Address by NTU President Prof Subra Suresh at the launch of the new Master of Arts in Museum Studies and Curatorial Practices​

Published on: 17-Jan-2018

Speech by

Professor Subra Suresh
President, Nanyang Technological University Singapore

Launch of Master of Arts in Museum Studies and Curatorial Practices

Asian Civilisations Museum
Wednesday, 17 January 2018, 7.30pm

Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth,

Your Excellencies,

Ms Chang Hwee Nee, Chief Executive Officer, National Heritage Board,

Colleagues of NTU, distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good evening and welcome to the launch of the new Master of Arts in Museum Studies and Curatorial Practices by Nanyang Technological University.

I was telling (NTU Vice President for Alumni and Advancement, and Dean of NTU's College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Professor) Alan (Chan) earlier that this is the third academic programme that we are announcing, and I’m only partially into my third week (as President of NTU). At this state, I wonder how many courses we will have at NTU by the time we are done!

I cannot think of a more appropriate venue for us to launch this new programme than here among the wonders and fine scholarship on display at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Thank you for your generosity in opening your doors to us this evening.

I am delighted that NTU is introducing this new programme with the strong support of the Economic Development Board, National Arts Council, and the National Heritage Board, and it is wonderful to see representatives from all these agencies in the audience tonight.

There is global consensus that we are now entering what policy makers, heads of state, industry leaders and many call Industry 4.0, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is simply the convergence of the digital world, the physical world and the biological world, with a pace that is unprecedented, scope that was hitherto unimaginable, and a reach that can potentially touch every citizen of the world – there are seven billion of us now, and in a couple of decades there will be nine billion of us. But history teaches us that at such moments, it pays to be careful, thoughtful, measured and circumspect.

Speaking as an engineer, adoption of technology cannot happen in isolation without any impact on humans and society. History has shown us how humans have used – and also equally misused and abused – intentionally or unintentionally technology. For every intended application of technology, there is always a possibility of unintended consequences.

At a time like this, what makes the fourth industrial revolution a point in time where we can potentially do something that enables us to learn from our past mistakes? I want to go back to something the US National Academy of Engineering did at the turn of the century. This body of about 2,000 eminent engineers in the US came up with a list of the 20 greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century, such as air conditioning, commercial aviation, nuclear energy, micro-electronics, the internet and cyberspace. Years later, the same body commissioned a group to come with a list of 14 grand challenges of the 21st century, and that included securing the cyberspace, containing nuclear terror, protecting the environment and so on.

So if you put the two lists side by side, many of the 14 grand challenges of the 21st century seem to be a consequence of the greatest achievements of the 20th century. That brings the question: If we were so smart in the last century to come up with these inventions, how likely is it that just in a few years, we will be much smarter to solve all those challenges we created unbeknownst to us, and stop us from creating new challenges of the 22nd century for our children and grandchildren?

Many people had different ideas on what we were missing. My view is that while we paid attention to technology, perhaps we did not pay attention to humans. Why am I mentioning this in an arts museum? Arts is one of the powerful ways to communicate human beings and humanity, the arts and social sciences, and technology offers us this possibility through digital means. It is a very powerful medium to express what we can do.

In fact, a few days from now, a delegation from Singapore will attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, where they will look into the consequences of the fourth industrial revolution. And one of the things that has been in discussion is the way in which we will connect technology with humanity. There is no better way to do so than through the arts. I’m really delighted Singapore has put so much emphasis into the arts over the years.

Over the years, I have also seen the growth of the creative industries in Singapore and around the region, in particular, museums, festivals, galleries and art markets and other art-related organisations have been developing and flourishing, which has led to a genuine demand for more professionally trained researchers, archivists, managers and curators to be educated here in Singapore.

The new Masters programme by NTU is intended to groom a new generation of museum professionals as well as arts and cultural thought-leaders. The curriculum is carefully modelled on the best programmes globally, but tailored for Singapore and the region. 

Our rigorous programme will allow graduates to explore art, culture and heritage in great depth, to gain experience and engage with research, and keep pace with the latest professional best practices. They will be well prepared for leadership roles in the management, administration, interpretation and development of heritage and the arts.

NTU will be able to leverage the expertise and first-class facilities we have in the School of Art, Design & Media and our Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, working in close partnership with the many museums, cultural spaces, organisations, and of course, the National Heritage Board. 

In launching this Masters, which starts in August, we intend to position NTU at the forefront of study and training within this exciting and growing interdisciplinary field internationally. It will help to attract leading faculty from around the world, and develop partnerships with arts organisations in Singapore. 

You could say that NTU has been paving the way for this unique master’s programme in the last few years. Two years ago, NTU’s College of Humanities, Social Sciences and the Arts launched a double major in Art History and English Literature which allowed Art History to be studied as an undergraduate major for the first time in Singapore, and it is at Nanyang Technological University!

Now we hope the programme will create wider visibility and scholarship on the significance of Art and Culture in South-east Asia and its rich cultural history.

On behalf of NTU, I would like to extend our sincerest thanks to the Economic Development Board, National Arts Council, and the National Heritage Board for working with us to make this programme possible; and to our donors and our Partner Institutions around the world who have generously agreed to host the students by providing them with invaluable hands-on experiences and exposure.

Their support and blessings give me great confidence that the future graduates of Museum Studies and Curatorial Practices will enrich our lives and our understanding of the arts, heritage and culture of our times. 

Thank you very much.​

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