Past Program / 2020 Program / Elaine Ee
|National Gallery Singapore
|National Gallery Singapore is a new visual arts institution which oversees the largest public collection of modern art in Singapore and Southeast Asia. The Gallery publishes books on the visual art of Singapore and Southeast Asia. We are continually expanding our range of titles and have published to date a collection of children’s books, exhibition catalogues and albums, as well as research titles.
In Every Crisis Lies Opportunity
When word of a new and potentially deadly virus reached Singapore, we did not quite know what to make of it. Countries were going into lockdown, schools and offices were being shut, people started to wear masks and even protective suits, and reports of this virus taking its toll on vulnerable folks like the elderly began to make headlines. In due course, Singapore went into lockdown too, and no one foresaw the impact this would have on society and the economy. Some of this impact was challenging—revenue for some businesses suddenly froze or was reduced to a trickle, healthcare services were overwhelmed, and people had to cope with being confined and isolated. But, some impact was transformative in a positive sense.
For National Gallery Singapore, there were definitely ways in which the pandemic led us to transform. As we shut our museum doors, not knowing then when we could reopen, we had to think of ways to retain our visitors. One way to do that of course was to make our offerings available online—quickly, to keep up with the speed at which the country had shut down. To bring this about, we had to first think of how to present material that was created to be experienced physically, online—and this includes exhibitions and programmes as well as publications—which required a lot of repackaging and reworking; as well as conceptualise content solely for the online space. And then we actually had to prepare the material: produce it, format the files, edit them, upload them, test them etc. Pulling this off in a short space of time put us under much pressure, we had not anticipated the amount of coordination this required nor the amount of work or Wifi bandwidth and types of devices needed. Very quickly we realised we were not quite equipped for this transformation. Somehow, we got through it.
We didn’t digitally transform just to keep our visitors. We also did it to try and do good in a challenging time. We have always recognised the therapeutic quality of art. In the Gallery we have conducted programmes for the elderly and those with dementia, for example, that use art to support healing through methods like storytelling and art appreciation. During lockdown we wanted to continue to extend this support, not just to vulnerable groups of people but to everyone, as the strain of being in isolation taxed people’s mental health. So we created art activities that people could do at home, for example in our children’s festival #SmallBigDreamersatHome.
We also held on to this twofold goal with our publications—to find ways to keep generating some revenue when our museum shop was closed as well as to give people easy access to our publications to help with their research and study, or just to keep them engaged. To address the former concern, we came up with an e-book strategy. It might seem like an obvious thing to do, but many of our publications don’t naturally lend themselves to e-versions and so we had to think through what was worth making an e-book of. About half our publications are highly illustrated art books, mainly exhibition catalogues. Image colour fidelity and reproduction quality is of utmost importance in art books, and it is sometimes not possible to achieve the standard we require in an e-book, so we decided not to make electronic versions of these titles. The other half of our publications are research-based titles, like anthologies of essays and primary sources such as artists’ writings, and general and children’s titles. These are fine to distribute as e-books and we are currently in the process of digitising these for sale on Amazon and Apple Books.
To use our publications to do good during lockdown, we agreed to participate in JStor’s free access programme. This programme made content from participating institutions available for free to JStor’s users and was set up to allow people to continue to have access to academic content even if they were say unable to physically visit a library or could no longer afford to pay for such content. The programme was a huge success. It ran from March to August and a received a total of 7.8 million requests globally. The Gallery received 1,577 requests from almost 370 institutions spread out over 47 countries. Considering we are a small publisher, this was tremendous reach and exposure, and is definitely something we hope to leverage on as things ease back to a ‘new normal.’
We have also started making our content available on Google Books, and rather generously so. For our front list titles, 50 percent of the content is made free to browse and for our back list, 100 percent of the content is available to browse. We do not believe that making so much of our content freely accessible would eat into sales of our printed books, which is a position adopted somewhat in good faith.
In addition to all this, we are also planning to create two digital publications platforms. One will enhance the existing publications section of our website, which is currently quite simple and only presents information and a browsing e-copy on Google Books. The enhanced platform could contain content complementing the printed book, such as sources and supplementary material, and can carry multi-media formats. The other digital publications platform we are looking at will be more unconventional and quite experimental—it will explore different ways of presenting content that could be very ‘un-publication’ like, for example, using 3D model or adopting a Wikipedia approach, and will be used for our more contemporary art research projects. It is an exciting project that we look forward to bringing to fruition.
So while COVID-19 has certainly presented us with many challenges, it has also catapulted us into a new frontier and forced us to imagine new ways of doing things—of presenting content and publications, of interacting with people and audiences, of working and of doing business. Some of these new practices will prove to be relevant and beneficial in their own right and will stay with us even after the pandemic has passed.
BOOK INTRODUCTION VIDEO
|Awesome Art Singapore
Ryan How / National Gallery Singapore
|Latiff Mohidin:Pago Pago(1960-1969)
Ryan How / National Gallery Singapore
|Modern Art of Southeast Asian:Introductions from A to Z(1960-1969)
Roger Nelson / National Gallery Singapore