Jul 26 2021

New Lease on Life for Nearly-Shuttered Substation

by Judy Chiu

Singapore art space The Substation will continue operating following a major restructure. Image via Facebook.

In a major U-turn, Singapore’s independent art space The Substation, which had announced its permanent closure in March, will continue to operate under new leadership, according to a statement dated July 23. Evolving from an arts center to “an arts company focused on developing original programming,” Substation 2.0 will undergo significant restructuring in the coming months.

The Substation’s current co-artistic director Raka Maitra will helm the revamped organization alongside incoming general manager Serene Yap. Film curator and arts manager Wahyuni Hadi, who previously served as programme manager and board member of The Substation, will chair the new board, which consists of producer and media specialist Michelle Chang, musician Joe Ng, playwright Bryan Tan, filmmaker Kirsten Tang, writer Cyril Wong, and continuing board member Jean-Louis Morisot. Before the new board commences its duties at the end of August, The Substation plans to apply for funding from the National Arts Council (NAC) and begin “seeking private sector and community support.”

The latest restructuring plan resulted from two proposals submitted to The Substation following a “town hall” meeting on March 6, where members of the arts community discussed strategies to revive the space. Both proposals—one by artist Shaiful Risan, the other by a group of art workers including artist Alvin Tan and theater director Kok Heng Leun—drew inspiration from Singapore’s punk and theater scenes, and emphasized the need for The Substation to remain an independent establishment. After extensive discussions with the proposers and evaluations by a diverse group of advisors, which included Ute Meta Bauer, the founding director of NTU Center for Contemporary Art, Singapore, and Tamares Goh, the head of curatorial programs at National Gallery Singapore,  Hadi and Morisot finalized the roadmap for a new Substation that reconciles its artistic mission with financial sustainability.

The Substation’s future came into question back in February, when the NAC publicized its plan to turn the organization’s original venue on 45 Armenian Street into a multi-tenanted art center, thereby diminishing The Substation’s footprint. The art space had been aware of the plan to refurbish the 95-year-old building but not of the conversion to a multi-tenant model. The board decided at the time to shutter The Substation permanently, believing that NAC’s decision, coupled with financial struggles exacerbated by the pandemic, jeopardized its ability to operate independently. News of the potential closure of Singapore’s first independent art space prompted a public outcry and galvanized support for its revamp.

A new venue for Substation 2.0 is yet to be confirmed, though chairperson Hadi affirmed the company’s vision to “re-establish and redefine” its purpose “as the home for independent artists in Singapore, independent of our original building, while expanding our collaborative partnerships locally and in the region.”

Judy Chiu is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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