By Ke Weiliang, with assistance from Nabilah Said
Last updated: 12 Nov 2021
ArtsEquator has compiled a timeline of events that details recent developments surrounding the future of The Substation. The timeline – displayed in chronological order – begins from late 2017 when the National Arts Council (NAC) first informed The Substation of its decision to renovate the premises at 45 Armenian Street, and tentatively concludes with the Parliament discussion around arts spaces that took place on 8 March 2021. We hope that the timeline as it is now will bring some perspective to the discourse around both the future of The Substation and arts spaces in Singapore in general, especially in this present moment when opinions are being generated at a stichomythic rate.
NAC informs The Substation that it will be renovating 45 Armenian Street
Based on publicly available statements that surfaced from July 2020 onwards, it is surmised that NAC first informed The Substation of its intention to renovate the premises at 45 Armenian Street in late 2017.
20 July 2020
First public mention of The Substation’s displacement from 45 Armenian Street
Ong Sor Fern of The Straits Times publishes an article titled “ITI, Necessary Stage losing their homes, while Substation may lose much of its space”. In this article, it is revealed that The Substation, alongside The Necessary Stage (TNS) and Intercultural Theatre Institute, will be moving out of their respective long-time premises. For the first time, it is publicly disclosed that NAC will be reclaiming the building at 45 Armenian Street for renovations in July 2021.
According to artistic co-director Raka Maitra, discussions between NAC and The Substation about the post-renovation future of the latter had begun way before she and fellow artistic co-director Dr. Woon Tien Wei were appointed. While NAC says it is keen to welcome The Substation back to 45 Armenian Street, a huge question mark looms over whether The Substation will retain operational autonomy over the entire building if and once renovations are complete.
24 August 2020
Launch of Saving Spaces project
In the aftermath of the abovementioned announcement, a project titled “Saving Spaces” is launched on social media. Launched by four individuals who claim to not be affiliated to any institutions, Saving Spaces aims to advocate the existence and preservation of arts spaces in Singapore.
In the spirit of encouraging discourse around this topic, Saving Spaces has thus far released a series of quotes extracted from their interviews with individuals representing the likes of The Substation, Intercultural Theatre Institute, The Necessary Stage and Centre 42 (whose own premises at 42 Waterloo Street got returned to NAC). Early this year, two workshops on the theme of “Supporting Independent Arts Spaces – Grassroots to Government” – co-organised with Grey Projects – were conducted for the public. All these initiatives are meant to culminate in the publication of a position paper, which remains in the works as of the publication of this timeline.
3 February 2021
The Substation announces the return of SeptFest
The Substation announces the return of SeptFest, after a six-year hiatus. A month-long arts festival that is held annually to commemorate the establishment of The Substation on 16 September 1990, this edition of SeptFest – curated by Maitra – examines the stories of marginalised, displaced and forgotten communities under the theme “In The Margins”. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, SeptFest was shifted to March.
The announcement of SeptFest arguably draws attention back to the impending displacement of The Substation from 45 Armenian Street. In her curatorial message for “In The Margins”, Maitra alludes to the inevitable end of an era for The Substation, stating point blank that “[a]t the end of July, The Substation will be no more, and what was plainly obvious would disappear.”
The next day, Navene Elangovan of TODAY publishes an article titled “After more than 30 years, The Substation will vacate Armenian Street premises in end-July”. General Manager of The Substation, Loh Aik Khoon, informs TODAY that The Substation is still considering a list of possible interim spaces – including Goodman Arts Centre and Aliwal Arts Centre – to relocate to after 45 Armenian Street is returned to NAC for renovations. At this juncture, the post-renovation future of The Substation remains up in the air.
8 February 2021
NAC confirms that 45 Armenian Street will be converted into a centre for multiple arts groups
Toh Wen Li of The Straits Times publishes an article titled “NAC to convert The Substation’s Armenian Street space into centre for arts groups”. Here, it is finally laid out in writing that NAC intends to convert 45 Armenian Street into a centre that will host multiple arts groups. According to NAC, the renovations “will introduce technological features and offer an improved design to support the creation and presentation of multi-disciplinary arts”.
This announcement comes as a blow to The Substation, whose hopes of retaining autonomy over the entire building had been an open secret. Instead, they will have the option of returning to 45 Armenian Street as a co-tenant under NAC’s Framework for Arts Spaces scheme. Maitra laments NAC’s decision, pointing out that there is “a difference between arts housing and a home for the arts”, and that The Substation will face huge challenges in artistic programming and incubation if they have to jostle with other stakeholders for access to the renovated building’s facilities.
9 February 2021
“The Substation Venue (future)” Facebook group is created
In response to the developments of 8 February 2021, Alvin Tan (Artistic Director, The Necessary Stage) sets up an online Facebook group called “The Substation Venue (future)”.
Consisting of over 600 members to date1As of the publication of this article, the Facebook group has 654 members., this Facebook group has thus far been utilised as a platform to rally discourse and ground-up initiatives vis-à-vis the post-renovation future of The Substation. The group held a first meeting via Zoom on 13 February 2021, to discuss putting together a paper arguing for the importance of 45 Armenian Street to the future of The Substation.
10 February 2021
NAC reaffirms its commitment towards supporting The Substation
A letter to the editor titled “Upgrading of The Substation’s premises to preserve structural integrity, arts centre ‘regularly engaged’ on move: National Arts Council” – signed off by NAC’s Director of Sector Development (Visual Arts), Tay Tong – is published in TODAY.
In his letter, Tay says that The Substation was informed of NAC’s intention to renovate the building at 45 Armenian Street in 2017, and that NAC has been engaging The Substation to offer assistance in terms of interim space options and additional funding. He also highlights that NAC delayed the renovation project so that The Substation could present its 30th anniversary programming before moving out.
In light of NAC’s decision to host multiple arts groups at 45 Armenian Street, Tay reiterates that NAC remains committed to supporting The Substation’s baseline operations and plans “where they are aligned with the strategic priorities outlined in Our SG Arts Plan and benchmarked with the funding support provided to other comparable major companies”.
25 February 2021
Deputy CEO of NAC publishes a commentary on the fate of The Substation
NAC disseminates a commentary written by its Deputy Chief Executive Officer (Planning & Corporate Development), Paul Tan, to several media outlets. The commentary, titled “Creating Homes for the Arts”, is published in full on Plural Art Mag.
Acknowledging the long-standing contributions of The Substation in developing Singapore’s arts and cultural scene, Tan asserts that NAC’s decision to convert 45 Armenian Street into a centre for multiple arts groups is not primarily intended at centralising the state’s resources, but to enable a diversity of art forms and voices. In response to commentaries that have been made about the displacement of arts groups who have been based long-term at specific premises, Tan stresses that NAC takes a non-cookie cutter approach in striking a balance between making subsidised spaces accessible to new and existing arts groups alike.
In the specific case of The Substation, Tan points out that aside from the need to upgrade the building at 45 Armenian Street, it was also opportune for The Substation to re-assess its operating model. He states that the running of The Substation with its current level of reliance on government grants and commercial tenancy income is not financially sustainable in the long run, with “direct and indirect government support” purportedly making up almost 90% of its annual income.
Alluding to disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tan also opines that it has become imperative for arts groups to explore the possibilities of “being asset-light and not being tied down to the costs of maintaining physical infrastructure or fretting about commercial tenancies”, and that The Substation’s existence does not necessarily need to depend on the availability of a specific physical space.
2 March 2021
The Substation Board announces the permanent closure of The Substation
The Substation Board publishes a media announcement 2This media announcement is supplemented with a separate document titled Overview, Key Messages and Frequently Asked Questions. announcing the permanent closure of The Substation from July 2021 onwards.
According to the media announcement, the Board arrived at this decision after it was made clear to them by NAC that The Substation will not be able to occupy the entire building at 45 Armenian Street after renovations are complete. The Board is not agreeable to this for reasons including:
– The loss of a fundamental part of The Substation’s identity and heritage, considering that the building has been key to “generating a unique and creative buzz” that the Board regards as central to placemaking in Armenian Street over the past 30 years.
– The loss of autonomous access to the spaces and facilities needed to run The Substation’s programmes.
– The loss of venue hire income.
The Board also cites pandemic-induced financial woes as additional factors that contributed to its decision to permanently close The Substation. They include:
– The increased challenges in fundraising, given that more and more donors are de-prioritising arts philanthropy.
– The inevitable reality of having to halve The Substation’s budget and drastically reduce staff strength/number of programmes, due to the less than requested financial support from NAC.
The Board’s announcement was generally met with an outpouring of grief.3The assessment of the arts community’s reaction towards the announcement of the permanent closure of The Substation is based on an evaluation of Facebook posts made by users who publicly ‘shared’ The Substation’s own announcement on Facebook, and comments made on the announcement itself. As of the publication of this article, the said Facebook announcement is known to have garnered 510 shares. While several practitioners paid tribute to The Substation by reminiscing about the memories that they had of the arts centre, the majority were ostensibly shocked by the suddenness of the decision. Many also questioned the extent to which the Board had consulted stakeholders beyond The Substation, given the sense of ownership felt by the wider arts community towards the arts centre.
NAC expresses its disappointment over the permanent closure of The Substation
Hours later on the same day, NAC releases a media statement expressing its disappointment over the permanent closure of The Substation.
Citing the ongoing renovations of the Peranakan Museum and the Singapore Philatelic Museum in the vicinity, NAC highlights its belief in a revamped 45 Armenian Street’s potential to “serve as an inclusive, vibrant arts space as it did before”. On that note, NAC reiterates its stance that making 45 Armenian Street available to other arts groups would be of greater benefit to the arts community at large.
Several claims are also made by NAC, as justification of its belief that The Substation’s operating model is financially unsustainable in the long run:
– Citing data from the annual reports of Financial Years (FY) 2017 through 2019, NAC points out that The Substation earns 86% of its income from the government. This, according to NAC, is the highest amongst the 52 Major Companies that it presently supports, and is problematic in the context of a pandemic.
– Of this 86%, 45% comes from direct government grants (e.g. Major Company Grant 4According to their website, The Substation is a recipient of NAC’s Major Company Grant from April 2020 to March 2023., COVID-19 support schemes such as the Jobs Support Scheme and the Arts and Culture Resilience Package). The remaining 41%, which comes from commercial tenancy income that The Substation derives from leasing out parts of 45 Armenian Street, is deemed by NAC as a source of indirect government funding.
– NAC points out that as a custodian of government resources, it is no longer prepared to provide The Substation with subsidised premises if the latter continues to re-let out the very same premises on commercial terms. According to the media statement, NAC charges The Substation around $70,000 per annum for renting 45 Armenian Street. The Substation, in turn, has purportedly received between $410,000 to $525,000 from commercially leasing out part of 45 Armenian Street over three FYs.
– NAC also argues that The Substation’s programming efforts have reduced significantly over the years. It claims that the latter’s programming expenditure from FY 2017 through 2019 stands at a relatively small average of 23% per annum of their total operational expenses. It also claims that The Substation has incurred more than $1,500,000 in salaries and other manpower costs, although the length of time over which these costs are incurred is not specified.
Believing that it was apt for The Substation to use the time away from 45 Armenian Street to reflect on its current operating model and role in the Singaporean arts landscape, NAC says that it offered to work with The Substation to review its artistic and financial strategies, and even invited its Board to “co-create the vision for the renovated arts centre [at 45 Armenian Street]” with them.
Describing the permanent discontinuation of The Substation’s operations as a “missed opportunity”, NAC nevertheless states that it respects the decision taken by the Board, and its commitment towards ensuring that 45 Armenian Street will remain an inclusive, multi-disciplinary arts space that is safe for artistic experimentation and supports the work of young, unproven practitioners.
4 March 2021
Member of public submits forum letter to The Straits Times
A member of the public named Hua Tye Swee submits a forum letter to The Straits Times titled “Find a way to keep alive The Substation’s and Kuo Pao Kun’s vision and legacy”. In his letter, Hua expresses regret towards the impending permanent closure of The Substation, and urges both NAC and The Substation to reach a compromise that will ensure the continuation of the latter.
Two days later on 6 March, Director of Sector Development (Visual Arts) Tay Tong responds on behalf of NAC via a forum letter titled “45 Armenian Street to remain a multi-disciplinary arts space”. Reiterating several points that NAC made in its media statement dated 2 March 2021, Tay assures Hua that NAC is committed to honouring the vision of the late Kuo Pao Kun, and that it will “engage [the] arts community and stakeholders to envision a meaningful new space”.
5 March 2021
The Substation issues a response to NAC’s media statement dated 2 March 2021
The Substation issues a press release disputing several claims and assessments made by NAC in their media statement dated 2 March 2021. The points of contention are as follows:
The Substation’s purpose of seeking autonomy over 45 Armenian Street
The Substation clarifies that its intention of seeking autonomy over the whole of 45 Armenian Street is so that it could continue operating it as a multi-disciplinary arts centre and incubator, and not because it merely wishes to generate income from venue hire.
The Substation disagrees with how NAC seems to compare its operating model with arts groups that are also recipients of the Major Company grants, rather than that of an arts centre. Taking partial reference from Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay’s operating model, The Substation points out the following:
– Autonomy over physical spaces enables arts centres to attract and select suitable hirers, which not only contributes to its income, but also provides a “community effect” at the space.
– It is typical for arts centres to have the discretion of deciding which spaces to lease out for commercial use, and which spaces to lease out to arts groups at subsidised, non-commercial rates.
Portrayal of The Substation’s programming and manpower expenditure
The Substation takes issue with the way NAC portrays its expenditure on programming as a small proportion of total operational expenses.
In this press release, it clarified that the roughly $1,500,000 spent on manpower was incurred over a period of three FYs from 2017 through 2019, which averages to be slightly over $500,000 per annum.
Additionally, The Substation asserts that based on published audited financial statements5The Substation’s audited financial statements are available for reference via the government’s Charity Portal. for FY 2017 through 2019, their programming costs as a proportion of total operational expenses does not work out to the 23% per annum that was previously highlighted by NAC:
– Based on The Substation’s calculations, the corresponding figure should be 35.7% per annum. This figure is derived after taking their programming costs as a proportion of total operational expenses (ie. total expenses less finance and selling, general and administrative expenses).
– In the event where finance and selling, general and operational expenses are nonetheless included as part of total expenses, The Substation says that the corresponding figure works out to be 27.9%.
Vision of the renovated arts centre at 45 Armenian Street
The Substation disputes NAC’s statement that it “invited the current Board to co-create the vision for the renovated arts centre [at 45 Armenian Street]”. Citing a letter (dated 17 February 2021) from the NAC to The Substation Board, The Substation claims that it would merely “be consulted to provide inputs for the future of 45 Armenian Street in relation to its precinct”, should it return as a co-tenant.
In the later part of the same week, NAC issues a response to The Substation’s press release, which is reported by mainstream media outlets such as The Straits Times, TODAY and Channel News Asia (CNA). It argues that The Substation should be compared against other arts groups who are fellow Major Company grant recipients, some of which “operate premises and arts centres similar to The Substation, but do not rely on government funding to the same extent”. It also disagrees with the The Substation comparing itself with Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, as the Esplanade “is provided with funding and held accountable for outcomes which are not asked of Major Companies”, as it plays “a different role” in Singapore’s arts landscape.
6 March 2021
Professor Tommy Koh publishes an opinion piece about The Substation on The Straits Times
Professor Tommy Koh, Patron of The Substation and the founding chairman of NAC (1991 – 1996), publishes an opinion piece titled “Fare thee well: The Substation’s legacy will endure” on The Straits Times.
In this opinion piece, Koh recounts the trajectory that The Substation has undertaken – from the 45 Armenian Street building’s origins as an electric substation in 1926, to Kuo Pao Kun’s proposal to convert the building into an arts centre, his vision for The Substation and the organisation’s various endeavours over the course of its 30-year history.
While paying homage to the profound impact that The Substation has had on the Singapore arts landscape and the good work done by Kuo’s subsequent successors, Koh also offers a few insights with regards to the “declining relevance of the centre”. Aside from the arts centre’s general financial difficulties, Koh opines that it made a “serious error” when it decided to lease out part of its premises to Timbre. He also suggests that the influx of arts institutions after the 1990s diluted the presence of the arts centre. At the end of the opinion piece, Koh expresses his hope that LASALLE College of the Arts, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), and the new university that will be jointly established by the two colleges, will “attempt to fill the void left behind by the demise of The Substation”.
Written tabulation of opinions of The Substation by the younger generation is disseminated
Independent creative Shaiful Risan disseminates a document titled “SIDENOTES”6“SIDENOTES” was disseminated as a series of screenshots uploaded onto the said Facebook group. Refer to the linked Facebook post for details on how one may obtain a PDF copy of the document. on The Substation Venue (future) Facebook group. “SIDENOTES” is a written tabulation of opinions by the younger generation7In the document, Shaiful defines “younger generation” as individuals aged 30 years old or below. and “subculture kids” who had patronised the arts venue in the past about the significance of The Substation to their own lives. Compiled by Shaiful in late February, opinions reflected in this document was made in response to a message sent to respondents via Instagram and WhatsApp that included the following questions:
“What are your thoughts on The Substation?
Do you connect with it?
Do you want to connect with it?
Will you be affected when it closes for reno mid 2021?”
The Substation Board organises a public Townhall
The Substation Board holds a public Townhall virtually on Zoom, which is attended by almost 300 attendees. Facilitated by former Arts Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP) Audrey Wong and Kok Heng Leun, the two-hour-long session was framed as an invitation by the Board to members of the arts community to share their thoughts on the permanent closure of The Substation and any questions they wish to pose to the Board.
The session began with the Board stressing that the decision to permanently close The Substation was reached after careful deliberations for the better part of two years, against the backdrop of ambiguous communication of expectations by NAC. The need for structural upgrading was initially cited by NAC as a reason to renovate 45 Armenian Street, and the Board claims that it was only recently that The Substation was explicitly informed that they would only be invited back as a co-tenant, rather than a sole occupier of the renovated building. After considering the consequences of not being able to occupy 45 Armenian Street in full, the Board took a majority vote to permanently close The Substation.
Many attendees, however, did not agree with the Board’s decision, and felt that more should and can be done to ensure that The Substation continues operating even after it vacates 45 Armenian Street in July 2021. This prompted the Board to conduct a poll of the question “Would you like to be part of a continued and reimagined Substation?”, which resulted in a resounding 94% of respondents indicating “Yes”.8As of the end of the Townhall, 172 attendees participated in the poll. 161 attendees (94%) voted “Yes”, while 11 attendees (6%) voted “No”.
Several suggestions on how The Substation could continue operating were discussed. The one idea that garnered the most traction involved leadership renewal at the Board level. While the Townhall did not reach a consensus on how this leadership renewal might take place, it was nonetheless in unanimous agreement that this was an agenda that should be urgently prioritised, if the arts community at large is indeed serious about saving The Substation.
As of the publication of this article, several members of The Substation Venue (future) Facebook group are assembling a secretariat to facilitate discussions of how a post-Substation future might look like.
8 March 2021
The Substation is discussed during Parliament’s annual Budget debate
While Parliament is in session for its annual Budget debate9Lim’s comments were made after the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) announced a $20 million top-up to the Arts and Culture Resilience Package (ACRP) in the very same session., Sylvia Lim (Member of Parliament for Aljunied Group Representation Constituency) brings to the foreground the recent “unease” felt by the arts community over the issue of arts spaces in Singapore.
Referring specifically to the developments around The Substation’s future, Lim asked the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) if the government saw value in having artist-run, rather than government-run arts centres – arguing that artist-run arts centres “add to the richness of the ecosystem and also make the arts authentic and sustainable”. Low Yen Ling (Minister of State for MCCY) replied by reiterating that The Substation had been “proactively engaged” in the lead-up to the state’s reclamation of 45 Armenian Street, and that the MCCY was hopeful that the renovated premises “will continue to support the work of young and unproven practitioners and be a haven for collaboration in the arts and culture community”.
Later on in the very same session, Sitoh Yih Pin (Member of Parliament for Potong Pasir Group Representation Constituency) asked Edwin Tong (Minister of MCCY) if the renovation of 45 Armenian Street would benefit more arts groups than before. Tong responded in the affirmative, claiming that “in the last couple of years at the minimum”, “third-party us[age]” – rather than The Substation’s own programmes – comprised the majority of the usage of the premises. Based on this premise, the MCCY surmised that the arts community “would be better served if The Substation post-renovation would return as a multi-tenanted option”.
13 March 2021
The Substation Venue (Futures) Secretariat issues an update in the interest of transparency
The secretariat of The Substation Venue (Futures), who are made up of volunteers, posts in the Facebook Group after holding its first meeting on 9 March 2021 on Zoom. Through spokesperson Dr. Mohamed Shahril Bin Mohamed Salleh, they share that they have discussed the aims of the secretariat, as well as the best way for it to organise itself to address the concerns of the community brought up in the 6 March Townhall.
The secretariat, he says, was formed in response “to the opaqueness of the stakeholders involved in this issue”, and was acting in the interest of “providing information and greater transparency” and facilitate the making of “informed decisions” which now involves the “wider arts communities”.
The secretariat notes that the Board of The Substation had yet to respond to the suggestions and questions brought up in the Townhall. “In this period of deliberation, no other entity, including the secretariat, can take any concrete action pertaining to the future running of The Substation,” it states.
It also calls for more volunteers to join the secretariat.
18 March 2021
The Substation Board invites the community to submit proposals, no plans to reverse closure
The Substation posts on its Facebook Page that it is inviting the community to submit proposals for the continuation of The Substation, “that are true to the values of The Substation” of being “a safe, creative, non-judgmental space for artistic experimentation and challenging perspectives, open to all.”
This is the first official response from the Board since the Zoom Townhall held on 6 March 2021. In the post, it is stated that the board members were moved by the “spontaneous sharing” by the community about what The Substation meant to them in its 30-year history. It goes on to say: “We appreciate that many in the community feel that The Substation should continue for as long as it can, in whatever practical iteration, and are grateful that many of you have reached out to us personally or over social media to express your views and to offer support.”
The post ended with reiteration that the building will be returned to the National Arts Council in July 2021, and that plans to wind down are still in place. Deadline for submission of proposals is 20 April 2020.
On 22nd March, a document titled “Terms of Reference for Substation Proposals”, outlining the requirements for proposals, is shared in the Facebook Group. The document includes a line stating that the Board is not obliged to select any proposal whether in whole or in part, admit proposed team members onto The Substation’s Board or management, and “may also decide to incorporate or adapt parts of any proposal into our own conception of a future Substation” (italics theirs). Proposals also need to incorporate a 3 to 5-year fundraising plan, with specific intended funding streams.
Former Substation AD T Sasitharan puts responsibility on the NAC
Former Substation Artistic Director T Sasitharan posts on Facebook his view that the “moral and material responsibility” for the closure of The Substation lies on the shoulders of NAC, namely, its “ill-conceived grant making policies and untenable arts housing schemes” and “sheer arrogance of thinking” that 45 Armenian Street would be better run as an arts centre under its custodianship. He posits that while the Board could have reached out sooner to the community, it did not because of “an implicit trust in the NAC to do the right thing and to do things right”. He adds that they did what a Board is supposed to do, that is, act in the interests of the organisation. He also refutes the claim that Substation “lost its way” or lost its relevance over the years, saying that such a claim is “ignorant, prejudicial and essentialist”, and “an insult” to all artists who have worked under its roof and to those who still believe in its value to the Singapore arts scene.
19 March 2021
The arts community issues a statement of clarification in response to the NAC’s 2nd March media statement
Members of the arts community make public a statement of clarification, calling for the public “to be more clearly informed”on how government funding is utilised and applied by arts organisations. In the statement, it is asserted that some of the claims made by the NAC in its media statement issued on 2 March were misleading or required further contextualisation, and that misconceptions over arts funding and the management of such funds would “have adverse effects on the overall arts ecosystem and how artists are perceived or valued”. There are 97 signatories to the statement when it is first posted.
Points made in the statement included:
– Not all third-party use of The Substation is on “commercial” terms; a large number of users are emerging artists and arts groups; and not all artists can afford to rent spaces under NAC’s Framework for Arts Spaces (FFAS) despite its tiered rental rates.
– Based on collective experiences of using and hiring venues under the FFAS, such as Goodman Arts Centre, many artists “do not have faith” that a “safe, inclusive space will continue to be extended” when 45 Armenian Street is returned to the custodianship of NAC.
– Though there is a current lack of operational grant that fits the needs of The Substation, believed to play a role as a multidisciplinary arts centre, it is placed “on the same plane of expectations” with other Major Companies” “despite playing a distinctively different role” and delivering different, “and no less valuable”, outcomes for the arts ecosystem.
– The Substation relies on only up to 34% of grant monies from the government, which is below the 50-70% requirement as outlined by the NAC (depending on type of company).
– Rental income from commercial tenants should not be considered “indirect government funding”, and additionally, the inclusion of such “commercial element” to arts housing spaces has been in practice since 1994, with some arts organisations now contractually bound to include them in their business.
– NAC’s statement used “an inconsistent and confusing mix of numbers and percentages” to back its claim of The Substation’s apparent financial unsustainability.
The statement ends with a call to maintain channels of dialogue and communication, and urges NAC “to remain open to conducive modes of dialogue with voices on the ground”.
The Straits Times reports that NAC has declined to comment, instead directing media to a page on its website recapping existing policies and media statements, including principles behind the FFAS and its policy rationales for space management.
The Secretariat of The Substation Venue (Futures) shares its objectives and next steps
The Substation Venue (Futures) Secretariat shares its objectives. These include collating and sharing documents and articles pertaining to the future of The Substation as an entity; facilitating discussions between the arts community and stakeholders such as NAC and the current Board of The Substation; and facilitating research, proposal-crafting and presentations on “desirable and viable alternatives” for The Substation.
It also publicises The Substation Venue (Future): Introducing the Secretariat, an event on Zoom to be held on Wednesday, 24 March 2021. A recording of the Zoom meeting can be found here.
The Secretariat organises Zoom panels. The video recordings of Dollars & Sense held on 7 April 2021, and Legal, Structure and Governance, held on 9 April 2021 are also made available able. A workshop, Re-imagining The Substation’s Future(s) is also held on 10 April 2021.
21 March 2021
The Straits Times publishes a report with updated information
The Straits Times publishes what appears to be an updated version of its 19 March report, with the headline, “Arts community expresses concern over NAC’s response”. The article has updated figures on the number of signatories (240 at the time of its publishing), names of prominent signatories, and also included information from the NAC website, which NAC offered in lieu of commenting on media queries. New additions to the report include:
‘The website said the council is committed to supporting the work of major companies that are leaders in the maturing arts landscape.
It said that to be more sustainable in the long term, it is important for artists and arts companies to diversify their sources of income, and that Singapore’s arts sector needs a viable mix of public funding, private sector partnerships and revenue from organisations’ activities and programmes.
It said NAC takes a holistic view of all government funding, including “income tied to our subsidised spaces”.’
These additions look to have been excerpted from this page on NAC’s website, titled “Conversations with the Community”, which according to the website was published on 19 March 2021.
Update on 22 March: 340 artists, arts and cultural workers and other individuals have signed the statement of clarification. Signatures will continue to be collected until 24 March 2021, 11.59pm (SG time).
14 April 2021
The Secretariat of The Substation Venue (Futures) announces an open call for proposal presentation for The Substation’s future
The Secretariat of The Substation Venue (Futures) offers itself as a sounding board for those who have proposals about The Substation’s future, primarily for proposers to get feedback and possible allies. The deadline for submission of these proposals to The Substation Board is 20 April 2021.
24 April 2021
The Secretariat of The Substation Venue (Futures) announces the launch of its archival website
The Secretariat of The Substation Venue (Futures) launches their archive website, which houses a repository of documents, articles and events surrounding the closure of The Substation and subsequent action by the arts community.
27 April 2021
TODAY publishes interview The Substation Chairman Chew Kheng Chuan
Chew Kheng Chuan, the chairman of The Substation, explains in an interview with TODAY the considerations behind the “very difficult decision” to close The Substation. He shares that the work of raising money to make up for the loss of rental income started 1½ years ago, but adds that he was also trying to fundraise for the Intercultural Theatre Institute at the same time, which was in a more dire situation. He stresses that fundraising requires time, and that his failed appeal to NAC to “buy [them] more time” ultimately led to the Board’s decision. He suggests that a viable future for the arts centre would involve both private funds and matching government grants. He adds that criticism of the Board’s actions in contributing to its closure was “unwarranted” and “unfair”.
He also briefly notes that his 20-year-long leadership of the Board is an indication of “bad succession planning”.
18 July 2021
The Substation closes its doors at 45 Armenian Street
This was the official last day of the Substation. It closed with a spate of programmes, including Street Found, an event held in its theatre, organised by Salty Ng Xi Jie and performed by busker and artist Roy Payamal.
23 July 2021
The Substation will not close down, will be reconstituted as “Substation 2.0” under a new Board and new team
Even as its signboard comes down, the Substation will continue as “Substation 2.0”. It will “evolve from being an arts centre to become an arts company focused on developing original programming”, says the Substation’s Board in a media statement received this afternoon. A new team, “comprising a core group of arts professionals and practitioners from diverse disciplines and age groups” and led by Raka Maitra as its Artistic Director, will manage the Substation 2.0.
According to a Straits Times report published on the same day, the new team will operate the entity away from its 45 Armenian Street premises, which will now undergo renovations under the management of the National Arts Council. It also quotes an NAC spokesperson as saying that it will engage in discussions with the new Board on its upcoming plans, which will include plans for funding.
Other updates from the media statement:
Following a call for proposals in March and April, the Board received two submissions. One was from punk community organiser Shaiful Risan, and the other from a group of predominantly theatre practitioners including Alvin Tan, Audrey Wong, Kok Heng Leun and Noorlinah Mohamed. In the statement, the Board expressed its thanks for these proposals, noting that these “reflected their passion for The Substation’s history and its role in shaping the arts scene”, and the need to address areas of long-term growth, including budgeting and fundraising as challenges to be addressed.
The media statement then added that following the process of deliberation, two members of the current Substation Board, Wahyuni Hadi and Jean-Louis Morisot, “worked together to conceptualise a new Substation”, which seeks “reconcile The Substation’s historical artistic mission with the long term challenge of financial sustainability.” Members from the two proposer groups have also been invited to participate in co-creating this new Substation, and have expressed support towards it, continues the statement.
The Board acknowledged that the road ahead will be a time of transition, but stresses that the vision of the Substation to be an independent arts centre and a “home for the arts”, especially in nurturing new and diverse voices, remains unwavering. By the end of August, The Substation will be led by a new Board. Raka Maitra will be its Artistic Director and Serene Yap will be its General Manager.
Other members of the new Board include: Wahyuni Hadi (chairperson); Michelle Chang, Managing Partner, Mocha Chai Laboratories; Jean-Louis Morisot, Co-founder/ Director, Fondation la Roche Jacquelin; Joe Ng, Musician/Composer; Bryan Tan, Playwright and Director; Kirsten Tan, Filmmaker; Cyril Wong, Poet/ Writer.
Read the full media statement here.
12 November 2021
The Substation announces Ezzam Rahman as its new Artistic Director.
The Substation, or “Substation 2.0”, today announced the appointment of visual artist Ezzam Rahman as its Artistic Director. Though it was announced in July that Raka Maitra would be AD, a media statement stated that she will go on to head her dance company Chowk. Substation chairperson Yuni Hadi noted Ezzam’s cross-disciplinary practice as a “dynamic artist” with a passion for education and community. Read the statement here.
The Substation also recently advertised its search for a new General Manager: “the General Manager will work closely with the Artistic Director to spearhead The Substation in its new chapter.”
This timeline was last updated on 12 Nov 2021.
Related coverage on The Substation:
The Substation: An unstoppable force and an immovable object, a commentary by Nabilah Said
The Substation: How many more canaries in the coal mine?, a commentary by Hoe Su Fern
Ke Weiliang is a Singaporean arts practitioner-critic who graduated from LASALLE College of the Arts in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Arts Management. As a practitioner, Weiliang’s creative practice is currently centred around explorations of how relationships and intimacy can be cultivated over scattered, physically distanced interpersonal interactions. He was recently an artist-in-residence of Centre 42’s inaugural The Vault: Lite programme. As a critic, he writes regularly for ArtsEquator, and is the founding editor of Gee Dock Convos. He is also the founding administrator of Channel NewsTheatre.
Nabilah Said is the editor of ArtsEquator.