After a long and storied 30 years, The Substation will be shutting its doors permanently in July 2021.
The arts centre—founded in 1990 by prominent figure in theatre, the late Kuo Pao Kun—announced its closure in a media statement on Tuesday, noting that the “difficult” decision was made by board members after lengthy discussions with the National Arts Council (NAC) and members of the arts community.
Not long ago, it was announced publicly that The Substation would have to vacate its premises at 45 Armenian Street by July this year to allow for much needed refurbishment and renovation on the building.
However, once the renovations are complete, the NAC said that The Substation would be able to return to the building as a co-tenant, instead of occupying the building in its full capacity as before.
The statement explained that the inability for the centre to return fully would mean that The Substation “will lose a fundamental part of its identity and heritage.”
“From its opening in 1990, the identity of the arts centre has been inextricably linked to the building, generating a unique and creative buzz that has been central to placemaking in Armenian Street for 30 years,” the statement noted, adding that “there is no other place like it.”
In its 30 years of history at 45 Armenian Street, The Substation has incubated 98 Associate Artists or Artists-in-Residence, developed 10 President’s Young Talents Award winners, and nurtured 20 Young Artist Award recipients. There are 13 Cultural Medallion winners who are associated The Substation.
The second reason cited for the permanent closure of Singapore’s first independent contemporary arts centre was the inability for The Substation to be able to control the building facilities which are “integral” to its operations if it returns as co-tenants.
“This has two implications, namely, the loss of autonomy over the spaces and facilities crucial for its mission, and the loss of income from venue hiring,” the statement noted.
“These factors impact the Substation’s ability to operate as an independent arts centre and incubator.”
It added, “With respect, the Board does not agree with NAC’s decision to convert 45 Armenian Street into a multi-tenanted building.”
On a broader note, The Substation also shared that the economic impact of COVID-19 has also affected fundraising for the arts, making it very difficult which is a major consideration as the centre relied heavily on donations.
“NAC did offer grants to help the Substation tide over the next two years and a subsidised office space at Goodman Arts Centre, but this will still result in halving our current budget, entailing a drastic reduction in staff strength and programming,” the statement noted.
Mr Chew Kheng Chuan, Chairperson of the Substation, said: “With the loss of 45 Armenian Street, which has been synonymous with the Substation for the past 30 years, the Substation will lose a fundamental part of its identity and heritage. The Board feels a deep responsibility to the local arts community to preserve the identity and heritage of the Substation as an independent arts centre.
While The Substation is closing in July, it will still go ahead with the celebration of its 30th anniversary as per the announced programmes. The SeptFest will also run on 4 to 28 March, with the theme In The Margins.
In an FAQ, The Substation also noted that the substantial amount of records and documents it had amassed over the past 30 years which charts the country’s evolving arts landscape will be archived and made available to the public at a later date.
On whether the 45 Armenian Street premises would be better utilised for multiple art groups as the NAC plans instead of a single arts centre, The Substation explained that it has always worked with emerging artists and arts groups and its facilities hired out for primarily arts usage and to members of the arts community.
“After the upgrading of 45 Armenian Street, if the NAC had seen it fit to return 45 Armenian Street to the Substation, 45 Armenian Street would have continued as a home for the arts community and a myriad of diverse artists and multiple arts groups, as it has been for the last 30 years,” it stressed.
The Substation asserted that the NAC’s decision to take back control of the building “appears to have been largely on utilitarian grounds”.
“In making this decision, it also decided against conserving the identity and the precious heritage, built over the last 30 years, of 45 Armenian Street,” the statement continued.
“We believe that there must be other buildings or spaces in Singapore, without such a long intangible heritage and historical significance, that could have served as a multi-tenanted arts facility operated by the NAC.
“We understand that all policy decisions come with trade-offs. However, we also note that the arduous work of placemaking also comes with trade-offs, such as the need to prioritise identity and heritage over utilitarian or functionalist concerns,” it added, stressing that “The Substation’s identity and heritage are irretrievably tied to the building.”