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  • Feb 09, 2021

Singapore’s The Substation Loses Its Space After 30 Years

*updated February 11, 2021.

Exterior view of The Subtation in Singapore. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Singapore’s first independent contemporary art space, The Substation, will vacate its current space on Armenian Street after three decades at the end of July. Previously it was aware that its current premises would be renovated as part of the National Arts Council’s (NAC) two-year plan, but only learned yesterday that the NAC is turning the site into a multi-group arts center.

The Substation’s plans for the future are now uncertain. Speaking to ArtAsiaPacific, co-artistic director Raka Maitra stated that the center “got notice yesterday from The Straits Times article [published that day] that it wouldn’t be coming back in full capacity,” and that due to this change, the center now needs to “rework plans,” as it was only “making plans to survive” the two-year renovation but had expected to return in full. Maitra further added that in order for the center to continue its current work, which includes providing experimental spaces for young artists along with a theater, a dance studio, classrooms, and a 113 square-meter gallery, “It’s important for us to have our own space. We need the space for people and artists to work in, to display works in.”

The NAC has proposed the Goodman Arts Centre and the Aliwal Arts Centre as possible temporary locations, and the center is also considering other options. However, while there is financial subsidization by the NAC, almost half of the center’s income comes from venue rentals, so the loss of space will make program funding more difficult.

The NAC’s renovation plan includes technological upgrades and began after a site inspection in 2017 that cited a need to refurbish the 95-year-old building. The Substation originally opened in 1990 under the NAC’s Art Housing Scheme, which provided subsidized rental locations for arts organizations. The policy was revised in 2011 as the Framework for Arts Spaces, which aims to address the lack of physical spaces for Singapore’s growing arts scene by encouraging a multi-tenant model.

Founded by playwright and art activist Kuo Pao Kun, The Substation is a pioneering force in Singapore’s art scene. Known for its unconventional and thematic programming, it launched an examination of Singapore’s physical features in relation to its citizens in projects titled “Discipline the City” (2017), “Cities Change. People die. Everything you know goes away.” (2018), and “A Public Square” (2019). Its last exhibition at the space will be its signature month-long festival, SeptFest, titled “In The Margins,” which will run from March 4–28.

Martine Ma is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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