How Talenia Phua Gajardo and Ben Jones are Giving Singapore Artists More Exposure
When Ben Jones, the co-founder and CEO of Mandala Group, the new partner and co-manager of Straits Clan, and his team were looking for ways to support the arts community in Singapore, they found the answer from inside the fold: “We realised that we were in this extremely rare position of having some spare real estate within the building.”
Together with Talenia Phua Gajardo, the founder and CEO of art and design consultancy and online gallery The Artling, they went about converting the space on the third floor of the club in Bukit Pasoh into a Creative Studio, a platform to grow the exposure of artists and creatives, and encourage them to collaborate on new works, while also engaging with club members.
“Over the past year, we saw that quite a number of studios were no longer accessible—and that a lot of artists and creatives were working from home and didn’t have access to their usual spaces. The Creative Studio is a starting point to giving the creative scene a little bit more exposure,” shares Phua Gajardo. The Artling has been a long-standing partner of Straits Clan, which is part of hospitality company The Lo & Behold Group, since its early days, helping to put together the club’s art collection. This latest collaboration will form a part of the larger Straits Clan Arts Programme.
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“Arts and culture have always been critically important to the community within Straits Clan as well as our business Mandala. We have a really great arts community within the club, from artists and curators, to gallerists and collectors, to those who have an interest in art but maybe not a great deal of familiarity or exposure. So I feel like it is our responsibility to work on a programme where we can provide access across the full-spectrum of engagement,” explains Jones. “And even though we are a private club—by definition, that sort of implies that we are closed doors—we want to develop our programmes in such a way that we provide public access to art.”
For the launch of the Creative Studio in January, four up-and-coming artists: Dawn Ang aka Aeropalmics, Tiffany Loy, Masuri Mazlan and André Wee were hand-picked, by a selection committee consisting of Jones and Phua Gajardo, as well as The Artling’s gallery director Kim Tay and Straits Clan Arts Programme consultant Camilla Hewitson, as the first participants of the inaugural four-month residency programme. The artists will mount a show of new works produced at the end of the residency period.
“We have deliberately selected artists and creatives who are quite different; they are all unique in their own ways,” says Phua Gajardo. While they each touch on different narratives in their work, they are all exploring various materiality and media, from pencil and paper cuts (Aeropalmics) to woven textiles (Loy), to sculptural paintings (Masuri) and even digital art with augmented reality (Wee).
Beyond the Creative Studio, Straits Clan has also created a line-up of programmes, which is aimed at positioning the club as a cultural hub. These include a Collector’s Series of artist dinners, gallery and art fair tours, talks and workshops, as well as public art commissions within the lobby and other areas within the club.
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If you have a shophouse that’s empty or a mall that has a whole ground floor that’s empty, why not offer up that space for art?
— Talenia Phua Gajardo
For Jones, the residency programme is just the beginning. “If this group of incredible talent comes away from the residency, having produced some incredible art and collaborated with other artists, and learned just a bit more about the business of art and the career trajectory they should pursue, then we have done a good job. I think that is as important to us as anything—to help open doors.”
Phua Gajardo agrees, “I think this is a great example to other landlords—how can people with space do similar things. It’s something that can be replicated and used as a model. If you have a shophouse that’s empty or a mall that has a whole ground floor that’s empty, why not offer up that space for art? While the space may need a bit of management and an investment of time, it is worthwhile for the artist and landlord’s benefit in the long-term.”
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