Everyone is familiar with The Substation, a mainstay in the Singapore as the first independent contemporary arts centre since its founding in 1990 by Cultural Medallion holder Kuo Pao Kun. However, after recent, lengthy discussions with the National Arts Council (NAC) and members of the arts community, the Substation board made the difficult decision to close permanently in July when it moves out of its premises at 45 Armenian Street.
The building was slated to undergo renovations for two years, and The Substation was supposed to vacate the premises until renovations are complete. However, NAC was only able to allow the Substation to return as co-tenant after the renovations are done, which meant sharing the space with other arts groups.
The Substation cited the inability to fully return to the premises as a loss of a “fundamental part of its identity and heritage”, as it will lose autonomy over the space and facilities. This is because it’ll be unable to control operations such as the theatre and gallery, and faces the loss of income from venue hiring.
The Substation will continue the celebrations of its 30th anniversary at 45 Armenian Street. Its announced programmes will continue as per normal and its venues have been hired until July 2021. SeptFest will run from 4-28 March. With In The Margins as its theme, SeptFest explores the stories of the marginalised, displaced and forgotten communities in Singapore.
Exhausted other options
Before announcing their permanent closer on Tuesday (Mar 2), the Substation was considering relocating to other venues, including Goodman Arts Centre in Mountbatten and Aliwal Arts Centre in Kampong Glam.
In a statement, it did say that “NAC offered 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.”
However, the Substation board also acknowledged “broader reasons” contributing to its closure, such as the COVID-19 economic downturn which makes fundraising for the arts “especially difficult”. Together with the loss of venue hire income from 45 Armenian Street and in the absence of a substantial inflow of private funding, the Substation’s business model is not sustainable.
“This is the moment to ask ourselves, honestly, who are we as a society? There was a time when poetry was luxury. And now, the one place that spoke for all arts and artists has to close, because it has become a luxury. We as people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”— Co-Artistic Director, Raka Maitra on the permanent closure of The Substation.