Having recently emerged from a lockdown, I’ve found myself actually missing those days spent at home alone, leisurely exploring my own private universe.
As much as I missed being at the museum and my office, I have – surprisingly – returned to the office somewhat half-heartedly.
And it isn’t just because, like everyone else, I’ve gotten used to working from home, at least some part of the time.
It’s because I’ve gotten used to a new version of Me that I like much better than the version I appear to have left behind in the office in April, when we shut down.
Ever since I joined the museum as its Director in 2016, my main task at the museum has been public and stakeholder cultivation and engagement.
My role has primarily been (to be) the Public Face of the Museum. I spent the majority of my working hours engaging with and entertaining the public and community, docents and volunteers, board members, government officials and politicians, donors and patrons, ambassadors and diplomats, fellow museum colleagues elsewhere in the world, collectors and academics, media and influencers… the list goes on.
The goal of all this engagement was to raise funds for the museum in order that we may achieve the vision that I had laid out for the museum. But also, importantly, to convince museums and collectors worldwide to lend us objects, or partner us – in the case of Chinese couturière, Guo Pei, for example – in our exhibitions and programmes.
Engagement was also in order to actively position, profile and trumpet the museum’s role, distinctiveness and importance to Singapore(ans) and to the world – and in so doing, drive footfall and raise affection and critical regard for the museum.
Even as I was out there engaging, I was still concerned with raising and maintaining standards of curatorship, research, design and programming – in the particular, I was insistent on the originality of curatorial, research, design and programming, and additionally, on beauty in design.
I’m happy to say that as of this point in time, I have achieved everything I had set out to achieve for the museum when I first set foot in it in 2016.
Not only has a multi-year refresh of the Museum, and a dramatic re-positioning of its role and brand identity, been completed, we also attained our second-highest-ever footfall in 2019; and we were all set to surpass it this year before the virus struck.
We have succeeded in raising just about enough funds to support all of our exhibition and programming plans and aspirations till 2023.
And we have managed to establish a brand that speaks strongly of quality, originality, beauty and distinctiveness in our collections, research, publications, exhibitions and programming.
All this was achieved through the brilliance, hard work, determination and commitment of my team at the museum, against all odds, and despite us being an extremely lean team for a museum in Singapore.
This could not have been done also, without our CEO and our colleagues at the National Heritage Board, our Chairman, and all of our museum’s Board Members, Patrons, Donors and Supporters.
2019 was a spectacular year, and 2020 on the whole, has been a good one too, despite all. I owe it to my team and to myself to slow down.
So why is it that upon returning to the museum I find myself reverting to this workaholic, demanding, slightly off-kilter self that I worked so hard to get away from late last year?
Yes, that’s why I’ve had some reservations with returning to office.
I’ve had enough of that old Kennie that lurked there.
And so has everyone on the team.
Alright then, I’m going to – finally – make my resolution for the year.
Yes, I started off 2020 without making a resolution.
For the rest of 2020, I shall READ AND WRITE MORE, even at work. Particularly at work and for work.
The best part of my job at the museum; the part I love the most, is reading and writing about art, history, culture, heritage; and especially, about ACM’s collection. And so I resolve to do this more… much, much more this year.
Because I love doing it.
And when does what one loves; when one respects one’s self more, one has more love and respect to give others.
I had a chance to read and write extensively during the Circuit Breaker while I was stuck at home.
I brought loads of exhibition catalogues home to read – my office has shelf upon shelf of museum exhibition catalogues that I’ve bought with every intention to read though I never did ‘cos I felt guilty just reading on the job. I believed I should be out on my feet, publicising and fundraising.
But, having been stuck-at-home completely for more than two months, my attitude has changed. I believe now that reading, especially if it’s about art, culture, heritage and history, is CORE WORK.
While on lockdown, I also managed to write a whole new book for the museum. A small book, but a book nonetheless.
That was such a joy to do!!
This opportunity to write calmed me down tremendously and worked wonders for my general state of my mind.
I wish I could do more writing. I wish I could write a bit everyday!
And I suppose there’s nothing stopping me from just proposing that I wish to write another book for the museum!
* * *
I also resolve, for the rest of 2020, to GIVE MORE THANKS, especially where it is deserved.
I’m so thankful, for example, that I am alive and healthy, and that I live here, in Singapore, where the COVID-19 situation has been managed well, on the whole.
I’m thankful for my parents – I recently reached out to both my parents again after having stayed away for almost a year. I must say that their reactions to what I had to say about my childhood have thus far been more positive and nurturing than I expected. Though the conversation between us has only just begun.
I’m thankful to my brother and his family – with whom I looked forward to chatting with so much during the lockdown. Now that we are out and about, I love going to their place and feeling at home with them and the children.
I’m thankful for my friends – with whom I’ve had virtual calls in lockdown that kept me going; and with whom I can finally meet up in person again, now that lockdown has been lifted.
I’m thankful for love – for having met someone just before the lockdown, for having been able to sustain this connection, albeit virtually (again), during the lockdown, and for the open-ness and willingness on the part of both of us to talk through our similarities and differences, now that lockdown is over and we can see each other.
But my DEEPEST AND MOST PROFUSE THANKS go to everyone at the Museum – because they have been the architects of the museum’s growth and resounding success these last four years.
I give THANKS to the Museum’s Senior Management Team, for holding the fort and galvanising their teams even at our most challenging times; and at times when I, unfortunately, was the Challenge. I am proud to serve the Museum with all of you.
I give THANKS to each and every person who works at the Museum, for giving their all to ensuring that our public always feels welcome and engaged; that our stories are always unique and compelling; that our objects and exhibitions always take one’s breath away with their beauty; and that the museum and everything in it has remained safe from harm.
I’ve been so proud of everyone this year too, as we navigated the challenges of COVID-19 together; and frequently took the lead in changing and adapting to the emerging “new normal”, but never ever doing this with too much fanfare and showiness.
I promise you all that I will be doing so much more in the way of GIVING THANKS to all of you in the months to come.
Since we’re at the museum, it is important to also give thanks to those of a more spiritual and ethereal persuasion.
And so a big THANK YOU to all the assembled god(desse)s, deities, spirits, ancestors, energies in ACM’s Faith & Belief Galleries (and elsewhere) who have kept us all (and kept Singapore) safe and sound this year. I appeal to you to please continue to keep us all safe, sound and healthy in 2020.
* * *
Yes, these few weeks of being back at the museum have seen things slowly creeping back to normal.
But there’s no reason why I need to continue working at the pace I used to and with that perfectionist streak I had, since we’ve already achieved everything we need to; and in any case, the entire world itself has changed.
The “new normal” needs to also be applied to myself.
So I shall spend more time at home and in my office, reading and writing. And then reading and writing some more.
Reading and Writing more marries self-care and meaningful work for me.
And a better (self-)cared-for Kennie, makes for a much better, more compassionate and people-oriented D/ACM; a D/ACM able to let go, to empower, and to allow for spontaneity and creative dialogue.
I’m still going to do what I need to do. In particular, I still enjoy recording videos of the museum and its objects; and taking patrons and guests on tours of the museum. I enjoy anything that keeps me close to the objects.
But I shall pick and choose what I do even more, even in this space.
And above all, I shall give thanks, more freely and more frequently.
Here’s to a more compassionate and caring 2020 for myself and for everyone I know.