportunities.

charlotte koh a list

Popspoken: What is one hope you have for the local scene in Singapore?

Charlotte: For every Singaporean to see arts as an integral part of their lives, and be proud of our local culture and artistic talents.

I was speaking to someone from Italy who was sharing her experience when she first re-located to Singapore some 10 years back, and she immediately felt the lack of arts in Singapore. Having grown up in Italy with a vibrant arts scene, it was apparent to her then that Singapore had a long way to go in building our culture scene. She noticed a big difference in Singapore today, with a crowded arts calendar of events, talented young local artists and new cultural institutions bringing in world-class exhibitions and performances.

I wish for all generations of Singaporeans going forward to always be surrounded by the beauty of arts and culture, and to incorporate the rich tapestry of arts experiences in their daily as the arts are meant to be shared with everyone.

Popspoken: Share with us any tips or insights you may have of looking for funding to facilitate art creation.

Charlotte: If you are not already on NAC’s Art of Giving network, which is a network set up by my office to bring arts fundraisers and development officers together, that would be a good first step in accessing resources on best practices in fundraising. We will be rolling out a comprehensive Art of Giving philanthropy track consisting of training and mentorship, in partnership with LaSalle, which will start in 2018. The course will cover the full end-to-end cycle of arts philanthropy with topics such as corporate sponsorship, foundation/ legacy giving, capital campaigns, crowdfunding and more.

On the note of resources, you may also like to refer to the arts philanthropy research findings available on NAC’s website, to better understand the motivations behind corporate and individual donors. For example, from our research on corporate giving in Singapore, we realised that MNCs in Singapore give for the preservation of culture for future generations, while SMEs give to promote creative expression and a more vibrant community . We also found out that for individual donors, some of the key barriers to donors not donating to the arts are low awareness and low interest in the arts.

Popspoken: In your opinion, what do think is the way to go to let the Arts flourish in Singapore?

Charlotte: All of us can play our part, whether it is watching a local arts performance, buying a local authored book, or collecting artworks by Singaporean artists. Arts patronage is important to ensure the sustainability of the arts sector in Singapore. In addition to cash, individuals and corporates can also contribute by volunteering their time and/or skill sets. With increased private giving to the arts, Singaporeans will have more ownership of an arts scene that we can all be proud of, and artists will also have more resources to create bigger and more ambitious works that push the boundaries of artistic excellence.

In addition to public support for the arts through cash and in-kind contributions, and participation and attendance at arts event, it is also important to bring Singapore arts beyond our shores, and we have been supporting our artists in their efforts to deepen their skills, connect to fellow practitioners and to share what they do with a wider audience by going abroad. Participation at internationally acclaimed festivals and exhibitions can help our artists connect with global audiences and critics; network with their international counterparts and forge new partnerships for training and development; elevate their art practices and even potentially gain from economic opportunities.

We all can play a part in supporting the growth and sustainability of our arts scene to ensure that it continues to flourish in Singapore.

Popspoken: In what ways can we further support artists looking to push their works overseas?

Charlotte: In recent years, NAC has initiated a wider variety of international programmes, to encourage cultural collaboration and exchange between Singapore and overseas arts scene. Some examples of past projects include a dedicated Singapore Pavilion in the Venice Biennale, and featuring our local artists in BIGSOUND Australia 2016 and the most recent OzAsia Festival. Many of the artists we have featured received critical acclaim abroad and there is much we can all do to continue supporting artists who would like to push their works overseas. It must first start with local support, in ways such as recognising the quality of our local artists and supporting them in their performances and showcases here. Our support offers them resources and confidence as they seek out international opportunities.

In supporting arts groups financially, it is a common misconception that you can only give to the arts if you are extremely wealthy or a large corporate organisation. In actuality, anybody can contribute to building up our arts scene by giving any amount big or small; to empower our local artists to grow their capabilities through cultural exchanges, and participate in showcase opportunities in our international markets.

Find out more about the National Arts Council and the work they do here.
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