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My colleague, Yvette Hyater-Adams and I have been in Singapore for the last few days having come to present a workshop on Creative Leadership at the NTL Festival of Learning. On our first morning here, Yvette woke a few hours earlier than me and I found her sitting on the terrace searching the web to find the places and organizations in which she could find Singapore’s artist communities. She found to her surprise and dismay that Singapore is a country that does not have many easily accessible informal or formal spaces for artists. In fact, when doing some research on culture in Singapore, we came across what the Singaporeans call the “five C’s” which they jokingly use to define success: Cash/credit card, Condo, Club membership, Car and Career.

We were taken aback and saddened by this. In talking with a number of people here, they stressed Singaporean’s strong pragmatism; young people are encouraged to study the hard sciences so they can get a good job and make money. We were concerned, therefore, about how participants in our workshop (individuals who either work in major corporations or run their own businesses) might react to our use of poetry and creative activities. What we experienced yesterday, during the first day of our three-day workshop, was profoundly moving. In our first activity, we used the poem, Where I’m From, by George Ella Lyons, as a template for participants to follow as they wrote about where they are from. When we do this activity in the United States, there is usually one person who prefaces the reading of what they wrote with a disclaimer about their inability to write poetry. Here in Singapore, every participant did so. They then proceeded to read powerfully moving pieces of poetry that were lyrical, beautifully written and, in many cases, filled with sadness. A number of individuals shared stories of the weight of family responsibility and lost childhood.

We found the artists. They are tucked away and hidden by the strong societal pressure to be pragmatic and succeed financially. Our participants exhibited an entirely different set of Five C’s: Creativity, Calling, Caring, Connections and Community.

What are your Five C’s? Where is the artist in you?

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