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How A Woman’s Mission For Education Tweaked Singapore’s Arts Scene

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How did a girls’ school eventually lead to the creation of an arts district at Mount Sophia? And what does the founder of girls’ school has in common with the founders of the art district?

While both founders wanted to create a space for the community to flourish into a mature society, it was undeniably caused by frustration with the society’s traditional, irrelevant and illogical principals that led to the urge for a breakthrough.

In the 19th century, where education for males were deemed unquestionable and economically more sensible than an education for females, Miss Sophia Blackmore founded Methodist Girls’ School on 15 August with a mission – to provide girls an education. She started out with nine girls, which eventually attracted so many other girls that it had to relocate to Middle Road and then to Blackmore Drive to cater to the increasing demands.

Among the students was one girl who made history as the only girl in Raffles Institution, one of the first few Malaysians to win the Queen’s Scholarship to study law in Cambridge University and on her passing, over 14,000 Singaporeans gather to pay tribute to her. Madam Kwa Geok Choo, whom The Straits Times described as “The Yin to MM Lee’s Yang“, left a deep impression on her students at MGS despite a short stint of relief teaching.

It was in 1888 when Miss Sophia Blackmore chose to go against the norm that education was an exclusive rights for boys. Decades later in 2007, a group of five entrepreneurs decided to revive the area “into a nexus of artistic activity” to strengthen the relationship between design and commerce.

Old School was transformed into an arts district whereby the top design firms, photographers, galleries, artists, musicians and the pioneers gather. This was followed by a slew of art exhibitions, music performances, independent film screenings, photography exhibitions and so on.

While Lui Tuck Yew, Senior Minister For Education, and Information, Communication and the Arts expressed that “We want to position Singapore as a confluence of east and west and a place for dialogue on multi-culturalism.”, Nominated MP Calvin Cheng observed that Singapore is the “only country in Asia with such an overwhelming hang-up with what is Western”

In a mission to go against the tide of tradition, Old School retains much of Singapore’s history and architecture. Situated here is an assemble of arts group that remains true to its Asian roots: an orchestra that interprets both Western classical music and Asian contemporary music for the international audience, a cinema that seeks to preserve Singapore’s heritage against the mass wave of mainstream, formulaic movies, a photo gallery that promotes local and international art photography and so on.

While it remains to be seen whether this district will flourish or wither, the pursuit towards a more refined society that encourages the freedom of thoughts and growth will always be a constant. Issac Asimov was often quoted for his phrase “The only constant is change”, which was actually in reference to the instability of a growing society;

“….continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”

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