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Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia

Dear Waterloo Street, From An Emerging Arts Manager

Text and illustrations by Ho Shu En
(1,600 words, 4-minute read) 

Waterloo Street is for me, a place of beginnings. It has accompanied me through my journey as an arts management student from Singapore Management University (SMU) to my current job as an arts manager with Theatre Practice. While many things may have changed, Waterloo Street has remained a persistent presence in my life. 

Waterloo Street used to be nothing more than a road that connected me from SMU to Bugis or a street where I could find cheaper food alternatives. Today, it has become a place that I have developed fond memories in; a place that has played a big part in developing my artistic practice. ‘Artistic’ practice here is not confined to only art making but arts management too. I see arts management as an artistic practice as it often requires creativity to enable the arts to happen in spite of the circumstances (Lim, 2018; Rhine, 2018). This includes creative problem-solving, to relational skills and advocating for the value of the arts. 

Through the different interactions I have had with the different arts organisations located along the street, I realised that Waterloo Street is not just a street housing many arts spaces. These arts spaces don’t just serve the purpose of programming for audiences, but are important work spaces for artists and arts managers too.

To me, creative placemaking is a means of enabling purposeful connection and engagement with the place and people through the arts. The bond I have with the street and its people has grown stronger overtime. According to Seamon (2013), place attachment are “the emotional bonds between people and a particular place and environment”. It takes time and “the interplay of several place processes” (Hoe, 2020) to build a sense of place. I realised that it is not about the flashy festivals or one-time events – it was the continual engagement provided by these arts organisations that brought me closer to the street. My arts management journey began at Waterloo Street. Here’s my story.

#1 Planting Seeds

As a daughter of an art teacher, I have always been passionate and curious about the arts. Yet, I have never been directly involved in the local arts ecosystem. One day, I chanced upon the Arts and Culture Management (ACM) Programme at SMU. After my first module – “Introduction to Arts and Cultural Management” –  with Professor Hoe Su Fern, I finally figured out what I wanted to explore further in relation to my relationship with the arts: arts management. 

Although the street is a stone’s throw away from SMU, it was the collaborations and connections between Professor Hoe and the arts managers working there that provided me with opportunities to build a sense of place. 

My very first encounter with Waterloo Street was at Centre 42, which is a non-profit theatre development organisation supporting the creation, documentation and promotion of Singapore theatre. This was where I attended a sharing session by playwright Joel Tan, as one of the many sharing sessions organised as part of the SMU ACM curriculum. This sharing session also included an introduction to the work of Centre 42 and their relationship with playwrights like Joel, which deepened my knowledge and understanding about how intermediaries like Centre 42 play a critical role in supporting artists and the overall ecosystem. 

That sharing session was the first of many subsequent visits to Centre 42’s space and the start of many interpersonal exchanges with artists and arts managers. Although each exchange is unique, I saw a commonality across the different arts managers – the sincere attempt to reach out, connect and share the joy of the arts with the students they encounter. Such engagements are an important factor in developing relationships and building place belongingness (Williams & Jones, 2011). 

The years of meeting different arts managers at Waterloo Street have inspired me to want to do what they do – to embody that desire to connect and engage, and to harness every opportunity to advocate for the arts. 

Presently, the house is no longer the same shade of blue but the memories I have with the space still brings me back in time.1In 2020, 42 Waterloo Street was returned to the National Arts Council (NAC) as part of the plans to redevelop the space into a main physical site of the Arts Resource Hub, and Centre 42 becoming a co-tenant occupying just the office space. These redevelopment plans included giving the building a fresh coat of paint. For more, see Hoe, 2020. No doubt, I feel blue whenever I walk past it. 

 

 

#2 Growing Roots – Planting is not a one day’s affair 

Not only have I been fortunate enough to be an arts student and audience member who has benefited from the numerous programmes and activities of the arts organisations at Waterloo Street, I have also been able to produce and be part of an upcoming arts programme. 

For one of my ACM modules, “Introduction to Performing Arts Management”, I was required to work together with a team to develop a feasible proposal to promote local English-language theatre through a creative response to a previous theatre production. As our proposal – RE:CALL, a movement response to Checkpoint Theatre’s 2009 play Recalling Mother and its conceptual framework as a “living script” – had a clear target audience and programming strategy, Centre 42 chose it to be realised as part of their 2021 Vault Programme, which documents Singaporean works dating back to its early theatre years and invites artists to create contemporary responses to these works.

Together with classmates and alumni from the ACM programme, I have been working since January 2021 to produce RE:CALL under the umbrella of the Arts Management Collective. As with producing theatre during a global pandemic, this journey has not been uncomplicated. The team has had to constantly evolve and adapt according to the changes in performance guidelines and safe management measures. However, it has also presented opportunities for us to find creative solutions to present the work. 

After months of preparation, RE:CALL will be staged at 42 Waterloo Street’s Blackbox. It is by no coincidence that RE:CALL will be the first presentation to reopen this space after the renovations. Waterloo Street has a place in all of our hearts, as it was the first touchpoint for the arts for many of us. As challenging as it has been, returning to this space of comfort with Centre 42 is truly a homecoming for all of us. The RE:CALL team is excited to share the spirit of care and collaboration with others, and hopes to touch more hearts through the power of the arts. 

 

#3 We are stronger together 

RE:CALL would not have been possible without the generous partnership of P7:1SMA2P7:1SMA is a dance performance company that embodies traditional and contemporary practices and radically shifts the perspective of Malay and dance through intimate and innovative experiences., a dance company that is a tenant at Stamford Arts Centre (SAC), which is also located along Waterloo Street. P7:1SMA is part of the artistic team for the show. Their space at SAC is also where most of our rehearsals have taken place. Their participation has developed what started out as a class proposal into a truly collaborative and interdisciplinary production. This partnership enabled me to understand what it truly means to be collaborative, and have an openness in sharing resources and supporting one another. To me, creativity happens in unimaginable ways when we help one another.

Indeed, the beauty of Waterloo Street as a state-designated arts belt is its agglomeration of numerous arts organisations and spaces from Centre 42 to Objectifs and Stamford Arts Centre. Being located close to each other has enabled creative synergies and exchange between the arts organisations. Apart from the friendship between Centre 42 and P7:1SMA, friendships have also been formed between them and The Theatre Practice and Objectifs. 

Their close bonds have led to several attempts to work together. They even call themselves the “Waterloo Kakis”. Their activities include gathering together to discuss collective challenges and experiences in informal settings such as lunches at The Theatre Practice’s Tuckshop space, as well as more formal settings like the panel discussion that was part of “Practice 55”, a 55-hour live stream to celebrate The Theatre Practice’s 55th anniversary in 2020.3The Theatre Practice (Practice) is Singapore’s longest-standing professional bilingual theatre institution. Artist-driven and deeply progressive, Practice strives to be an arts space in Singapore that consciously nurtures and empowers people who care about humanity. For information about its 55th anniversary, see https://www.practice.org.sg/practice-55-stories/ More recently, they have also come together to present It’s Not About The Numbers, which is a series of live in-person works for single or small audiences that takes place in August 2021 across their various arts spaces in Waterloo Street. 

 

#4 Germinating and Giving Back 

Today, I frequent Waterloo Street more than ever, be it to head to rehearsal or to work. This is especially since I have recently returned to Waterloo Street as a full-time arts manager at The Theatre Practice. Looking at how much I have received from the various Waterloo Kakis, it is my turn to support relevant stakeholders and to provide even more opportunities to foster similar connections with the street.

Each time I walk past Waterloo Street, I look forward to chancing upon people I know. I feel belonged. This sense of place that I have built over the years is organic and unplanned. It can be attributed to the opportunities that I was provided with by the arts managers in these arts organisations. As highlighted in this article, one key ingredient in building a sense of place is connection. According to Hoe (2020), “[a] peopled place is not always a community. Spaces and people both require time to become embedded within a neighbourhood, nurture social bonds and interpersonal networks, and foster vernacular creativity.”

Just like how the relationships formed over time have provided me with a sense of belonging at these ordinary spaces and in these everyday moments. Building a sense of place is not always about the outcome or the results a specific programme can yield at a particular time.

Dear Waterloo Street, thank you for being patient with me. You have expanded my world and I can’t wait to witness what the future has in store for you.

 

 

This article is written based on my personal experiences with Waterloo Street and the people I’ve met. All claims made are subjective and do not represent any organisations or stakeholders specifically. I would like to thank Professor Hoe Su Fern and ArtsEquator for this opportunity and platform to document my journey as an arts management student and emerging arts manager.  

 

References:

Hoe, S. F. (2020). ACM306 Session Ten—ACM306-Arts, Culture and the Global City-G1. https://elearn.smu.edu.sg/d2l/le/content/272109/viewContent/1623975/View

Hoe, S. F. (2020). Can Singapore’s art community build a sense of place amid shifting cultural policies?. TODAY Online. https://www.todayonline.com/commentary/building-sense-place-singapores-arts-community.

Lim, C. (2018). SMU Series: More Than Just Managers, Enabling the Arts. Arts Equator. https://artsequator.com/smu-series-arts-managers/ 

Rhine, A. (2018). Theatre Management: Arts Leadership for the 21st Century. Macmillan International Higher Education.

Seamon, D. (2013). Place attachment and phenomenology. Place attachment: Advances in theory, methods and applications, 12-22.

Williams, T., & Jones, B. (2011) Understanding Community Relevance. Australian Council for the Arts.


This article was written as part of the Arts and Cultural Management Programme of the Singapore Management University, under the guidance of Assistant Professor Hoe Su Fern. It is published as part of ArtsEquator’s show of support for our arts educators and students. 

Ho Shu En is a graduate of Singapore Management University, and currently works as a full-time arts manager at The Theatre Practice (Practice). 

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