Be Sensitive But Confident In Navigating Diversity

Be Sensitive But Confident In Navigating Diversity
Chief Executive Officer, National Arts Council, March 2017–present
Chief Executive Officer, National Heritage Board, March 2013–present
Deputy Secretary (Culture), Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, November 2012–present 

Dear young officer,

From my experience over the past 30 years in the public sector, and from where I am today in the arts and culture, I see this to be an important time for us to stand together as a community confident of navigating difficult issues of race, ethnicity and diversity.

Increased racial and religious tensions worldwide show us too many instances of how the fragile peace in a country or a community can be shattered in one careless moment. In the face of such challenges, we can be proud that we belong to a country that has always respected and celebrated our diversity.

We can be confident that we work in a public sector that assures our officers they work in a fair and meritocratic system that rewards all equally, regardless of background. The public sector in turn has the responsibility to ensure that Singapore remains an open, multiracial and multi-religious society. These values must continue to guide our policies, and how we engage the public as well as our fellow colleagues and friends.

At the National Heritage Board (NHB) and the National Arts Council (NAC), we have the opportunity of constantly rediscovering and presenting the richness of our multiracial heritage. Where many sidestep the issue of race and ethnicity, it is at the core of what we do. Our museums and heritage institutions, art galleries and theatres showcase the complex and interwoven nature of our multicultural roots. Race is one among many strands that define us. Our narratives cover the high and low points over 700 years of our history, and grapple with societal issues that can either unify or divide communities. In telling these stories, the arts and heritage contribute to a deeper understanding of where we came from, who we are and where the future could be depending on the choices we make today.

Our work as NHB and NAC officers calls for sensitivity in acknowledging differences, and confidence in drawing out commonalities to bridge divides and celebrate diversity. We undertake research, design inclusive programmes and engage all segments of the community

We can be confident that we work in a public sector that assures our officers they work in a fair and meritocratic system that rewards all equally, regardless of background.

actively so that we understand their concerns and have their support in what we do. We aspire to achieve excellence while seeking to reach out to all. Our work across the visual, performing and literary arts, as well as heritage preservation and commemoration, are anchored on the objectives of building shared experiences to connect communities and build a confident nation.

For Singapore, diversity has always shaped our identities as well as experiences. Even where we share a similar heritage, no one person’s history or experience of race is identical to another. Multiculturalism, in this regard, is always a work in progress and hence we cannot afford to be complacent of past successes. We have succeeded thus far as a multiracial and multi-religious community; our actions now and the legacies we leave behind will decide whether we continue to remain so. We have and can come together if we are bound by common aspirations and values.

SG50 was an opportune moment to celebrate our multicultural heritage. Now, two years after, we should hold on to the values that bind us together. Our history as an independent nation is, much like SG50 itself, the sum of many parts and players bound together as one. I hope that like those of us who serve in the arts and heritage, you will in your different areas of work confidently to navigate diversity and in doing so, bring out what unifies us as a country and people.

    Apr 4, 2017
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