This year, the corporate gift distributed by United Overseas Bank (UOB) Hong Kong was a colourful calendar; consisting of pictures drawn at an art event they organised for children affected by cancer. As a supporter of the arts and various other causes, the Singapore-based bank wanted to increase awareness of the Children’s Cancer Foundation, and the talented young people who remain so high-spirited in spite of the tremendous hardships they’ve had to overcome. “These children are facing life or death issues,” says Christine Ip, UOB’s managing director and CEO, Greater China. “But no matter what they are going through, they stay strong and express their feelings through art.” UOB wishes to make art more accessible to a wide cross-section of the community, and to nurture talent by giving people, especially underprivileged youths, opportunities to showcase their work. For example, the bank recently sponsored five youngsters from Sham Shui Po to attend the Opera Hong Kong Summer School. At the end of the course, they had the chance to perform in a full operatic production as fairies and gingerbread men, showcasing their newly developed skills. “It was something to remember and I was so happy,” says nine-year-old Mandy Wang Manfei. “I like singing opera and my parents came to see me perform in my beautiful fairy costume.” The students received both vocal and drama training, and were able to make new friends by meeting kids with a similar love of music. Many said the course also helped them overcome a fear of using English. UOB has also given support to Evangel Children’s Home, which helps youngsters with serious family problems. Some live in the home while others go there to study during the day. The children often have serious self-esteem issues, which is why UOB decided to offer a tutorial programme covering maths, Chinese and English for those of primary school age. Ip says it was painful to see that some of the children initially thought it was useless to help them. They felt they would not amount to anything and, in many cases, it took weeks to win their acceptance. Twelve volunteers from the bank made the commitment to tutor small groups of three to four children for up to 18 months. They still visit them at the home for other bank-sponsored events such as open days, movie nights, and a lantern-making workshop for the Mid-Autumn festival. Such activities take place in cooperation with UOB’s clients, which consist of large corporations and non-profit organizations. In addition, a number of therapists, psychologists and educators provide advice on how to fine-tune ideas and initiatives for the best outcomes. “We nurture art appreciation in several ways,” Ip says. “There are workshops and panel discussions, contests concluding with an exhibition, and family events such as art jams and carnivals.” One such event was the “Garden of Arts” Children Charities Carnival this summer, which saw close to 1,000 participating families. UOB sponsored 60 families from Tuen Mun and arranged for students from local secondary schools and universities to take family photos for those attending. These students were given a crash course in portrait photography by an experienced professional prior to the event. “The feeling of helping others is quite unforgettable,” says 16-year-old Kitty Ng, who took around 20 family portraits. “In the future, I will also donate money to NGOs to help people in other countries.” Her schoolmate, 17-year-old Christina Chau, agreed that it is important to give something back to the community in ways other than selling flags or visiting elderly homes. Last year saw the launch of the UOB Art Academy, which aims to pull together different corporate social responsibility programmes and promote cross-cultural dialogue between Southeast and Northern Asia. One of the academy’s key initiatives is its annual competition and exhibition. This year’s exhibit, “Out to sea? The Plastic Garbage Project”, made people think about environmental issues with the help of art. In collaboration with local “band three” schools, there were three basic steps. The first focused on environmental protection and consisted of activities such as cleaning the rubbish from beaches. The second involved installation artists, who taught the students important skills. The third saw students create their own installation art with plastic they had collected. The best works were featured in the exhibition. “All this raised consciousness about the environment, provided language practice for the students, and contributed to art appreciation,” explains Ip. This year, UOB has opened a permanent exhibition space at the Regal Airport Hotel and launched the UOB Connectivity Photography Award. The themes for contestants include Local Travel, Nature and Children. There three categories of contestants include Junior Student, Senior Student and Open. Over 10,000 entries have been received thus far. “We want to bring energy, hope and positivity to society and connect Hong Kong with Singapore and the rest of the region,” Ip says.