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Christine Khor

Singapore-based arts administrator who helped develop the arts industry

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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My wish is for students to have a more successful work-life balance and enjoy the arts, especially during this time of their lives when they have more time to devote to such pursuits.

Christine Khor is a Penang-born Singapore-based arts administrator. She contributed to the development of the Singapore arts industry first as an arts writer and editor with The Straits Times in the ’80s, and then as an arts officer with the Economic Development Board and subsequently as a senior Singapore Tourism Board (STB) staff member in the ’90s and early 2000s. She was the pioneer EDB officer tasked with developing the arts industry by first mapping out the arts ecosystem and then inviting key partners, including world-class international production houses, impresarios and art auction houses, to set up in Singapore. From 2005 to 2015, she was Director of the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Centre for the Arts (CFA), and helped to nurture a love for the arts in cohorts of graduates across a dozen faculties.

Christine Khor was born on 8 Aug 1950 in Penang, Malaysia, to well-known journalist Datuk Khor Cheang Kee and his Penang Convent senior teacher wife Margaret Hon. She grew up in a large family with five brothers, and in early childhood lived with three generations in a Peranakan mansion. As her family was financially comfortable and inclined towards the arts, she was exposed to the richness of Peranakan culture, ballet and music, particularly the piano, from a young age. At the age of five or six, Khor appeared in a family dance production playing the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker.

From 1956–1967, she received her primary and secondary school education at Penang Convent, an institution that was also very supportive of the arts. She was head prefect and topped the state’s O Level exams. She did her A Levels in St. Xavier’s Institution, Penang from 1967–1968, and in 1969, was accepted by the University of Singapore, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts Second Class Upper Honours in English Literature in 1973.

In 1980, after working in the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) as Editor and Head of Publications, she joined The Straits Times and the now-defunct Sunday Nation in various roles as leader and feature writer, book reviewer and editor/writer for the arts and lifestyle section. She did interviews, previews and reviews focusing on dance, and commissioned stories on the arts.

One of the perks of being a journalist was travelling overseas to cover a wide range of arts festivals and events. Not only did this broaden Khor’s experiences with the arts, she gathered numerous arts contacts which came in very useful in the subsequent part of her career in the public sector, particularly the work she did at the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) and Singapore Tourism Board.

In 1990, Khor was headhunted by the EDB, as the organisation was looking to develop the arts industry by hiring someone who thoroughly understood the arts industry, had a wide-reaching international network of contacts, and was familiar with the key players and entrepreneurs in the local and global arts industry. Khor joined EDB as a senior officer, and her first task was to be part of the team to brainstorm and implement the Creative Development Plan, an initiative by the EDB, and later Singapore Tourism Board (STB), to develop Singapore into a more creative nation. It was a scheme that involved setting up more than a dozen taskforces in various arts and creative fields. Khor ran its secretariat, which reviewed and implemented suggestions by these taskforces.

At EDB, Khor developed the art auction industry and brought in top foreign production houses and impresarios, many of whom had never been to Singapore. These included Cirque du Soleil, IMG Artists, Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, which staged large-scale blockbuster productions such as CATS, Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, and Miss Saigon, in Singapore. Khor championed these blockbuster productions and contributed to the appreciation of the arts in Singapore, as well as attracted tourists from around the region.

In 1995, Khor moved to STB with her EDB boss Tan Chin Nam, who was then appointed the new Chief Executive Officer. She was seconded there to spearhead arts tourism and tourism-related arts and lifestyle projects, and was tasked with growing Singapore’s arts audience, particularly the tourist demographic.

Khor spent nine years at STB and was appointed Deputy Director of Industry Development (Lifestyle) in 2000. She led the development of the arts and entertainment, food and beverage, and tourism retail sectors. In 2002, she was promoted to Director of Lifestyle & Events, overseeing major STB-supported events such as the World Gourmet Summit, Singapore Food Festival, F1 Powerboat, World Wrestling Entertainment and other lifestyle events with tourism potential.

Khor was then appointed Director of Special Projects (Arts) in 2004. She was responsible projects including the initial exploration of the development of the old Capitol Theatre into a performing arts and lifestyle venue, and growing The Arts House as a tourist spot.

Khor eventually left STB in October 2005 to take on the leadership of the arts in NUS, her alma mater. She became Director of the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Centre For the Arts (CFA). The next year, she launched the NUS Arts Festival to commemorate the university’s 100th anniversary, as well as started a dedicated performing arts platform that would bring together the university’s myriad alumni arts groups and undergraduates with a gift and passion for the arts.

Under her charge, students at CFA had weekly rehearsals and were tutored by respected arts practitioners such as Santha Bhaskar of Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society, who trains the NUS Indian Dance ensemble as Artistic Director and Resident Choreographer. CFA students are also given opportunities to collaborate with top professional artists from Singapore and abroad in the production and performance of works.

Concurrently, Khor served as a board member of both the EDB Society and the University Museums & Collections, a global association of university museum directors and their institutions, from 2010–2016.

Khor now looks back on her career and considers her experiences at the NUS Centre for the Arts as a privilege. When Singapore turned 50 in 2015, it was also a milestone for NUS as the university commemorated its 115th anniversary and the NUS Arts Festival turned 10.

“My favourite thing about working at the Centre is the fresh blood, the new cohort that comes in every year”, says Khor. “They are full of enthusiasm for the arts, they are passionate.” Khor muses, “Arts is not really going to be their career. A lot of them are medical students, engineering, computing science, science, architecture…but they will always carry the arts in their hearts and in their lives because of this immersion we’ve given them.”

Timeline

8 Aug 1950

Born in Penang, Malaysia.

1956 to 1967

Attended Penang Convent for her primary and secondary school level education.

1967 to 1968

Attended St Xavier’s Institution, Penang.

1976 to 1982

Curator, Parks & Recreation Department (now National Parks Board).

1969 to 1973

Attended University of Singapore and attained a BA Hons (2nd Upper Class).

1980 to 1990

Journalist and Editor, Arts and Lifestyle section, The Straits Times.

1990 to 1995

Senior Officer, Economic Development Board. Singapore.

1995 to 1999

Seconded to the Singapore Tourism Board to spearhead arts tourism and tourism-related arts and lifestyle projects.

2000 to 2002

Deputy Director, Industry Development (Lifestyle), Singapore Tourism Board.

2002 to 2003

Director, Lifestyle & Events, Singapore Tourism Board.

2004

Director, Special Projects (Arts), Singapore Tourism Board.

Oct 2005 to present

Director, Centre for the Arts, National University of Singapore

2006

Launched the NUS Arts Festival.

2010 to 2016

Board member, Economic Development Board Society, Singapore.
Board member, University Museums & Collections, International Council of Museums.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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