The National Arts Council (NAC) could have, at the very least, informed the arts community of its plan to “bury The Substation” at Armenian Street, said veteran theatre educator Thirunalan Sasitharan on Tuesday (9 February).
The Cultural Medallion winner described the NAC as a “graveyard for independent arts in Singapore” in a Facebook post referencing an article by The Straits Times on Monday on the Council’s plan to convert The Substation into a centre for arts groups. The renovation is expected to begin in the third quarter of 2021.
An NAC spokesperson told ST on Monday that once the refurbishment of the space is complete, The Substation will have the option of returning as a tenant there under the Framework for Arts Spaces Scheme introduced in 2011.
The Substation is an arts centre in Singapore established back in 1990 by the late Kuo Pao Kun—a prominent figure in theatre—and has pioneered experimental arts programming in the country. It is known for being an incubator for artists to collaborate and experiment—the space on Armenian Street houses a black box, art gallery, studio, and working spaces.
According to ST, NAC said it would also be asking other art groups to share the refurbished space with The Substation, noting that there has been a higher demand for physical spaces to support work as the art scene continues to grow.
Last July, ST also reported on the risk of The Substation losing its home after renovation works.
This harks back to renovation of Centre 42 on Waterloo Street which caused dismay among the art community.
Post-renovation, the space was co-run by an Arts Resources Hub, which is an initiative by the NAC to support freelancers.
According to the NAC, the renovations to the Armenian Street space will introduce new technology and an improved design to support multi-disciplinary arts.
The council added that it had identified the building for upgrading in late 2017 following a site inspection, and that The Substation was consulted on the matter.
“Following this, NAC delayed the renovation project and extended The Substation’s lease to accommodate their 30th anniversary programming on the premises,” said the spokesman.
“Since then, NAC has also engaged The Substation and its key stakeholders regarding their needs and plans. NAC has also offered The Substation interim space options and provided additional funding to support its needs during this period.”
Co-artistic director of The Substation, Raka Maitra, told ST on Monday that the future of the centre appears uncertain as plans would need to change.
“I was hoping we would be able to come back full-scale, otherwise I don’t know how we’ll keep our Associate Artist Programme going, how we will have festivals, how we will have an interdisciplinary space,” she said.
“There’s a difference between arts housing and a home for the arts.
“If we get only part of the space and we have to rent the theatre for our own shows, it won’t be an incubation space anymore. It will be very difficult to keep the vision of The Substation alive. We have artists from every discipline working here, and this is really a space for young artists.”
While the space is being renovated, The Substation is looking at alternative venues including the Goodman Arts Centre and the Aliwal Arts Centre for the interim.
The Substation currently has 11 full-time and three part-time employees, with 50 percent of its funding coming from the NAC Major Grant. The remaining 50 per cent is income from leasing out spaces in the building.