It’s Official: I’ll be working at The National Art Gallery of Singapore

Photo courtesy of Gouldy99

For my friends on twitter, thank you for staying up to 1am EST (or 1pm in Singapore) to listen to my big news…

So after six months of fear and self-loathing, the big news is that I’ve finally found a dream job and will be moving back to Singapore for good. I’ve had a great nine year run in Buffalo, made incredible friends, and now it’s time to pack up and go.

As my housemate Jay puts it, I left Singapore for New York around age 24, and I return at 33. It’s been that long, but it’s been just as swell. If you’ve been following me online, you’ll know that I’ve been bidding farewells and visiting local museums. For the curious, here are the details of my new role…

What am I leaving the States for?
The National Art Gallery of Singapore.

The what…?
The National Art Gallery of Singapore, or TNAGS for short (pronounced “Tee-Nags” or “Snags” if you’re into silent letters). You might not have heard of it because it’s only expected to open around 2013. It’ll be taking over the former Supreme Court and City Hall (as seen above), which is undergoing a massive makeover to become Singapore’s new flagship Asian art gallery. Here’s a peek at the future architecture.

Why Singapore? Isn’t it better to work in the States?
It’s relative. Most of us recognize that the United States remains the epicenter of innovation (e.g. Apple iPad), but we’re starting to see other countries take the lead across different sectors. It’s important to go where the most relevant opportunities exists, and in my case, I found the greatest meaning returning home to Singapore.

Walter Lim, my friend, avid marketing blogger and director of corporate communication at the National Heritage Board, described this new entity to be fluid and experimental. They sought game-changers, and I wanted a job that gave me a hand in owning and growing a brand over time. It was a perfect fit.

What will I be doing there?
My official title will be Assistant Director, Strategy & Experience.

To get the big picture, Singapore has a diverse range of museums and art galleries, but the opportunity remains in turning the city island into a world-class cultural capital. The challenge makes this venture exciting. I see strategy and experience as the Ying and Yang of the role I’ll be playing.

The strategy component briefly involves developing TNAGS’ branding and purpose through broad, cross-sectional market research. Internally, I’ll be helping to develop policies and KPIs to shape corporate performance and forge synergy between the National Heritage Board’s (NHB) organizational elements. In geek speak, this gives me some access and editing privileges to the operating mechanics of the large organization.

The experience component is something that I highlighted at the job interview (which subsequently got added to my title). If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you’ll understand my interest in the co-evolution of technology and society, where I’ve read, written and performed instances of virtual presence, memory prosthetics, networked consciousness, and game mechanics.

Our social reality is constantly being reshaped as we discover new means of engaging one another (e.g. read/write web, online social networks). Likewise, how a museum or gallery exists in our social reality needs to stay relevant to how we communicate with one another. Of the five conceptual slides I was invited to present at the job interview, ideologies from Nina Simon’s new book, The Participatory Museum, became a definite point of reference for the future of museums…

The Participatory Museum

As you can see, much like how we understand brand engagement in social media, I see museums and art galleries as communal spaces that have to engage visitors in a participatory, even physical, fashion.

What you’re about to see is a preview of several concepts I presented to TNAGS. On this second slide, I proposed that artworks need to be turned into social objects, so conversations can easily continue to flow around them, extending their existence beyond the confines of the gallery…

TNAGS: Artwork as Social Objects

In the concept above, the QR coded artwork aren’t just used to pull up references, but to have visitors indicate their ‘likes’, share their experience around it, and in turn help them discover other visitors and artwork most related to them.

Game mechanics though interactive design would help architect user behavior, motivating visitors to challenge one another (e.g. Saatchi art gallery’s artwork battles via “Hot or Not” visitor ratings).

You can think of it as similar to FourSquare, but instead of geography, we are centering attention around objects.

To curators, this method also provides a level of analytics beyond current means of analyzing user behavior around the gallery, which may traditionally include analytics around head-counts and surveillance footage.

There are downsides to this idea, most glaringly being the mobile digital divide, so how this idea is executed is where much of the work will be.

Finally, being a place of cultural history, the gallery would also allow me to craft inherent mythologies towards consistent, synergistic experiences through transmedia works and alternate reality games (ARGs). I will have to explain this in detail at another time, but just I will leave you with this simple yet powerful diagram above by Robert Pratten as a teaser.

So when will I be back?
I’m busy packing as we speak. On the last week of April, I’ll be heading down to New York City to chat with a few amazing museum folks there. On the first week of May, I’ll be on a flight back to Singapore, and start work by the second week of May. It would be my honor to catch up and possible work with everyone back home.

I have to thank my parents…
For betting big on me. To my dad for inspiration as a veteran artist, and my mum for supporting me financially when I was out of work.

Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments…

36 thoughts on “It’s Official: I’ll be working at The National Art Gallery of Singapore

  1. Thanks guys! I'm such a lucky devil, not just for getting this job, but for having such surprisingly supportive friends! I'm glad that no one has yet found it strange for me to work at an art gallery 🙂

  2. Hey! So excited for you, Kevin! This sounds like an amazing opportunity for you, and I think it's going to be very interesting to watch what TNAGS is going to do, now that you're on the team, and you know we're all big fans of your ideas. All the best. Enjoy the few weeks in the US (I'm sure you'll be able to now that you're relieved that the job hunt is over), and have a safe journey back home. Congratulations on your appointment, and I'm looking forward to speaking with you again in person, soon! 🙂

  3. Great news. I’m not the biggest museum fan, but from your thinking above I just might want to pay your new workplace a visit. Congrats dude, and it’s always nice to know you’re only a local call away. (No more midnight Skype calls to Buffalo!)

  4. Wow! I am excited about the QR coded exhibits. Way to make the museum/gallery visiting experience fun and social, Kevin!

  5. I am so excited for you! And if I ever get to that side of the planet, I would love to see this amazing new museum. Best of luck! Buffalo’s loss is Singapore’s gain!

  6. Congratulations Kevin!! It’s been great hanging out with you the past few years! I’m sure we’ll all get together again before you leave, and hopefully even that won’t be the last time!

  7. Congrats on your appointment. Will be curious to see if you can get visitors to use QR codes. On the library side, there is quite a lot of buzz on this as well, though a recent survey by University of Bath indicates only 14% of students know what it is, and only 0.2% have used it

    1. Aaron, thanks for the insight. Before we go deeper, I wish to explain that this is a conceptual idea meant to demonstrate my thought process. Nothing is set in stone. OK, now that that's out of the way, let's continue…

      As you probably know, QR codes aren't new at all, and it's not surprising that not everyone is aware, or let alone uses it. Because of this, we'll have to study how such tags would be adopted in the Singapore setting. Part of the goal of this gallery would be to keep traditional users, while finding new ones, who (for now until proper studies are conducted) could be young, mobile, and tech savvy. Visitors differ in levels of sophistication as well as expectations, and part of my job would be to engage each segment.

      From time to time I'll put out ideas which could be relevant for the library industry as well. Keep your thoughts coming 🙂

  8. oh dear dear kevin! this sounds so good! After reading your blog for so many years (you sitting in some random staircase, with your ibook/macbook…. having various parties with lots of singaporean food…), the toil and toil… you've finally made it.

    No, this is not the end, but yet another beginning of yet another chapter in your life. on the one hand, I kind of feel sad for you, the knowledge of leaving a place you have called home for the last 9 years and a certain lifestyle that you were used to. on the other hand, I also acknowledge the joy you would be facing for returning home to family and friends and a society and culture that you grew up with.

    I am glad you chose to go back to Singapore for Singapore is indeed needing some of their talents to return – and you are definitely talented and driven for their art gallery to be a success. you have both vision and drive, so here's to you and all the best!

    1. Sounds like we've been together for a very loooong time! I too see this as a new chapter, a very welcomed one. Well, this gallery would be another reason for you to stop by Singapore 😉

  9. I saw this just now! Congratulations! Cant wait to see what you can do at The National Art Gallery of Singapore!

  10. This is great Kevin -) Definitely looking for more learnings from you in this new role that seems to fit all your interests -)

  11. Hey Kevin! Walter was just talking to me a few days back about his vision for TNAGS and I was deeply excited! Then he dropped me the news that you are joining him and after reading this post I’m getting even more excited than ever about all these. Haha like your point about Transmedia and Participatory Culture. I was thinking Henry Jenkins’ book “Convergence Culture” over and over while reading through the post.

    I’m sure by the time the museum is ready, you’d have a lot more interaction technologies to play with and perhaps QR codes, Augmented Reality etc would have become mainstream! Sounds like it is gonna be one really game-changing museum! 😀 Looking forward to the storyteller museum of the future ^_~

    And congrats for nailing the job! It is soooo you! 😀

Comments are closed.