Artists feel the crunch as Goodman Arts Centre gets costlier

Launch of new children's arts centre at Goodman Arts Centre, The Artground.
Launch of new children's arts centre at Goodman Arts Centre, The Artground.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Arts housing in Goodman Arts Centre (GAC) has become more expensive and artists are feeling the pinch and raising questions about long-term sustainability.

The cost of renting a space at the centre has gone up since last month to meet market standards, says Arts House Limited, which manages the space. It adds that service charges will increase from Sept 1 as well.

In addition, the National Arts Council is cutting subsidies on service charges. This is in keeping with original plans to make the arts groups self-sustaining.

Arts groups that spoke to The Straits Times say they get different subsidies based on what stage of development they are at.

For example, Traditional Arts Centre, a group that promotes Chinese opera to the young, used to pay $868 a month in rental and conservancy charges for a 73.5 sq m space that includes office and rehearsal space. Now it is five years old and on a different stage of development, it pays nearly $300 more a month.

Eric Tan, 50, an administration manager and assistant arts instructor at Traditional Arts Centre, says: "Everyone will wish that we don't need to pay so much in rental but it is still affordable. Of course, we don't want it to go higher and higher - that will not be sustainable."

Visual artist Kamal Dollah's Kamal Arts is one of the oldest tenants at GAC and occupies a roughly 200 sq m space. Tenants like him were almost guaranteed three leases of up to three years each and he has just renewed his lease until 2020. After that, he might have to look for another space or take his chance with other new applicants to GAC.

The 49-year-old would not reveal how much he is paying but says the rent is reasonable and the space is enough for his art.

Kamal's neighbour Cake Theatrical Productions moved from GAC to a space in the Yishun industrial area last year, citing more affordable rents.

Other artists worry they will have to move out of GAC once their lease cycle is up. T.H.E. Dance Company's company manager Jael Chew says the increased rentals and service charge at GAC are still better than what the troupe would have to pay on the open market.

The increase in rental and service charges was announced well in advance, she says. A circular went out in March last year with estimates that allowed the dance company to factor in increased rentals into its funding application to the National Arts Council.

Another blow to the arts groups is that its funding from the council went down between 7 and 10 per cent this year, after the council split the pie among more arts groups. T.H.E. Dance Company is weathering it by increasing the search for sponsors and trying to cut programme costs.

When its lease is up in 2020, the company will probably throw its hat into the ring of applicants for space at GAC again. "We want to come back to Goodman. You don't get a lot of places with a fully furnished dance studio, greenery and a thriving arts community," says Ms Chew. "The idea is that companies like ours, which are more financially independent, will exit this space and let new companies come in. But with the land situation in Singapore, that's not practical."

akshitan@sph.com.sg