Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the Cheque Presentation Ceremony from the Ngee Ann Kongsi to LASALLE College of the Arts on 14 November 2019.
Mr Jamie Teo,
President of The Ngee Ann Kongsi,
Mr Richard Lee,
Vice President of The Ngee Ann Kongsi
Mr Peter Seah,
Chairman of LASALLE College of the Arts,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here this afternoon for the signing ceremony of The Ngee Ann Kongsi’s generous donation to the LASALLE College of the Arts. As we heard, this is the largest single donation made by the Kongsi.
Now, it is apt that on the occasion of our Bicentennial, two such historic institutions are coming together to make a very meaningful contribution to Singapore’s future and to our future generations. Both the De La Salle Brothers and The Ngee Ann Kongsi have a very long and rich history in Singapore. Their collaboration is also a testament to how far we have come along this journey “from Singapore to Singaporean”. Today, many of us in Singapore do not find it out of the ordinary that a Teochew foundation would donate tens of millions of dollars to an arts school founded by a Catholic order. But this is not something that happens readily in other parts of the world today, and something that we should treasure and never take for granted.
So on this occasion, it is very timely for us to look back on the rich and varied contributions that the De La Salle Brothers and The Ngee Ann Kongsi have made to Singapore, and also reflect on what these contributions say about our shared values, and how we can move forward as one united people.
Contributions of the De La Salle Brothers
The De La Salle Brothers have made an indelible mark on education in Singapore. One of the founding beliefs of the order is that every child, whether rich or poor, should have access to good education. This is a value that the De La Salle Brothers has in common with this Government! Fittingly, the first Lasallian brothers who came to Singapore in 1852 arrived as teachers for the newly-founded St Joseph’s Institution. Over the next few decades, the Brothers set up many other primary and secondary schools in Singapore, including the De La Salle School, St Anthony’s Primary School, St Patrick’s School and St Stephen’s School.
In fact, it was while serving as the principal of St Patrick’s School that the late Brother Joseph McNally set up the “St Patrick’s Arts Centre” in 1984, to nurture students in the visual and performing arts. This eventually became the LASALLE College of the Arts.
Over the past 35 years, your College has grown a hundred-fold as we heard earlier – from 27 students at the start, to more than 2,700 budding artists, from all over the world, today. LASALLE alumni have gone on to make important contributions to the Singapore arts scene, including: Award-winning filmmaker Boo Jun Feng, and singer-songwriter Kit Chan.
LASALLE students and graduates have also made an impact on the community around them. An emphasis on using one’s talents to serve the community is built into the LASALLE curriculum. Earlier this year, LASALLE’s students, pursuing their Masters in Art Therapy, worked with seniors from St Luke’s Eldercare Centre to create “memory boxes”, which captured the seniors’ memories and life experiences. I understand that it was a very moving and meaningful experience for our seniors and their families, and I am confident that the students also learnt a lot from this project! I am very happy that they were able to share their work with the public through an exhibition at the National Museum.
LASALLE students and staff have also worked with the Little India Shopkeepers’ and Heritage Association to curate the multidisciplinary public art project “ARTWALK Little India”. Since its inaugural edition five years ago, this has become an annual affair. As part of this festival, LASALLE students and alumni from across different artistic disciplines created public murals, films, music, and performances to celebrate Little India’s culture. The festival has contributed to Little India’s vibrancy, and enriched our local arts scene. Congratulations to LASALLE for all that you have achieved over the years!
Contributions of the Ngee Ann Kongsi
Like the De La Salle Brothers, the Ngee Ann Kongsi has a long and rich history in Singapore. It was formed by a group of prominent Teochew businessmen in 1845 – more than 170 years ago! In its early days, the Ngee Ann Kongsi’s main focus was on looking after poor Teochew immigrants in Singapore, and maintaining the practice of Teochew rites and religious beliefs. For instance, funds were raised to buy land for temples and burial grounds, and for other charitable and religious purposes.
Over the years, as the Teochew community sank roots in Singapore and The Ngee Ann Kongsi’s resources grew, it turned its eyes towards other needs in our society. In particular, education became a key priority. This is why, as Mr Richard Lee mentioned earlier, The Ngee Ann Kongsi began to set up schools from the 1930s onwards, many of which are still around today. As their names suggest, Ngee Ann Primary School, Ngee Ann Secondary School and Ngee Ann Polytechnic all trace their roots to the Ngee Ann Kongsi!
Ngee Ann Kongsi’s donation to LASALLE
Besides supporting the schools that it set up, The Ngee Ann Kongsi’s charitable and welfare efforts have expanded to benefit other causes. For many years, you have contributed three quarters of your net income each year to fund educational institutions and charitable purposes. Initially, this went only towards supporting Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
But in 2007, you resolved to benefit a wider range of educational and other charitable purposes. It is because of this commitment to public-spiritedness that we are witnessing today’s donation of $50 million from the Ngee Ann Kongsi to the LASALLE College of the Arts.
The Ngee Ann Kongsi’s generous contribution will go towards constructing a new The Ngee Ann Kongsi Building at the College. I am delighted to hear from Mr Peter Seah that this new building will house new, state-of-the-art facilities that will benefit not only LASALLE students, but the wider community. The new classroom space in the building will also allow LASALLE to expand its range of professional development and enrichment courses.
These are valuable opportunities for creative professionals and interested members of the public to gain new skills throughout their careers. Very much in line with our national efforts on lifelong learning! I also hope the new centre will contribute to the lifelong enjoyment of the arts. These are very exciting plans, and I look forward to seeing the building take shape.
The Ngee Ann Kongsi’s support for the arts and arts education is an important contribution towards shaping and strengthening our Singapore identity. Thank you for this very generous donation!
Synergy from working together
As I noted at the start, today’s collaboration between The Ngee Ann Kongsi and LASALLE is a testament to our journey as a nation over the past two hundred years.
Indeed, their partnership embodies the spirit of the Singapore Together movement: People from different backgrounds coming together, focusing on shared values, and making their own contributing to build a brighter, more vibrant future for Singapore. I hope all of us here today, and the future generations who benefit from The Ngee Ann Kongsi Building at LASALLE, will continue to draw inspiration from their story as we build our future Singapore together.
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