Backstage With A Festival Manager

You might have heard about the Singapore Night Festival. You may have even been part of the annual crowd who marvelled at the National Museum of Singapore as its facade transforms into an ethereal projection of lights and imagery.

22 Jul 2020

5 mins read

By Diyanah Syafiqah

You might have heard about the Singapore Night Festival. You may have even been part of the annual crowd who marvelled at the National Museum of Singapore as its facade transforms into an ethereal projection of lights and imagery.

Since its inception, SIM-University at Buffalo (SIM-UB) alumnus, Qazim Karim and his group of friends have continually thronged the streets of Bras Basah Bugis for #instaworthy shots of the festival. But never did he imagine that he would eventually be a part of the team who curates the well-loved event.

The manager of Festivals and Precinct Development at National Heritage Board gives us an exclusive insight into the arts and culture industry.

How did you land a role in the Arts & Culture scene?
Upon graduation, a senior from SIM-UB recommended me the outreach officer position at the Malay Heritage Centre. There, I got better acquainted with the cultural scene and even my own heritage. From then on, I never looked back. I really like how I learn new things everyday - from developing educational kits for pre-schoolers to creating senior programmes!

Give us the scoop on your job?
I organise two of National Heritage Boards's signature outreach festivals - the Singapore Heritage Festival (SHF) and Singapore Night Festival (SNF). Both are national events that see a significant turn out by both local and international visitors.

Initially a placemaking initiative, SNF has grown over the past 12 years to attract 500, 000 visitors!

My portfolio includes marketing the festivals, overseeing school collaborations and managing our volunteers. My team also manages the Bras Basah.Bugis arts and heritage precinct. Different initiatives are being organised to keep the precinct vibrant, allowing visitors to see these spaces in a new light.

What do you enjoy about being in this industry?
Every day brings new adventures! There are so many partnership possibilities in the industry.

Part of my day to day work includes engaging schools

For example, we work closely with the pre-school sector, social service agencies and even engage corporations like SMRT and AirBnB. There are always new communities and partners to collaborate with. It's great to meet people from all walks of life who are interested in heritage. Some of them have day jobs as engineers and teachers but still go to great lengths to preserve their heritage and share their stories. I find that very inspiring.

What is your most memorable project?
The recently launched Singapore Heritage Festival: Digital Edition! The COVID-19 pandemic made us rethink the ways we present our festival experiences. What has been typically a physical experience now takes on a digital format. We have to ensure that people are still able to enjoy #HeritageFromHome with their families and loved ones as #CultureCarriesOn. With the contributions of our partners, we are pleased to launch the festival with more than 80 programmes. There are a variety of online food demonstrations, Google Map podcast tours and stay-at-home activities for everyone to enjoy.

What are some challenges that you can often run into when planning festivals of such a scale?
One of the greatest challenges will be unforeseen circumstances - especially when it comes to changes in weather conditions! As festival managers, we have to ensure that our visitors enjoy the best experience, rain or shine. This means including contingency measures in our preparations such as locating nearby sheltered areas and even procuring tentages. For large-scale programmes, we would also have to make the call to postpone it to a later timing or cancel it if weather conditions do not improve.

How has SIM-UB prepared you for your role?
Throughout my career, I've had the opportunity to present and share at various platforms - as a guest lecturer for arts management modules in schools, organisations and even presentations to board members. The public speaking skills that I've gained to present to a large crowd can be attributed to my SIM-UB days. The curriculum's heavy emphasis on group assignments and class participation encouraged me to be more vocal in sharing my thoughts and analysis on various topics. Additionally, with a diverse student population in SIM-UB, I find myself being more welcoming to new ideas and varied viewpoints having worked with students from different backgrounds and nationalities. Understanding their thought processes and reasoning allowed me to put myself ‘in the audience shoes' and to be more audience-centric.

What's one important advice you would give on event planning?
Always put yourself in your audience's shoes. Ask yourself what you hope to see as a festival- goer. The visitor's experience is the most important because essentially, the events are for them. It's definitely good practice to attend other events for ideas!

If planning Arts & Culture events sounds like a fulfilling career, check out the SIM-UB Communication programme here. Explore other Arts and Social Sciences programmes here.