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Edmund Cheng Wai Wing

Singapore arts administrator who chaired several key organisations

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


Time taken : ~10mins

Art should be part of our everyday life.

Edmund Cheng, 15 August 2013


Edmund Cheng Wai Wing is a local arts administrator. A successful property developer with Wing Tai Holdings and Wing Tai Malaysia Berhad, the Hong Kong-born architect has helped develop the Singapore arts industry through his efforts as Chairman of several arts organisations including Sculpture Square, The Old Parliament House Limited, The Esplanade Co Ltd, and the National Arts Council.

Edmund Cheng Wai Wing was born in 1952 in Hong Kong. His father was a garment manufacturer who had relocated to Hong Kong from China with very little to his name. But he slowly built up a garment manufacturing business that would eventually become property development and lifestyle empire, Wing Tai Holdings.

In 1963, when Cheng was 11 years old, his father came to Singapore to diversify his business. He sent Cheng to Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut, the US, for his studies from which Cheng graduated in 1970. He then enrolled in Northwestern University Evanston in Chicago, Illinois, to study civil engineering and, graduated in 1974 with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering.

However, Cheng's main interest at the time was really in architecture. He first became keen in the subject as a young boy when his elder sister's suitor, an architecture undergraduate, showed him drawings and models of his various projects. In 1979, at the age of 27, Cheng moved to Singapore and then promptly enrolled in Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US. In 1980, he graduated with a Master’s Degree in Architecture, and in 1982 he became a registered architect with Singapore’s Board of Architects. He found work as an architect with established Singapore firm Architects 61.

At the same time, Cheng was tasked by his father to help his business Wing Tai enter the Asian property market. In 1981, he became Deputy Chairman and Deputy Managing Director of Wing Tai Holdings Limited, Managing Director of Wing Tai Land Pte Ltd and Executive Director of Wing Tai Malaysia Berhad, positions he still holds today.

He successfully diversified Wing Tai's portfolio from mainly garment manufacturing to involving property as well. With Cheng at the helm, Wing Tai grew into a property giant with residential and commercial developments in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, China and North America. Wing Tai Holdings is now listed on the Singapore Exchange while Wing Tai Malaysia Berhad is listed on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange.

The ‘90s saw Cheng serving as a Board member, President or Chairman of several organisations. He was President of Real Estate Developers’ Association of Singapore (1991-1993), member of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (1991-1994), Director of the Construction Industry Development Board (1992-1994), Chairman of the Singapore Tourism Board (1993-2001), and Director of Singapore Airlines Limited (1996-2004).

In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Cheng became more involved in the arts industry. He held multiple positions throughout the years including Founding Chairman of Sculpture Square Ltd (1997 – 2002), Founding Chairman of The Old Parliament House (2002 – 2007), Chairman of The Esplanade Co Ltd (2003 – 2005), Founding Chairman of the DesignSingapore Council (2003 – 2008), and Chairman of the National Arts Council (NAC) (2005 – 2013) thus contributing significantly to the development of Singapore’s arts and design industries.

With Sculpture Square, The Old Parliament House which manages The Arts House, The Esplanade Co Ltd and Design Singapore Council, Cheng helped to establish the foundations of what would become very important institutions in the arts and creative industries. When he chaired NAC, he oversaw the launch of several new initiatives under the National Plans for Traditional Arts, Literary Arts, as well as the Arts and Culture Strategic Review. This included initiatives in the areas of Community Engagement, Capability Development and Arts Education including the Singapore Biennale, Noise Singapore, the District Arts Festivals, Silver Arts, Arts @ Work, as well as the revitalisation of existing major events such as the Singapore Arts Festival and the Singapore Writers Festival.

It was during Cheng's term as NAC chairman that there was a marked increase in support for Singapore artists and arts companies. More was being done to develop and enable Singapore artists through the New Grants Framework and the Framework for Arts Spaces, together with initiatives in Capability Development. Our homegrown talents and body of work were being showcased at major international arts markets, performing arts and literary arts festivals and book fairs.

In the private sector, in the meantime, Cheng had become Director of the Singapore Airport Terminal Services (SATS) in 2003, Chairman of Mapletree Investments Pte Ltd in 2004, and a member of the Global Council for Asia Society, position he retains today. He was also a Trustee on the Nanyang Technological University’s Board of Trustees for a time.

For his significant contributions to Singapore's cultural landscape, Cheng was awarded The Meritorious Service Medal in 2015, the Public Service Star (BAR) in 2010 and the Public Service Star (BBM) in 1999. He also received the Outstanding Contribution to Tourism Award in 2002 from the then President SR Nathan. In 2009, he was conferred "Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" by the Republic of France.

Today, Cheng still chairs Mapletree. He has also recently retired as Chairman of SATS Ltd. Additionally, he continues to head Wing Tai, which is one of Singapore's leading property developer and lifestyle companies today with total assets that exceed S$3.7 billion.

For years, Cheng has helped to support local and regional artists by becoming a supportive arts patron, attending art shows regularly and buying numerous works from artists, placing many of them in his Wing Tai properties and Mapletree’s. "Art should be part of our everyday life", states Cheng.

Although he stepped down as the National Arts Council's Chairman in September 2013, Cheng's service as a Chairman of several newly-established arts and creative organisations over the years has borne much fruit. With arts institutions such as Sculpture Square, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, DesignSingapore Council and The Arts House flourishing today, Cheng has certainly helped to make art part of everyday life for many Singaporeans.

Timeline

1952

Born in Hong Kong.

1963

When Cheng was 11, his father came to Singapore to diversify his business.

1970

Graduated from Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut, US.

1974

Graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, Evanston, Illinois, US.

1979

Moved to Singapore at age 27, and enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, US.

1980

Graduated with a Masters Degree in Architecture from Carnegie Mellon University.

1982

Became a registered architect with the Singapore Board of Architects.
Deputy Chairman and Deputy Managing Director, Wing Tai Holdings Limited, Managing Director of Wing Tai Land Pte Ltd and Executive Director of Wing Tai Malaysia Berhad.

1991 to 1993

President, Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore.

1991 to 1994

Member of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore.

1992 to 1994

Director, Construction Industry Development Board, Singapore.

1993 to 2001

Chairman, Singapore Tourism Board, Singapore.

1996 to 2004

Director, Singapore Airlines Limited, Singapore.

1997 to 2002

Founding Chairman, Sculpture Square Ltd, Singapore.

1999

Awarded the Public Service Star (BBM).

2002

Conferred the Outstanding Contribution to Tourism Award by The Singapore Government.

2002 to 2007

Founding Chairman, The Old Parliament House, Singapore.

2003 to 2005

Chairman and Board Director, The Esplanade Co Ltd, Singapore.

2003

Director, Singapore Airport Terminal Services (SATS), Singapore.

2003 to 2008

Founding Chairman, DesignSingapore Council, Singapore.

2004

Chairman, Mapletree Investments Pte Ltd, Singapore.

2005 to 2013

Chairman, National Arts Council (NAC), Singapore.

2009

Conferred "Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" by the Republic of France.

2010

Awarded the Public Service Star (BAR).

2015

Awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.


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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