The Board of independent arts centre The Substation’s decision to turn down the National Arts Council (NAC)’s support to “re-imagine its impact on the arts scene” is a “missed opportunity”, said the Council in a media statement on 2 March.
On Tuesday, The Substation announced that it has decided to permanently shutter Singapore’s first independent contemporary arts centre in July 2021, which is when it is supposed to vacate its 45 Armenian Street premises for much needed renovation.
In a statement, The Substation noted that its decision not to return was due to the fact that the NAC wants them to return to the premises as a co-tenant once renovations are over instead of occupying the building in its full capacity as it did before.
The NAC, while acknowledging The Substation’s rich history and significant contribution within the cultural scene in Singapore, noted that it “deeply” regrets, but respects, the Board’s decision.
NAC noted that it was of the view that The Substation’s request to return to the 45 Armenian Street building as sole tenant was “neither feasible nor sustainable in the longer term”.
“In a landscape where there are now more organisations and practitioners, the space would be of greater benefit to the broader arts community, when made available to other arts groups,” the Council added.
However, in an FAQ accompanying its statement, The Substation had explained that it has always worked with emerging artists and arts groups, hiring out facilities primarily for arts usage and to the 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 noted.
The Substation also explained that returning as co-tenant to the building would mean that the centre would no longer have control or autonomy over the building facilities which are integral to its operations. This would, therefore, impact The Substation’s ability to operate as an independent arts centre and incubator, it added.
This would also affect the centre’s ability to hire out the venue, which was an income stream. Couple with the absence of a substantial inflow of private funding, this would make The Substation’s business model unsustainable.
When the renovations on 45 Armenian Street was announced and the future of The Substation was thrown into question, the NAC had suggested that the centre change its operational model.
In fact, NAC statement on The Substation’s closure noted that it had offered to work with the centre to review its artistic and financial strategies, and come up with plans to allow it to “engage in business transformation”.
NAC also asserted that “it would not be feasible for any arts company to be sustainable if it relies on almost 90% of its income from Government funding, including the commercial tenancy income it derives from leasing out parts of the subsidised premises at 45 Armenian Street allocated by NAC.”
It added, “As custodians of Government resources, it is not feasible for NAC to continue to provide subsidised premises to The Substation, which is then re-let out on commercial terms.”
However, The Substation had argued that changing its operating model would change its mission “to be an arts centre that provides valuable safe spaces for emerging and experimental artists.”
“These physical spaces showcase multidisciplinary works which have been at the core of the Substation’s identity,” it said.
“To change its operating model would mean a drastic reduction of such spaces, the autonomy to determine their usage, and the inability to free young artists from commercial pressure as they develop their craft.
“In short, the Substation will cease to be the Substation if it alters its operating model.”