Arts haven The Substation to vacate premises by end-July after 30 years

·3-min read
The Substation arts centre building on Armenian Street in Singapore. Photo dated August 2019. (Photo: The Substation/Facebook)
The Substation on Armenian Street. (Photo: The Substation/Facebook)

Singapore’s first independent arts centre, The Substation, will be vacating its 30-year-old location in July as the National Arts Council (NAC) carries out renovation works in the building.

The Substation, located on Armenian Street, was founded in September 1990 by Cultural Medallion winner and playwright Kuo Pao Kun.

In a post on the centre’s Facebook, The Substation’s artistic co-director Raka Maitra said, "At the end of July, The Substation will be no more, and what was plainly obvious would disappear. It will be the end of an era. Nonetheless, this ending will be marked with a SeptFest like no other."

According to TODAY, Loh Aik Khoon, the centre’s general manager, said his team had some venues in mind for relocation which were either suggested by the NAC or scouted by The Substation’s team. The venues included Goodman Arts Centre in Mountbatten and Aliwal Arts Centre in Kampong Glam. It is unclear if they could return to the Armenian Street location after its renovation, or in what format.

Within The Substation, local artists can rent and use facilities such as the theatre, dance studio and art gallery. It has also been home to some of Singapore’s critically acclaimed artists, including Amanda Heng and Kok Heng Leun, the artistic director of theatre company Drama Box and a former Nominated Member of Parliament.

While The Substation might return to Armenian Street, Loh said that they don’t know if the centre will have “the whole building for us to manage and to work with all the artists or if it will be a shared working space with other arts groups. We’re not sure what plans NAC has at this point.”

Discussions with NAC about The Substation’s relocation during renovation works had gone on for months as the centre is a unique space that allows collaborations between different arts groups. “It’s hard to find a new space that gives us what we have now — a theatre, a gallery, a dance studio, working spaces all interconnected to give an organic collaboration space for artists,” Loh said.

Following the relocation, The Substation’s revenue may be affected as half of its funding comes from the rental income while the other half is from an NAC grant. This will make it harder to support its programmes, Loh said.

For the last hurrah before the move, The Substation will be holding SeptFest, a month-long celebration of art, culture and community to celebrate the centre’s anniversary. Instead of having the festival in September during the centre’s anniversary, it will now take place in March after a 5-year hiatus.

SeptFest will run from 4 March to 27 March, based on the theme In The Margins and highlighting and redefining the stories of the fringe. The festival will take a closer look at the stories of the marginalised, displaced and forgotten communities who are often out of sight. Some of the programmes will have limited tickets due to the safe distancing measures put in place because of COVID-19.

Tickets to SeptFest’s programmes can be purchased on their Eventbrite site.

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