Chong Siak Ching
CEO of National Gallery Singapore and head of Visual Arts Cluster Singapore
Despite her initial misgivings about heading the National Gallery, Chong Siak Ching proved her mettle very soon after stepping into the role of chief executive officer in 2013. Although the former president and CEO of space solutions provider Ascendas lacked a professional background in arts, the National Gallery has, under her stewardship, spread its wings far and wide since opening in 2015.
Early milestones include long-term exhibitions on the historical development of art in Singapore and Southeast Asia, as well as collaborations with world-renowned museums like Tate Britain that helped place Singapore on the global art map. In 2017, the National Gallery showcased legendary impressionist painters such as Claude Monet and Édouard Manet when it staged Colours of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay. In 2018, the National Gallery had its first travelling show, Latiff Mohidin: Pago Pago, featuring the works of the Malaysian painter-poet, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. In recognition of her efforts, the French government conferred the Order of Arts and Letters on Siak Ching in January 2020.
While Siak Ching has raised the profile of Singapore in the global art scene, engagement of the local population is a subject very close to her heart. One of Siak Ching’s key mandates is to make art more accessible and appealing to a wider audience.
Recognising that more than 80 per cent of Singaporeans live in public housing, the National Gallery launched The People’s Gallery last November. It is a project that turns void decks into gateways to art. Devised and created by MullenLowe Singapore, the initiative has transformed 25 open spaces across eight heartland neighbourhoods like Bishan, Marine Parade and Yishun into public galleries of artworks by Singaporean and Southeast Asian artists, using QR codes and AR technology.
Siak Ching is also passionate about nurturing the next generation of art stalwarts. Under her charge, Kolektif, a youth collective programme that the CEO refers to as her “younger colleagues’ brainchild”, was hatched and launched. “Through a nine-month learning and development experience for youth volunteers aged 17 to 25, our young colleagues mentor these youth volunteers and empower them to create and design programmes, which we then launch at our Light to Night Festival,” she elaborates. “It is an excellent example of empowerment and mentoring in action.”
Even with a very full plate, Siak Ching finds time to mentor young professionals in other industries. Under the Young Women’s Leadership Connection’s mentorship programme, she took Kelley Wong, another Women of Power luminary, under her wing in 2019. “The programme is a two-way street. I find myself learning from my mentee, and getting a better understanding of the challenges that they face in their work at their current phase of their career,” says Siak Ching, adding that this has put her in a better place to address the challenges her own colleagues face.