Visitors to Angeline Chan’s home can feast their eyes on works by a range of Singapore-based artists, from established icons like Vincent Leow and Milenko Prvacki, to emerging stars like Dawn Ng and Ruben Pang. You can even track the evolution of some artists whose pieces Chan and her husband Nick Davies – co-founders of Chan Hampe Galleries – have been collecting over a sustained period.
“It feels like we have gone through this evolution with them," she says. For Chan, this long-term perspective of artistic growth is one of the chief pleasures of being an art patron. It is a value she hopes to introduce to more budding art collectors through the Visual Arts Development Association (VADA), a non-profit that aims to help emerging artists and curators establish sustainable careers. Fostering a new generation of art patrons is a key focus for VADA, as collectors play an important role in a sustainable art ecosystem. “We want to help new patrons connect with artists, develop a good understanding of their practice, and start to build a long-term relationship," says Chan. To that end, 2016 Untapped Emerging, a show featuring nine new Singaporean artists, was held in June at Shophouse 5, a private gallery on the first floor of Chan’s Geylang home. Six art patrons provided the upfront funding for the show, and each collected one artwork from the exhibition.
This will be the first of what VADA hopes will be a series of shows structured in a similar way, where new artists not yet represented by galleries respond to an open call and the final selection is decided by a VADA committee. The patrons, meanwhile, are being sourced through word of mouth, thanks to the team’s contacts from Chan Hampe Galleries. “The patrons will be able to meet the artists at a preview, where the works will be presented and everyone can get to know one another," says Chan. “Beyond acting as a springboard for the artists, we also hope for patrons to get in on the ground floor when it comes to discovering new talent."
This emphasis on building personal relationships is a relatively new approach in Singapore’s art scene. While patron-provided funding has grown in recent years – the National Arts Council reported a total of S$53.8 million in contributions in 2014, an increase of over 67 per cent compared to 2013 – the most high-profile art patrons tend to be large corporations.
The Asian Civilisations Museum, for instance, has received much support from Hong Leong Foundation, the charity arm of Hong Leong Group. National Gallery Singapore also has high-profile corporate sponsors like DBS, UOB and Keppel Corporation.
Individual patrons also exist of course, and often make the news for donating million-dollar sums to museums or making record-breaking bids for works by superstar artists. But you don’t have to be fabulously wealthy to support the arts, and new voices need support just as much as glamorous institutions and established names. These are the messages that VADA hopes to amplify with its outreach to potential patrons.
Chan and Davies moved their base here eight years ago after a peripatetic life. “We have lived in many countries, and we always go to shows and museums because art is a way to understand these cultures. Along the way, we also started buying art, usually from emerging artists," says Chan. When she moved back home, however, she found it hard to find venues where she could check out homegrown emerging artists.
Chan Hampe Galleries was the first attempt to shine a spotlight on such artists. Along the way, Chan found her own appreciation of art deepening as she got to know artists better. She has spent hours chatting over coffee with artist Chankerk Teh, “talking about what makes it so difficult to succeed as an artist in Singapore", she says. Milenko, who is from the former Yugoslavia, shared with her that “in the society that he was immersed in there, everyone appreciated all sorts of art, and it became a part of your lifestyle. To be an artist was just another form of a career, neither more nor less than any other option", Chan recalls.
That is a culture that would benefit Singapore, she believes. “If you have the rat race coupled with this quiet appreciation, that could be a great balance." Such a cultural shift will likely take a few generations to achieve, she acknowledges, but adventurous art lovers who share this view already exist, and need to be nurtured. “There are already people who research artists meticulously, go to all their shows and buy something from each new series of work these artists produce. These are the patrons we want to grow."