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Mar 02 2021

The Substation Decides Its Closure Will be Permanent

by Pamela Wong

An exterior view of The Substation, Singapore. Image via Facebook.

On March 2, The Substation, Singapore’s first independent contemporary art space, announced its upcoming permanent closure after rounds of discussions with Singapore’s National Arts Council (NAC) regarding its future. The organization will continue to run its scheduled program at 45 Armenian Street until the end of July.

The Substation had previously been planning to temporarily vacate its current premises to accommodate the NAC’s two-year renovation plan for the historic 90-year-old building that was deemed necessary in 2017. Meanwhile, the NAC had been considering the transformation of the space into a multi-tenanted art center, which would require The Substation to share the building with other organizations upon its eventual return.

According to its latest announcement, The Substation Board concluded that The Substation would not be able to continue if it is unable to return in its current full form to its original location, due to its “loss of identity and heritage,” and its inability to “control the building facilities integral to its operations such as the theatre and gallery.” While the organization considered alternative forms of operation, the board ultimately concluded that this shift would result in “the loss of autonomy over the spaces and facilities crucial for its mission, and the loss of income from venue hiring.” The board also mentioned other crucial factors for its decision, including the difficulties in securing long-term private donations to support its operations, efforts made even more difficult by Covid-19. 

Chew Kheng Chuan, chairperson of The Substation, added in its statement: “With our closure, we hope that other arts organisations in Singapore will continue to carry the torch to give budding artists a safe space in which to experiment and develop their art. We also hope that the NAC will take a chance on young, unproven, passionate artists, and support the work of independent arts incubator spaces that have been vital to these artists, as it did for The Substation through the prior 30 years.”

While both parties had been in discussions, ArtAsiaPacific reported that The Substation only learned of NAC’s confirmed plans to transform the space into a multi-tenanted model on February 8. On February 25, AAP was sent a statement penned by NAC deputy chief executor of planning and corporate development, Paul Tan, in response to recent media coverage concerning NAC’s decision. In the letter, Tan acknowledged the space’s decades-long contribution to the city-state’s experimental art scene and its vital support for the young artists. He also emphasized the importance of “enabling a diversity of artforms and voices in the sector,” explaining that “spaces, especially in the city centre, are hard to come by and NAC, which leases the sites from Government, needs to make sure they are properly utilised and managed. There is certainly no intention to displace groups which are contributing to the community and larger society.” In Tan’s explanation, “There is no reason why The Substation’s vision needs to be tied to a brick-and-mortar building,” and “no reason why an organisation with the right chutzpah and clarity of purpose cannot co-exist with other arts tenants and succeed.”

Founded by playwright and art activist Kuo Pao Kun, The Substation opened in 1990 under the NAC’s rental subsidizing Art Housing Scheme. The policy was changed to the Framework for Arts Spaces in 2011, which encourages a multi-tenant model in an attempt to address the lack of physical spaces for Singapore’s growing arts scene. The Substation has confirmed that all of its records will be kept by an as-yet unspecified organization and made available to the public after a hired vendor properly completes the archiving process.

Pamela Wong is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor. 

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.

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