Eight Months In, or the Insidious-Amazing Way in which the Museum just creeps into your System and TAKES OVER

1 - Joseon Korea 2

JOSEON KOREA – COURT TREASURES & CITY LIFE, 22 Apr – 23 Jul 2017.  Beautifully curated by the lead curator for the exhibition, Ms Kan Shuyi.

When I first got the job, someone – a good friend of mine who just so happens to be the other Director of a National Museum (there aren’t that many – you know who you are) warned me that I would get “sucked” into the job; that soon enough I wouldn’t be able to draw the line.

Eight months into the job, I have to say she was absolutely right. I have been so firmly and irrevocably “sucked into” the museum that I’m beginning to spend most of my waking hours at and on ACM, and even dream ACM in my sleep.

Funnily enough, I don’t seem to mind.

There were times, in the initial months on the job, when I would wake up in the morning, and find myself unable to get out of bed because of the sheer weight of responsibility that fell, and still falls, on my (not particularly broad) shoulders.

Let me elaborate and in so doing, demystify the ways of the Museum:

  • I had a responsibility to the public, first and foremost; to ensure that they felt welcome and comfortable in the Museum; that they would see it as a place they could spend time with friends and family in, to hang out and have fun in, to learn or discover something surprising in.   BRING (MORE) VISITORS IN. 
  • I had a responsibility to each and every work of art displayed in the galleries; a responsibility to tell their story in a way that was unique to each of them, and in a way that inspired visitors and best communicated the sense of wonder inherent in working with real art and artefacts from the past.  MAKE COLLECTION (MORE) RELEVANT.
  • I had a responsibility to my board, my patrons and my funders; to ensure that their investment (of time and / or of money) reaped commensurate returns; that they would continue to see the museum as a worthwhile vehicle for investment.   KEEP PATRONS (MORE) INVESTED. 
  • I had a responsibility to the Museum as an Institution; to ensure that I furthered the Mission of the Museum, as had been handed down to me by my predecessor and by his predecessor before him; that we kept up academic standards and continued to contribute new knowledge and research to the field.  FURTHER MUSEUM’S INTELLECTUAL MISSION.
  • I had a responsibility to our clients (e.g. corporate rental clients) and our partners (e.g. international museum partners and private collectors), who expect only the best standards of exhibition display, design, lighting, facilities, customer service, visitor services, security etc.  RAISE PROFESSIONAL & SERVICE STANDARDS. 
  • I had a responsibility to keep the museum afloat financially, so that we can afford to do the exhibitions we want to do; the programmes we want to offer the public and the kids; and so that we can afford to pay our staff what they deserve to be paid. RAISE (MORE) INCOME.
  • I had a responsibility to lay out plans for and complete a very complex schedule of total refreshes of permanent galleries and balance that with a very crowded schedule of special exhibitions.  FINISH PERMANENT GALLERIES FASTER. 
  • And most important of all, I had a responsibility to my team at the museums, who all have their individual hopes and dreams for themselves and the museum; and whose professionalism and passion I felt I had to live up to.  INSPIRE AND ENGAGE STAFF. 

Did I already mention that all this was a lot of responsibility?

Yeah. This is a lot of RESPONSIBILITY.

But then as I lay in bed each time in those initial months on the job, thinking about whether or not to get up or to throw in the towel, I was reminded of my teams at the museum – their love and passion for the job, their unstinting commitment to their profession, and their ability to be there, doing what they do, day-in-day-out, weekdays and weekends, daytime and evening.  YES, the MUSEUM is a 24/7 kind of profession.  

And I thought also of our docents and museum volunteers, who don’t need to give their valuable time to the museum, but who do spend almost all the time that they can spare at the museum, imparting knowledge and wonder to our visitors.

And I thought of all the amazing and breathtakingly beautiful works of art in the galleries – the (hi)stories yet to be told with them, and just how much I enjoy spending time with them, peering at every single exquisite detail and pondering just what each of these details could mean.

And I would then drag myself out of bed to face the day.

It has not been easy.

In fact it has been very hard. I have been utterly exhausted.

The hardest part about the job has been the sacrifice of personal time – I work most evenings and weekends – and the need to maintain a general attitude of cheerfulness, optimism and positivity every day of the week, every hour of the day.  And when I’m not at the Museum, I’m writing opinion pieces, articles, responding to email interviews, composing blog-posts like this one, to further understanding of the Museum and its Mission.

There is no down-time.

But then I look at what I have experienced in the last eight months, and I am amazed and humbled alike by the opportunities I’ve been given. These experiences have been life-changing. Just to give an example: the first exhibition I opened as Director related to a subject dear to my heart; the second exhibition I opened was graced by a legendary world leader; and the third exhibition I opened was in New York City!!

And OF COURSE, I continue to be inspired and humbled also by my colleagues and by the many stakeholders and concerned persons – I must have met and spoken to at least 300 persons at this point! – who have nothing by love and concern for the museum, and who expect nothing but good things from me.

And so I work hard and even harder and even harder yet, because I know that it is a tremendous privilege to have this job; because I know I cannot let any one of my colleagues and our stakeholders down; and because I know that however heavy the responsibility, it is now my responsibility and I will do all I can to live up to it.

I am so proud of the museum and of everyone who works in it! So proud!

Die lah. How?

I’m totally “sucked into” the museum, now.  Confirm.

There’s no turning back.  =)

2 - Joseon Korea Opening

Pansori performance at last Friday’s opening of JOSEON KOREA – COURT TREASURES & CITY LIFE.  The opening itself was organised by ACM’s awesome Marketing & Comms team.

4 - Ran

BECOMING AGAIN; COMING TOGETHER by Ran Hwang – contemporary art installation commissioned (by Mr Bernard Tan, our wonderful Head of Audience and Curator of Contemporary Art Interventions) in conjunction with JOSEON KOREA.

5 - Noreum MAchi

Noreum Machi on the ACM Riverfront. Part of our Asian Culture & Music Series presenting Asian Traditional Performing Arts on the Riverfront against the contemporary Singapore skyline.  Helmed by the AMAZING ACM Audience Team.

6 - Asia Society

Delivering opening remarks at SECRETS OF THE SEA – A TANG SHIPWRECK AND EARLY TRADE IN ASIA exhibition opening at Asia Society New York, 6th March 2017. This was my third exhibition opening as Director. Thank you to Asia Society for the opportunity.

7 - Tang Shipwreck

View of one of the star pieces from our Tang Shipwreck Collection, in the beautifully curated – jointly by ACM and Asia Society curators – SECRETS OF THE SEA exhibition at Asia Society New York.

8 - Asia Week NY

I had the privilege to be at Asia Week New York with our Principal Curator, Ms Theresa McCullough. A monumental (human-sized) 12th century Pala Avalokiteshvara came up at auction at Christie’s during Asia Week in New York in March 2017. This was a once in a lifetime type of sale. Sadly, it went under the hammer at an astronomical price to a private collector (most probably).

9 - 2017-AsemusGC-OpeningCeremony-BP

On the panel of the Asia-Europe Museums Network (ASEMUS) General Conference in New Delhi, 15 – 17 Mar 2017. I am the Vice-Chair and will take over as Chair of ASEMUS this November. I have the distinct privilege of working with a wonderful Chairperson, Ms Fionnuala Croke, Director of Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, and the very dynamic Ms Anupama Sekhar, Director of the Culture Department at the Asia- Europe Foundation (ASEF).

10 - Myanmar

Providing an overview of the CITIES & KINGS – ANCIENT TREASURES FROM MYANMAR exhibition to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the exhibition opening, 1 Dec 2016. The two world leaders were our Guests of Honour. This was only the second exhibition I opened as Director.  The lead curator for the exhibition & our resident archaeologist, Dr Stephen Murphy stands at front (back to camera).

11 - Buddha

A sacred 12th century Buddha from Bagan was one of the highlights of the CITIES & KINGS exhibitions. Burmese guests would leave flowers as offerings to the Buddha. Beautifully installed by the Collections & Exhibitions team.

12 - Cities and Kings

The designs for the CITIES & KINGS exhibition, done in-house by our wonderful design team.

13 - Directors Travel Journal

The first exhibition I opened as Director was PORT CITIES – MULTI-CULTURAL EMPORIUMS OF ASIA, 1500 – 1900. This was entirely up my alley as I had been researching and travelling to these Asian port cities for years now. I had the pleasure to do a series of talks and tours for the exhibition. The exhibition itself was curated by Guest Curator, Mr Peter Lee and ACM Curators, Mr Clement Onn and Ms Naomi Wang.

14 - PRestige

I wrote quite a few opinion pieces and took on many interviews to promote PORT CITIES. This is my favourite opinion piece, which was published in PRESTIGE. It was about my search for identity, and how it led me to Asian port cities, and finally to ACM.

15 - The Edge

This article in THE EDGE was THE BEST and my favourite interview of all the interviews done during my early months as Director, and to promote the PORT CITIES interview. Its also the only article thus far that captures what I see as one of my key challenges – MAKING ASIAN ANTIQUITIES SEXY (AGAIN).

16 - Trade Paintings

To demystify artefacts in the museum and make a strong point about breaking down barriers to access, I did a series of 8 online videos, each featuring one artefact (4 from National Museum of Singapore and 4 from ACM). 5 have aired so far. This one features the China Export Paintings, particularly the views of Amoy (Xiamen) and Foochow, where my maternal and paternal grandfathers hailed from.   [OK, if the National Heritage Board Comms & Digital team did not insist, I would never have done any of these.]

Link: https://roots.sg/Roots/learn/resources/Videos/rootssg-presents-amoy-and-fuzhou-a-history-in-paintings

17 - Hong Bowl

This episode featured the Canton Hong Bowl. I used it to talk about the Opium War and the opening up of the Treaty Ports in China, from whence many Chinese Singaporeans hailed.

LINK: https://roots.sg/Roots/learn/resources/Videos/rootssg-presents-the-hongs-of-canton

18 - Jackson Plan

This episode was about the Jackson Plan, and I acknowledge the colonial roots of Singapore’s urban planning, as well as the debt owed to urban planner in the cities of British India (Calcutta, Madras, Bombay).

LINK: https://roots.sg/Roots/learn/resources/Videos/rootssg-presents-the-jackson-plan

19 - Raffles

In this, the very first episode, I tackled the Portrait of Sir Stamford Raffles from an art historical perspective, and reveal how the portrait is not about Singapore at all, but commemorates Raffles’ achievements in Java.

LINK: https://roots.sg/Roots/learn/resources/Videos/rootssg-presents-the-story-of-raffles

20 - ACM

The most recent intervention I’ve made is to introduce Introduction Panels at the museum’s lobbies, to tell the visitor what ACM is about. Edited by our awesome editor, Mr Richard Lingner.

Joseon More

And once again: JOSEON KOREA – COURT TREASURES & CITY LIFE, 22 Apr – 23 Jul. Just in case you didn’t get my hint to come see the exhibition already!!


About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.
This entry was posted in Art & Architecture, Cities & Regions, Culture & Lifestyle, Heritage, Home, Landmarks & History, Southeast ASia and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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