A non-museum trained person who heads a museum


Mr Sabapathy speaks candidly, in 2013, about how

1) local museums are booming, but yet there are not many local institutions that produce trained curators, museo-logists etc that are supposed to fill these specialized roles in these institutions, and

2) how non-museum/curator/art trained professionals are hired to the most senior positions in local museums.

For point 1) I think locals who are adequately trained overseas are good enough for the museums, and so are foreigners who are similarly trained and are also sympathetic to local museum-conditions. I think that these foreign-trained museum staff do bring a certain level of cosmopolitanism that the museum-world requires. But having said that, the point is true that why not have local more institutions giving degrees in museology/art/curation/conservation etc since there is obviously a need in the local industries for these professionals.

For point 2, there is of course the argument for ‘transferrable skills’. Just like how a bank may hire an engineer/architect etc to be a banker, because they may have valuable ‘non-banking’ perspectives on banking, a non-museum/art person may also bring such perspectives that are important to local museums.

But then again, like Mr S said in the video, how would you feel about the senior management in a hospital being populated with curators/museum-trained people, with the same argument that they bring uniquely ‘non-hospital’ perspectives on running a hospital? None of us would buy that. Then why do we think nothing of getting non-museum trained/experienced people to helm some of our local museums, such as the National Gallery? Are we saying that unlike hospitals, the skills needed to run museums in Singapore are so generic that anyone senior enough would do, even if they are newbies to the museum-scene?

But of course the flip side is that even when we hire curators to helm museums, they also may not stay. Think of Dr Alan Chong of ACM and Dr Susie Lingham of SAM; they are eminently qualified in the correct fields to guide the museums on the appropriate theoretical/practical trajectories, but yet these 2 didn’t stay too long in their jobs. Can it be possible that curators are not up to the mark on the technical/administrative rigours of running a museum, or that the local museum-structures do not know how to retain the ‘right’ people?

For the moment, I’m pondering about the thinking behind the appointment of ACM’s incoming director  Kennie Ting. He has a BA in Econs/English and an MA in Urban Studies. So it seems that he doesn’t any tertiary training in art/museology etc (please correct me if I’m wrong here). He’s got many years in heritage policy-making but I don’t think he has any direct experience working IN a museum. Let’s see how his transferrable skills work in ACM. What the heck, since Kennie is good enough for ACM, his next job may be to run Singtel or SGH?

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