Skip to main content

An artistic connection in Singapore

It’s about 9,500 miles from Bloomington to Singapore – the IU delegation’s third stop on its two-week presidential trip to Asia – but as last night’s record-setting alumni gathering here indicated, the connections between IU and Singapore are especially strong.

Following Ambassador David Carden's passionate remarks to IU Singaporean alumni about the importance of the arts, it was fitting that the IU delegation visited the School of the Arts-Singapore the next morning.

Following Ambassador David Carden’s passionate remarks to IU Singaporean alumni about the importance of the arts, it was fitting that the IU delegation visited the School of the Arts-Singapore the next morning.

Last night was a chance for around 100 of IU’s Singaporean alumni to reconnect with their alma mater, meet new and old friends, and hear about the recent happenings across IU as well as in the schools from which they earned their degrees.

Because so many alums in attendance studied and now work in in the fields of finance and business (Singapore boasts one of Asia’s most dynamic and diversified economies), the impressive growth and reputation of the nationally ranked IU Kelley School of Business was a natural topic of conversation. I myself had the pleasure of chatting with several other alums who shared my background in journalism about the establishment of IU’s new Media School, set to officially launch this summer.

IU’s efforts at greater internationalization and the specific activities of our time spent last week in China and Japan also were of great interest to a group that aims to send more Singaporean students to Indiana. And, of course, many more wanted to talk that common unifier of all alums, foreign or domestic: IU basketball. (I threw in our newly crowned Big Ten Champion baseball team, just for good measure.)

Amidst all of these different subjects, it was another subject, that of the arts, that wound up on center stage last night. This was in large part because of Ambassador David Carden’s eloquent and inspiring speech upon receiving the Thomas Hart Benton Medallion, named after the great Midwestern painter, from IU President Michael McRobbie. A Hoosier who went on to become the first ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Carden spoke about what Benton and his renowned mural paintings meant to him, the continued relevance of a liberal arts education and how the characteristics that have come to define great artists like Benton, including passion, creativity and reflection, also drive the best business innovations.

Following Carden’s remarks, it seemed fitting that the IU delegation make a final, early-morning stop before leaving Singapore to the School of the Arts-Singapore, the country’s first and only pre-tertiary specialized arts institution, founded a decade ago. The school seeks to nurture youths who exhibit special talent in the arts, and it currently offers a 6-year integrated academic and arts curriculum for those between the ages of 13-18.

Sign leading into the School of the Arts-Singapore.

Sign leading into the School of the Arts-Singapore.

Members of the IU delegation were treated to a tour of SOTA’s impressive nine-floor facility, which features a concert hall, drama theater, exhibition gallery, studio/black box theater. Several members of the delegation commented that the vast structure, which also includes a rooftop athletic field, felt more like a university complex or urban performing arts venue, not a high school. They also heard about the many successes of SOTA students, faculty and alumni, as well as the school’s holistic educational philosophy (H.I.P.P. – Humility, Integrity, People-centeredness and Passion) and innovative curriculum, which includes a newly established international baccalaureate degree for students who engage in career-related learning.

As current SOTA music faculty member Isaiah Koh told members of the delegation, the school has big plans to build upon its recent successes. It hopes to do so by sending more of its graduates to the best schools around the world, like IU’s world-renowned Jacobs School of Music. To this end, next month the school will send two students to participate in IU’s acclaimed Summer String Academy, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. SOTA also is opening its doors to the best art educators and international artists from around the world, in hopes they’ll come to Singapore to spearhead auditions, lessons, master classes and special workshops.

View from one of the top floors at the School of the Arts-Singapore.

View from one of the top floors at the School of the Arts-Singapore.

As has been the case during many of the meetings on this presidential trip to Asia, the get-together at SOTA offered a welcome opportunity for members of the IU delegation to experience, first-hand, a successful and innovative program and explore the idea of possible collaborative activities in the future. Regarding the latter, IU’s longstanding artistic traditions – as well as more recent developments such as the establishment of the IU Cinema in support of IU’s already strong film studies program; the joining of theater, drama and contemporary dance; and the growth of IU’s arts administration program – seemed particularly well matched with SOTA’s mission of celebrating experimentation, expression and discovery in the arts. Both sides agreed to continue talking about ways they might work together, and Koh, himself, told the group that he plans to be in Bloomington soon to get a glimpse of the Jacobs School of Music and other arts organizations on the IU campus.

From SOTA, it was on to the airport for the final leg of the trip, which will take members of the IU delegation to Vietnam and, finally, Hong Kong. Though the delegation’s time in Singapore was relatively short, the connections they made, both today at SOTA and yesterday evening at the alumni chapter gathering, artistic and otherwise, promise to last for a very long time.