NUS Law holds inaugural Arts Week: The show must go on

NUS Law Vice Dean (Academic Affairs) Prof David Tan sharing his photography work during the NUS Law Arts Week 2020 finale show. 

Drawing. That was the answer NUS Law Vice Dean (Academic Affairs) Professor David Tan gave when quizzed about what sparked off his journey into fine art and fashion photography for brands such as Versace and Cartier. 

For Vice Dean (Student Life & Global Relations) Associate Professor Eleanor Wong, it was a law lecture that drove her to write her first play, Peter’s Passionate Pursuit, which clinched a joint first prize at the NUS-Shell Short Play Competition in 1986. 

Dean Professor Simon Chesterman shared that the reason he started to write his first young adult fiction novel, Raising Arcadia, was to rediscover his love for literature and to write something his children would read.

These candid revelations were from the finale show - The Show Must Go On! - of the first ever Arts Week 2020 – the culmination of a new Law Arts initiative which was started in October 2019 by the 40th Law Club Management Committee.

Back in 2019, the new Law Arts initiative was poised to liven up the arts scene at the NUS Bukit Timah Campus, with monthly art workshops in collaboration with the NUS Office of Student Affairs (OSA), such as terrarium making, embroidery, pottery, and art jamming. The Law Club student leaders also set up three new arts interest groups in NUS Law – Dance, Open Jio (a book/film club), and Performances, and they even organised a night at the theatre to catch the Singapore Repertory Theatre’s “The Lifespan of a Fact”.

Leading the Law Arts initiative were Benson Fan and Leah Chua – both third-year law undergraduates and Arts Directors in the 40th Law Club Management Committee – and they had everything planned out. Law Arts would run for a year, ending off with an inaugural Arts Week in August 2020, just in time to welcome the incoming new law students.

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NUS Law Club Arts Directors and Law Arts organisers Leah and Benson, together with Arts Week Chairman Jayesh Melvani.

Plans thrown into disarray

And then the pandemic struck.

“We initially wanted to have a carnival event on our campus, complete with a stage and all, but we had to shelve those plans once Covid-19 hit,” said Benson on the plans for Arts Week.

Faced with the uncertainty of the situation, Benson and Leah, together with their classmate and Arts Week Chairman Jayesh Melvani, worked out an online version of the Arts Week, putting together a series of simple events with the aim to reach as many law students as possible. 

Their hard work paid off as Arts Week 2020 took place from 17 to 22 August entirely online. There were Welcome Teas from each of the 3 arts interest groups, a floral arrangement workshop, a career talk organised with the NUS Centre for Future-Ready Graduates (CFG), and a finale show.

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The Floral Arrangement Workshop in action, conducted by NUS Law undergraduate Charis Chan. (Top row, second from left)

Moving online

Planning an online event came with its fair share of unique challenges, one of which was publicity. 

“A virtual event meant that we had to come up with other ways to make people realise that the event was going on,” said Leah. One particularly effective way was the Arts Week Giveaway, where the student leaders invited law students to submit any form of original artwork on their social media.

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Some of the student submissions for the Arts Week Giveaway.

Leah also shared how Benson and she decided to personally deliver flowers to the Floral Arrangement Workshop participants to save costs. It took 6 hours!

Fortunately, the students did not have to work alone. Having partnered with OSA for the earlier workshops, Benson and Leah worked with CFG at NUS Law for the "The Road Less Travelled: After Law School" Career Talk. The CFG team was fully on board with the students, providing administrative support, financial backing, as well as reaching out to the students’ recommended guest panellists. 

With CFG’s help, the Career Talk featured three prominent NUS Law alumni who had gone on to build their own careers outside of the legal industry. They were Founder and Artistic Director of Wild Rice, Ivan Heng; Founder and Designer of Ong Shunmugam, Priscilla Shunmugam; and Chef and Entrepreneur, Wild Rocket Group, Willin Low.

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The three panellists of the "The Road Less Travelled: After Law School" Career Talk.

“As a Law student, the tendency is always to think about the conventional paths, rarely do we hear about people who have law degrees but work outside the legal industry.” Leah shared. “The panellists were very honest about their struggles and they shared very practical advice.”

A highlight of the Career Talk was when a participant, third-year law undergraduate and NUS Law Club Vice-President Ryan Teo, boldly asked Mr Heng if he could review a script he wrote, and Mr Heng acceded very graciously!

The cherry on the cake

When asked what their personal highlights from Arts Week were, both Benson and Leah unanimously declared that the Finale Show was the cherry on the cake. Featuring the NUS Law Dean Prof Chesterman and Vice Deans Prof Tan and Assoc Prof Wong candidly sharing their artistic sides, as well as performances by both junior and senior students, the show was Law Club’s largest online event yet, and it proved to be a hit.

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Assoc Prof Eleanor Wong recited three original poems during the finale show. 

“A lot of people have come up to us saying that the finale show was very interesting because they’ve never seen the Dean and Vice Deans outside of their roles as Professors and Administrators,” said Leah. “I think people were astounded by the quality of student performances too!” 

“I was very touched that students generally enjoyed everything, because honestly we have never done anything like this before, and it was a tumultuous journey,” said Benson.

“As we get through this pandemic, and we will get through this pandemic… I am always impressed by the creativity, that’s on display tonight, but also the resilience of our students.” – NUS Law Dean Prof Simon Chesterman

Benson and Leah, and their team from the 40th Law Club Management Committee, had brought the inaugural Law Arts year to a stunning close with the Arts Week, despite the challenges brought on by COVID-19. 

During the Finale Show, Prof Chesterman had high praise for the students. He said, “As we get through this pandemic, and we will get through this pandemic… I am always impressed by the creativity, that’s on display tonight, but also the resilience of our students.”


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