Steve Dixon, Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore
Although contemporary art lags behind business and commerce in terms of popularity for international students, Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore has found a niche and is growing. The institution’s president, Steve Dixon, explains to The PIE why fine arts is bourgeoning in international education.
The PIE: What is the student make up of Lasalle College Singapore and its areas of focus?
Steve Dixon: We are 35% international and the rest are local. What’s fairly unique about us is we have all levels of courses from diploma to master’s and a very comprehensive range focused on the fine arts, design, and performing. The different disciplines are really crossing and we’re looking at more interdisciplinary practice. For example, it’s very natural for animators to work with actors, and do acting workshops themselves so they understand how the body moves in space.
We also interface with industry and the outside world and internationally far more. We’re looking for a majority of our students to go on exchange and there are opportunities for all students to go on international exchange – we’re linking up with lots of different international partners for that.
“In a lot of Southeast Asian countries, more arts institutions are popping up… because interest is increasing”
What we’ve always been about is melding East and West, understanding the local culture, local traditions, local art forms, but also Western art forms and then melding them and creating unique new forms.
We’re really making this a philosophy across the institution.
The PIE: How do you partner the practical and artistic together?
SD: I think it’s about putting all the right elements together and getting the right types of academic faculty. Typically the faculty here have been in the industry; it’s not absolutely necessary, but typically they’ll have been in the industry and they know what it takes.
The majority are very down to earth and very practical and pragmatic. They may also be dreamers; I’m an example. I’m feet on the ground and roll my sleeves up, but I’m also trying to be a visionary as hard as I can.
The PIE: Throughout history, people like Da Vinci were scientists and inventors as well as being artists. Is there a trend towards marrying those back up again?
SD: I think increasingly there is and I think it’s recognised not necessarily just within science but within business and commerce. Creativity is as important in a bank. I think it’s almost ubiquitous now that there is an understanding that there needs to be creativity [and] that actually the most successful companies are about people who know how to work with others, how to bring out good ideas. It’s well embedded now and the change happened probably 20 years ago.
My published research is all about technology and art so I’ve looked at this for many years. The different principles no longer apply or apply in different ways, and these ideas are very porous.
The PIE: Including for medium-sized and small-sized businesses?
SD: In general, unless a company or industry has a sense of creativity, it is unlikely to survive or prosper. As we move away from the old manufacturing industrial model and more to services, online, customer interaction or whatever it may be, that sense of creativity, those sparks of ideas, design, are all much more integral now to successful companies.
Even in medicine or other research areas, it’s creative people that crack codes and make things really work and discover the new.
The PIE: Why do students come to Lasalle?
SD: I think we have a growing reputation. There’s a recognition of the ambition here and the ambition we instil in the students. We’re writing our annual report for the year and you always look at awards, and we’re having a bit of a bumper year. For example, there are President’s Young Talents and we won three for music, dance and fine arts out of the five.
We won the UOB Painting of the Year which is a big painting contest. The Singapore Youth Award went to our singer and songwriter. We always do very well in the Theatre Awards here. And then we have two of our student films up for BAFTA Student Film Awards.
I don’t want to showoff it but I think these are the things that set us apart. It’s not that we’re just flag-waving. Those reputational recognitions really help, but also give the sense that we are a transformative place and we will support you to a very high degree. Students who may not have the very natural flair will really progress.
We are trying to create people with ideas and leaders. A good proportion of students go on to be entrepreneurs and set up their own companies or become leading figures in the arts, not only in Singapore but internationally. It’s those levels of ambition and the level of achievement that the alumni show.
The PIE: Is interest growing for contemporary art and art appreciation among international students?
SD: Totally. In a lot of Southeast Asian countries, more arts institutions are popping up or existing arts schools and equivalent colleges are growing because interest is increasing. In terms of fine arts or performing arts, there is a real renaissance in a lot of countries.
“In research areas, it’s creative people that crack codes and discover the new”
We also benefit from that in terms of the students that come here. There is generally increasing interest in art culture, creative industries, design; all the areas that we deal with and we’re starting to team up with international institutions to look at developing joint short courses or longer programs. There’s a lot of interest in that and leveraging our expertise and we’re helping to advise others and help build capacity in other countries.
The PIE: The college holds the Lasalle Show and allows the public to view students’ work. Why put on a show like this?
SD: Because they love it! Sometimes we can’t actually cope with the demand.
There’s a real buzz about these things and the industry participates. It’s important when industry representatives come that we also show the public want it as well. These are the key networking events and students are literally, after a show, hired to act or to be camera people. It’s very important from an industry point of view and also in terms of our profile.
The PIE: What areas are you looking at to provide opportunities for those interested in the arts?
SD: One thing we’re doing is more specialist professional courses which can be delivered outside or here. Space is at a premium, we have 100 short courses and we’re growing those and they’re very successful. We are developing lots of different different types of proposals.
Things like Art Walk in Little India are major events that we take out to the public and you’ll see murals, incredible performances, workshops, films, and live projections.
We are also looking at executive development, leadership training using art models and working with acting techniques and different techniques of that. There is a lot going on.
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