Arts patronage used to be more straightforward. In the Renaissance era, a rich patron might ask an artist to paint specific figures and objects using specific colours and medium. In return, the artist was given financial support and moral encouragement.
Today, arts patronage has taken on different complexions – especially when the patrons are companies. Although artists are still regularly commissioned to produce artworks, commercial organisations prefer to harness the artists’ skills for more sophisticated projects that benefit the company and artist on longer time spans.
Tiger Beer, for instance, created Air-Ink, a black marker pen whose ink is made out of the vehicular soot that causes air pollution. Tiger then engaged local artists to use the pen to create art that draws attention to pollution.
UOB takes a more traditional approach with its long-running Painting of the Year award, one of the most important art competitions in the region. It augments that with a solid outreach programme that goes out to schools and the public.
These efforts are not straightforward commercial engagements. These companies acknowledge the growing expertise and professionalism of Singapore artists, and want to help develop the arts ecosystem by specifically tapping on local artists for their campaigns and initiatives.
Tiger Beer seeks out unusual collaborations
Tiger Beer describes its support for “creative minds and unconventional thinkers” as part of its “brand DNA”. And it’s putting its money where its mouth is. Some of its most recent campaigns centre on unusual collaborations with artists to create eye-catching art that would generate awareness for environmental causes.
One of its most striking partnerships is with Indian inventor Anirudh Sharma. He created Air-Ink, a range of pens that uses the black soot emitted from vehicles and generators as ink for the pens. His idea of transforming air pollution into something practical and useful has in turn inspired artists around the world to use the pens for their artworks.
Earlier this year, local artists MessyMsxi (Tan Zi Xi) and ANTZ (Anthony Chong) were invited to create large canvases depicting their visions of pollution-free cities. MessyMsxi conjured a verdant image of Singapore that displayed trees, bicycles and even a tiger.
Mie Leng Wong, global director, Tiger Beer, Heineken Asia Pacific, says: “We recognise that art has the power to inspire and spark social change and this is exactly why we chose art because it has the ability to evoke emotion and connect people. Through this campaign, we turned the streets of the world into a canvas for Anirudh’s message in a beautiful and transformative way – one that can inspire people to get behind the cause of fighting air pollution.”
Through collaborations with artists around the world, Air-Ink received strong media attention. And so far, the carbon-rich soot harvested from diesel vehicles, generators and chimneys has been turned into 770 litres of Air-Ink.
In another recent campaign, Tiger Beer signed a deal with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to double the world’s wild tiger population to 6,000 by 2022. According to WWF, the number of wild tigers has dropped from 100,000 to 3,890 over the last century.
The 3,890 figure has become the name of the campaign and website 3890Tigers. The latter allows you to upload a selfie and transfigure it into a tiger-themed image using filters created by artists such as China’s Hua Tunan and Malaysia’s Kenji Chai.
Wong notes: “We see tigers as a source of inspiration. The artists have illustrated this beautifully through unique pieces of artwork featuring their selfies alongside tigers as a symbol that people can co-exist harmoniously with them.”
Tiger Beer also donated US$1 million to fight the illegal tiger trade largely responsible for the diminishing population of wild tigers.
Wong adds: “We believe that all ideas might start small, but anyone who dares to take the path less-travelled can become someone who makes a difference … That’s why we’ll continue championing and supporting individuals who show a passion for creativity and unconventional thinking. We want to continue providing global platforms where creativity and talent from the streets can be showcased to the world for a positive change.”
UOB looks to the future
For more than four decades, UOB has been a fervent champion of artists, not least through its Painting of the Year competition which runs in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
For many visual artists, the competition is a godsend. Its generous prize money of up to US$35,000 for the overall winner makes it one of the richest prizes in the world. Not surprisingly, the National Gallery Singapore’s Southeast Asian art section is named after UOB, which is a founding partner of the Gallery.
But UOB is not just interested in seeking out and displaying good art through its competitions and exhibitions. It has also invested much time, effort and money through its arts education and outreach programmes.
This year, UOB added a series of art-sharing sessions in which it brought established Singapore artists such as Aaron Gan and Carey Ngai to meet hundreds of students enrolled in the Art Elective Programme in four schools: Nanyang Girls’ High School, Bukit Panjang Government High School, CHIJ Secondary and Hwa Chong Institution.
It also partnered several artists to conduct art-education activities for children who are socially disadvantaged or have special needs. UOB employees conducted outreach activities for children from programmes such as Viriya Community Services and Hougang Sheng Hong Student Care Centre this year; and organised two excursions to the National Gallery Singapore, bringing children from Thye Hwa Kwan Student Care Centre @ Bedok North and Beyond Social Services to visit the Children’s Biennale exhibition and Yayoi Kusama’s Life is the Heart of a Rainbow exhibition respectively.
Lilian Chong, senior vice-president, group strategic communications and customer advocacy, UOB, says: “We derive much pleasure from being able to help children and youth acquire knowledge and express themselves through art. We work with established artists who are winners of the UOB Painting of the Year to inspire the young, open their minds to the creative world of possibilities and develop to their fullest potential.”
Art infects many other aspects of the bank’s activities. Every year, UOB’s deputy chairman and chief executive officer Wee Ee Cheong selects a UOB Painting of the Year artwork that underpins the design concept of the bank’s annual report. The artworks even inspired the design of limited edition Casio G-Shock and Baby-G watches which were sold to UOB employees to raise funds for children with special needs.
On top of these, UOB is a major donor to Singapore Press Holding’s annual children’s charity concert ChildAid which is organised by The Business Times and The Straits Times. The bank says its efforts to widen the appreciation of the arts and nurture talents are part of its long-term commitment to the communities in which it operates.
Canon supports art, from cool to kawaii
Canon’s corporate philosophy is kyosei, which means living and working together in harmony for the common good. The Japanese company specialises in imaging and optical products such as cameras, photocopiers and printers. And one expression of its kyosei principle is perhaps, unsurprisingly, kawaii (cute).
Canon has a website called PIXMAtown where its customers can download images that can be printed and turned into greeting cards, stickers, posters and 3-D paper sculptures, among other things. It engages artists from all over the world to create these charmingly cute images aimed at the young and young-at-heart.
Among the Singaporean artworks featured is Wang Shijia’s distinctive cartoon character Ang Ku Kueh Girl appearing on bookmarks, finger puppets and a paper coin-box. Popular children’s books author Emily Lim was also roped in to create children books that Canon customers can print for free. Elsewhere, graffiti artists Pure Libre and Zero lent their talents in creating a series of too-cool-for-school stickers, while design studio Gagatree conjured a range of 3D sculptures.
Edwin Teoh, head of marketing (Singapore operations), Canon Singapore, says: “We wanted to make a meaningful contribution to society, and we saw PIXMAtown as an avenue to support Asian and Singaporean artists by engaging them and introducing their creations to a wider audience.”
Canon selected the local artists based on whether it felt their art resonated with Singaporeans. Wang’s Ang Ku Kueh Girl, for instance, was chosen because she “embodies a rich amount of heritage and has distinctively Singaporean traits, such as the kiasu spirit, which Singaporeans can easily relate to”.
But Canon doesn’t just support fun, cute and accessible art. It has also supported the work of acclaimed conceptual artists Boedi Widjaja and Angela Chong by providing projection mapping equipment and large-format print services respectively for their ambitious installation works.
Recently, Canon also collaborated with multi-disciplinary artist Tan Yang Er, who was part of New Majestic Hotel’s farewell project Multiply: A Majestic Playground, a two-day pop-up of retail shops, exhibitions, workshops and tastings created to showcase the works of local artists. Through the help of Canon’s XEED WUX 400ST projector, Tan was able to produce a 3D installation of the Bejeweled Blitz video game where the public was treated to sounds, lights, projections and life-sized diamonds and topazes.
Teoh adds: “Canon sees our partnerships as a way of empowering local artists with the necessary tools to help them to hone their craft.”