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The Substation to close permanently after moving out of Armenian Street building

The Substation to close permanently after moving out of Armenian Street building

The first independent arts centre in Singapore, The Substation was set up by theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun in September 1990. It was envisioned as a home for the arts - a place where anybody from the arts community could walk in to create and put up works without the fear of failure. (Photo: TODAY/Raj Nadarajan)

SINGAPORE: After more than 30 years of being a mainstay in the arts scene, the Substation will close permanently in July when it moves out of its premises at 45 Armenian Street. 

Announcing the decision on Tuesday (Mar 2), the Substation board said: "This difficult decision was made after lengthy deliberations and several discussions with the National Arts Council (NAC) and with members of the arts community."

It cited the inability to return fully to the premises - a conserved building - and the loss of autonomy over the space and facilities.

The independent arts centre currently leases the premises - a conserved building - from the NAC under its Arts Housing Scheme, which provides subsidised spaces to the arts community.

The Big Read: The Substation story — how a disused power station became an arts powerhouse that launched a generation of artists

It was previously reported that it has to vacate the Armenian Street building in July for two years for renovations.

NAC had suggested that the Substation may return to the building as a co-tenant when renovations are over, sharing the space with other arts groups. 

But the Substation said it will lose "a fundamental part of its identity and heritage" if it cannot return fully to 45 Armenian Street.

"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,"it said in a Facebook post. "There is no other place like it."

Added Substation chairperson Chew Kheng Chuan: "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."

Before Tuesday's announcement, the Substation was considering relocating to other venues, including Goodman Arts Centre in Mountbatten and Aliwal Arts Centre in Kampong Glam.


Founded in 1990 by Cultural Medallion winner and playwright Kuo Pao Kun, the Substation has supported many artists in their careers. 

Thirteen Cultural Medallion recipients are associated with the centre, the board said.

Over the last three decades, both the building at 45 Armenian Street and its surroundings have seen many changes. And some of those interviewed by TODAY believe that the magic of The Substation has faded somewhat. (Photo: TODAY/Raj Nadarajan)

Even if it returns to the Armenian Street building as a co-tenant, there will be an impact on its ability to operate independently, it said.

"The Substation will be unable to control the building facilities integral to its operations such as the theatre and gallery. 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," it said.

"The Substation will not be in a position to fulfil its mission to support and provide a safe space for artists to do pioneering and experimental work," it added.

"With respect, the board does not agree with NAC’s decision to convert 45 Armenian Street into a multi-tenanted building."

CNA has contacted NAC for more information.


The Substation board also acknowledged "broader reasons" contributing to its closure, such as the COVID-19 economic downturn making fundraising for the arts "especially difficult".

"The Substation relies heavily on fundraising and several donors have been understandably cautious with their funds. Other donors have refocused their philanthropic outreach which has resulted in a lower priority for the arts," said the board.

"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."

Mr Chew said the board hopes that other arts organisations in Singapore will "continue to carry the torch to give budding artists a safe space in which to experiment and develop their art".

"We also hope that the NAC will take a chance on young unproven passionate artists, and support the work of independent arts incubator spaces that have been vital to these artists, as it did for the Substation through the prior 30 years."

Source: CNA/jt(gs)


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