Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts

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Coordinates: 1°18′01″N 103°51′06″E / 1.300229°N 103.851573°E / 1.300229; 103.851573

Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA)
NAFA's logo as of 2008
Motto "To be a premier arts institution in Asia, producing leaders in their fields."
Type Publicly-Funded,[1] Singapore Arts Institution
Established 1938
Founder Lim Hak Tai
President Chia Mia Chiang
Students >2,400 (2015) [2]
Location Bencoolen Street, Singapore
Campus Urban
Colors Orange and Green         
Nickname NAFA

Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA); (Standard Chinese: 南洋艺术学院; Malay: Akademi Seni Halus Nanyang) is a publicly-funded Singapore's polytechnic-level arts and design education institution in Singapore.

Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts provides comprehensive arts and design Singapore's polytechnic-level education for students who had successfully completed their secondary school education. Apart from the regular academic requirements, entry into the school also requires students to fulfill their artistic and design potential aspect through portfolio submission, admission test or audition. The intakes especially for the furniture design major from the 3D Design course is deliberately kept small so that each student gets focused attention.[3] Selection is competitive and is subject to the availability of places too.[4]

Students are able to advance into any universities in Singapore for example the National University of Singapore (NUS) [5] or many opting for overseas universities upon graduation with the diploma, preferably in a related areas as their diploma studies like - Fine Arts, Architecture, Interior Design, Landscape, Graphic Design, Fashion, Music, Theatre and more. Other than polytechnic-level diploma, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts also collaborates with different reputable universities from United Kingdom and United States to offer accelerated Bachelor's degree level education for their diploma graduates.

Since 2006, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) students are able to embark on an accelerated Bachelor's degree programme with Nanyang Technological University (NTU), meaning NAFA diploma holders will have the option to pursue a direct honours degree at NTU over a shorter span of three years or less. NAFA students can also apply for places in any faculty freely in NTU with advanced placement through the signing ceremony for the Memorandum of Understanding.[6]

Apart from regular diplomas, there is also a special 4-years diploma course where students will study for the first 3 years at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and the final year at the National Institute of Education (NIE). Students will graduate with a Diploma in Art (Teaching)[7] or a Diploma in Music (Teaching)[8] from NAFA and a Diploma in Art Education or Diploma in Music Education from National Institute of Education (NIE). Graduates from this scheme will be deployed to teach Art or Music in Primary schools. [9]

As an industry-oriented alternative to a broader based high school education, NAFA graduates in Singapore are sought after for work or many continue to complete university degrees. In contrast to polytechnics in the USA and UK, NAFA in Singapore admit majority of its students after middle school which is after 10 years of formal education. Diplomas in a specialized area of study, for example 3D Design, is awarded after completing 3 years of studies.


Established in 1938, NAFA is the most pioneer and renown arts education institution in Singapore. Over the past seven decades, NAFA has transformed from a fine art school with merely 14 students to a comprehensive arts and design education institution today. NAFA’s history is intertwined with the development of the local arts scene. The regional art movement Nanyang Style was also first expressed by the people of NAFA. Nanyang-style artists must be affiliated to NAFA, or a teacher or student in the school. This includes artists who studied privately under NAFA teachers. Renown artist like Liu Kang, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi, Cheong Soo Pieng and French-educated Georgette Chen who once taught in NAFA had also produced the first batch of successful pioneer NAFA educated artists in Singapore. The Principal of Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP), Mr Chia Mia Chiang, stepped down after 14 years with the polytechnic on 31 March 2014 and took up his new position as the President of NAFA on 1 April 2014.

Before 1937[edit]

Bust of NAFA's founding principal, Lim Hak Tai

In the early 1930s, a Japanese-trained Chinese artist Huang Suiheng, who was founder of the Xiamen Art Academy in Fujian, China visited Singapore. Upon his return, he approached teacher Lim Hak Tai to consider establishing an art school in Singapore, a trading centre between East and West in Southeast Asia with an interesting heritage. In 1937, Lim and a group of art teachers migrated to Singapore just before the Sino-Japanese war in China.


Lim Hak Tai, together with a group of arts education enthusiasts, undertook the challenge and responsibility to set up a formal art school in Singapore with support from the Society of Chinese Artists. They planned for a school modelled after the Chinese art academies but with a balance of Western and Chinese art traditions in curriculum.

The Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (南洋美术专科学校) was launched with 14 Fine Art students on 10 March 1938, in an old two-storey shophouse at 167 Geylang opposite the Great World Amusement Park. Lim Hak Tai was the founding principal. Besides the Society of Chinese Artists, he was also supported by the Singapore alumni of Jimei High School in Xiamen which included businessman Tan See Siang.

The school shared space with the Society of Chinese Artists and they co-organised activities such as guest artist lectures by Xu Beihong and Liu Haisu which increased the school’s profile.

As student enrolment increased, the school moved to a bungalow at 93 Serangoon Road. There were 50 students taught by 12 teachers. The pioneer batch of four Western art students graduated on 20 June 1940.


The school was closed due to World War II.


Lim Hak Tai reopened the school at 49 St. Thomas Walk in 1946 with 30 students, 40% were international students. The name "Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts" was formally registered.

Lim laid down six guidelines for the school: •Fusion of art of the East and the West •Integration of culture and customs of the four races •Development of the spirit of science and current social thinking of the 20th century •Expression of the local flavour through art •Reflections of popular demands of local people •Emphasis on the educational and functions of fine art

Many Chinese émigré artists came to Singapore in search of a better life after the Japanese occupation. Among them were pioneer artists Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Wen Hsi and Chen Chong Swee who taught at NAFA and left a profound impact on generations of local artists and the arts community. Another renowned artist, Georgette Chen, also joined NAFA in 1954.


Founding principal, Lim Hak Tai died due to ill health in 1963 and his son Lim Yew Kuan, who is an alumnus, was appointed the acting principal. He was appointed full principal in 1964, becoming the second principal of NAFA.


The 1970s were a defining period for NAFA. The 1973 oil crisis led to tough economic times through to 1978. In addition, the separation of Singapore from Malaya in 1965 had a negative impact on student enrolment. A group of NAFA graduates launched a sale of their artworks on 8 February 1974 and raised $120,000 to relieve the school’s financial difficulties.

Numerous graduates came back to NAFA to help sustain its fine artistic tradition and promotion of fine art in Singapore. They include Tan Ping Chiang and Sim Kok Huoy who established the Applied Arts course in 1974.

In 1976, NAFA started painting classes for children who would form a pool of potential students for NAFA and would also contribute to the awareness of the arts.

By 1978, there were about 180 students in full-time and part-time evening and weekend courses taught by 12 lecturers who were well-known local artists. They taught Chinese ink painting, pencil sketching, oil painting, sculpture and other art theoretical studies.


Wu Tsung Kan was appointed the third Principal and Lim Yew Kuan the Vice Principal in 1979.

In 1982, with the support of Singapore Foochow Association, NAFA acquired additional premises at 107A Sophia Road which was named the San San Campus. In the same year, NAFA broke new grounds by launching a new full-time Diploma in Applied Arts course, the first institution to do so in Singapore. Courses in computer graphic design were also offered. NAFA’s name in Chinese was changed from 南洋美术专科学校 to 南洋美术专科学院 which promoted its status from a school to an academy.

As a reflection of Singapore's economic growth and cultural development in the 1970s and 1980s, the department of Interior Design was formed in 1983, the departments of Music and Dance were set up in 1984, followed by the launch of the Fashion Design department in 1986.

In 1983, the Ministry of Education sent the first batch of 20 teachers to NAFA to upgrade their skills in fine art. This milestone of the government’s recognition was a valuable endorsement. In 1984, the Secondary School Art Teachers in-Service class was converted to the department of Arts Education.

The Academy took up lease at Nan Hwa campus at 2 Adis Road in 1985 after the administration office moved to the San San Campus the year before.


The 1990s heralded a decade of enormous strides and changes at NAFA as it grew itself into a full-fledged arts institution offering new programmes in design and multimedia.

In 1990, the National Arts Council leased former Selegie School premises at 1A Short Street to NAFA as its third campus named as the Selegie Campus, in addition to its Nan Hwa and San San campuses. The Academy’s name in Chinese was changed from 南洋美术专科学院 to 南洋艺术学院 to reflect its status beyond a fine art training institution but a comprehensive arts education institution.

In 1992, the logo was modified. NAFA Board Chairman Chng Heng Tiu was appointed as acting principal.

In 1994, Dr Soh Kay Cheng was appointed the fifth principal.

In 1997, Dr Ho Kah Leong, former Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Environment) was appointed NAFA’s sixth principal. A multimedia department was set up in January. Various departments were re-organised into three main schools - School of Visual Arts, School of Performing Arts and International School of Fashion Studies. Visual Arts included Fine Art, Graphic Design, Interior Design and Multimedia. The Drama (renamed Theatre in 1998) department was set up in August 1997. In 1996, the National Arts Council sponsored NAFA for the acquisition of the old premises of St. Anthony’s Convent on Middle Road to replace Nan Hwa and San San campuses, as well as space at 11 Upper Wilkie Road the year after.

In 1998, NAFA launched two degree programmes in collaboration with Australian universities as it expanded its offerings for further education.

Arts education gained public interest in 1997 and the government commissioned a study on the feasibility of upgrading the two extant arts institutions. The study reviewed their roles in arts education and examined an expanded situation that would provide well-trained graduates to meet the fast growth of the creative industries. That resulted in NAFA being recognised as a full-fledged tertiary institution and being awarded polytechnic-level funding for all of its Diploma courses by Singapore’s Ministry of Education in 1999.

In the same year, the School of Young Talents was set up to bring together Junior Art, Junior Music, Junior Dance and Junior Drama under one department, providing one-stop arts enrichment lessons to children. The International School of Fashion Studies was also renamed School of Fashion Studies.

2000 and beyond[edit]

In NAFA’s bid to occupy its own purpose-built campus, it approached the government and succeeded in getting three plots of land totaling 8,500sqm along Bencoolen Street. NAFA made a historic move to its current three campuses in 2004. This was the first time since its founding in 1938 that the Academy was occupying its own buildings.

Former Chief Executive Officer of National Arts Council, Choo Thiam Siew, became NAFA president in 2003. The Ministry of Education also entrusted NAFA to train future art and music teachers; two teaching courses, Diploma in Art Teaching and Diploma in Music Teaching were launched.

Further changes were made to the naming of departments to reflect the changing courses. In 2007, the Interior Design Department was renamed Department of 3D Design; Visual Communications and Multimedia Departments were merged and named Department of Design & Media; Arts Management Department was renamed Department of Arts Management & Education.

In celebration of its 70th anniversary in 2008, NAFA organised the inaugural NAFA Symposium – “New Asian Imaginations”, to anchor NAFA’s position in the research and teaching of the arts with a distinctive regional emphasis. An anniversary book on NAFA’s history and future plans titled, ‘Arts Education and the New Economy: NAFA 1938 – 2008’ was also published.

A new logo was launched in 2009. NAFA Gallery 3 was renamed Lim Hak Tai Gallery in tribute of NAFA’s founding principal and his portrait sculpture was unveiled outside the gallery.

NAFA sought to partner top universities for its degree programmes and a comprehensive programme of courses from UK universities was introduced from 1999 to 2001. In April 2011, NAFA became the first comprehensive arts education institution to launch a government-funded degree programme, the Bachelor of Music (Hons), with the prestigious Royal College of Music (RCM), London. It was also the first time that the RCM was conferring its degrees outside the UK.

The second NAFA Symposium: New Asian Imaginations: (Re)Searching the Arts in Southeast Asia was held in September 2011. NAFA also announced the development plan for its fourth campus to be built above the future Bencoolen Street MRT station.

In 2013, NAFA celebrated its 75th anniversary with an extravaganza of visual and performing arts events to showcase its talented students and faculties. The events culminated in a NAFA 75th Anniversary Fundraising Gala Dinner & Concert graced by President Tony Tan Keng Yam on 1 November which raised more than $1.2 million for its Development Fund.

After a decade of success, Choo Thiam Siew left NAFA as president in 2014. Former Ngee Ann Polytechnic principal Chia Mia Chiang took over the helm as NAFA president on 1 April.

NAFA strives to be a provider of quality arts education for all ages. As a school which started humbly in 1938 with 14 Fine Art students, NAFA has been at the forefront of arts education development in Singapore for more than 70 years and continues to chart new frontiers.

Demand for its programmes has remained strong, and the school projects a student population of 3,300 by 2024.[10]

NAFA offers full-time diploma and degree programmes across three schools: the School of Art and Design (fine art, design and media, fashion studies and 3D design), the School of Music and the School of Arts Management, Dance and Theatre.

Programmes and campus location[edit]

Design and Media Programme Campus 1
Fine Arts Programme Campus 1
3D Design Programme Campus 1
Fashion Studies Programme Campus 2
Arts Management Programme Campus 3
Dance Programme Campus 3
Theatre Programme Campus 3
Music Programme Campus 3


NAFA operates from three campuses along Bencoolen Street.[11]

Campus One[edit]

Aerial View of NAFA's Campus 1.

NAFA Campus 1 is divided into 2 wings, Wing A & Wing B, with a linking bridge. It boasts a High Definition Studio, a Creative Media Studio for 3D animation and special effects, and audio-video production facilities.

Skylight Studios allow painting in natural, evenly distributed daylight. There are also Photography Studios equipped with studio flash systems and digital cameras and Jewelry Workshops with casting, processing and setting facilities, Interior Design Material and Project room, Drafting Studios and 3D Model Workshops and 3 art galleries with a total exhibition area of 850 sq m.

A 2-Storey library is located at Wing A. It houses an impressive collection of arts-related publications and journals available for members, staff and students only. The Tanoto Foundation Centre for Southeast Asian Arts is located on the 7th floor. TFCSEA@NAFA, a website housing a full-text bilingual database of more than 100,000 pages of Southeast Asian arts materials was launched in 2011 to aid scholars and students' research in this area. Arts institutions and public members can join as members to access the materials online.

Campus Two[edit]

This campus houses workshops for batik printing, textile development and embroidery design, drafting and draping, among other facilities.

Campus Three[edit]

There is a plush 380-seat Lee Foundation Theatre with a rotating central platform on stage, an adjustable orchestra pit with superb acoustics and two Steinway Model D grand pianos. The school's famous Studio Theatre or “Black Box” is also located here. Other facilities include a Recital Hall, soundproof Music Studios and Dance Studios.

Future Campus[edit]

The purpose-built NAFA Campus Four will be located on top of the upcoming Bencoolen MRT Station (new Downtown Line Station), adjacent to NAFA Campus One. The new campus will be ready by 2017.[11] When it opens in early 2017, the new building will boast facilities such as state-of-the-art studios and classrooms, easing the school's current space crunch.

With about 2,400 full-time students as of 2015, NAFA is slightly overcrowded. Its three existing campuses in Bencoolen Street were built to cater to only 2,200 students.[10]

Further education with United Kingdom[edit]

NAFA collaborates with universities from the United Kingdom to offer advanced standing Bachelor's Degree programmes for students who has graduated with a Diploma and have the intention to receive further education.

Bachelor of Arts (Hons) 3D Design: New Practice Loughborough University [12]
Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Graphic Communication Loughborough University [12]
Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Fine Art Loughborough University [12]
Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Spatial Design University of Central Lancashire [13]
Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Fashion University of East London [14]
Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Fashion and Marketing University of East London [14]
Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Creative Industry Management University of Essex [15]
Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Theatre Arts University of Essex (East 15 Acting School) [15]
Bachelor of Music (Hons) Royal College of Music [16]

Notable alumni[edit]

Cultural Medallion recipients[edit]

Year of Award Name Discipline Year of Graduation
1979 Wee Beng Chong Art 1958
1981 Ng Eng Teng Art 1961
1981 Lee Hock Moh Art 1970
1984 Thomas Yeo Art 1960
1985 Tay Chee Toh Art 1960
1990 Anthony Poon Art 1964
1995 Han Sai Por Art 1977
2001 Tan Kian Por Art 1970
2005 Chng Seok Tin Visual Arts 1972
2006 Tan Choh Tee Visual Arts 1962
2009 Ang Ah Tee Visual Arts 1962
2011 Lim Yew Kuan Visual Arts 1950
2015 Chua Mia Tee Visual Arts 1952

Young Artist Award recipients[edit]

Year of Award Name Discipline Year of Graduation
1992 S.Chandrasekaran Visual Arts 1985
1995 Baet Yeok Kuan Visual Arts 1987
1997 Lim Poh Teck Visual Arts 1987
2000 Lim Chin Huat Dance 1994
2000 Hong Sek Chern Visual Arts 1995
2001 Goh Boon Teck Theatre 1991
2001 Chua Say Hua Anthony Visual Arts 1992
2002 Tay Bak Chiang Visual Arts 1995
2006 Goh Toh Chai Zechariah Music 1989
2006 Yeo Chee Kiong Visual Arts 1993
2013 Mohammed Zulkarnaen Bin Othman (Zero) Visual Arts 2000
2013 Muhammad Zaki B Abd Razak Visual Arts 2007
2013 Chua Yew Kok Music 2006

Image gallery[edit]


External links[edit]