Breathing new life into arts district

An artist's impression of Queen Street (above) after the URA's renovation of the area is completed. Arts groups say they have been eagerly waiting to use the outdoor space for activities,  but residents and business owners in the Queen Street area (b
An artist's impression of Queen Street (above) after the URA's renovation of the area is completed. Arts groups say they have been eagerly waiting to use the outdoor space for activities, but residents and business owners in the Queen Street area (below) say they are worried about traffic congestion.
An artist's impression of Queen Street (above) after the URA's renovation of the area is completed. Arts groups say they have been eagerly waiting to use the outdoor space for activities,  but residents and business owners in the Queen Street area (b
An artist's impression of Queen Street (above) after the URA's renovation of the area is completed. Arts groups say they have been eagerly waiting to use the outdoor space for activities, but residents and business owners in the Queen Street area (below) say they are worried about traffic congestion.

Renovations to Queen Street area will allow groups to stage activities

Twirling ballerinas, martial arts students and guzheng players could soon take to the newly widened sidewalks of the Queen Street area to showcase their art, and bring life to an otherwise quiet stretch in the city.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is providing more room for the eclectic mix of arts organisations based there to stage activities along the street. Besides widening the sidewalks, it has installed benches and created coach drop-off points as well.

The renovations to make the street more pedestrian-friendly are expected to be completed by the middle of this year.

Arts groups say they have been eagerly waiting to use the outdoor space for activities to engage the public on a regular basis, since the authorities told them a few years ago that it was going to rejuvenate the quiet street.

Some tenants, such as 2902 Gallery, receive as few as 10 visitors a day on Saturdays and Sundays.

But successful street festivals such as the annual Singapore Night Festival, which drew more than 400,000 people to performances held in Waterloo Street, Queen Street and Armenian Street in August last year, have demonstrated the potential that the area has to host outdoor events.

Art Trove Gallery and Museum operations director Roy Quek said he moved his gallery to Waterloo Street four years ago because he had heard about the plans for the area.

He said: "The revitalisation effort has been a long time coming and will help shine the spotlight on the great concentration of arts organisations located in the district."

Several national monuments and conserved buildings are located in the area, which is also home to arts groups such as Forte Musicademy, Art Bug and The Private Museum.

The Singapore Art Museum and arts facilities such as Dance Ensemble Singapore and Sculpture Square are also in the vicinity.

Despite the proximity, tenants say there is little synergy between the groups because they run their own classes behind closed doors.

With planning by a central coordinating body, they envision monthly parades and scheduled outdoor showcases, which could lead to an exponential growth in visitor numbers.

Singapore Ballet Academy principal Jeffrey Tan said: "Now that the sidewalks are wider, it will be safer for us to plan outdoor performances for our young pupils, who are mostly between five and 10 years old."

Other groups say they will also save on publicity and rental costs of private indoor spaces like theatres.

But residents and business owners say the changes have aggravated the traffic congestion.

Waterloo Apartments resident Xu Yu Hua, 55, said: "The wider pavements eat into the road and it is just not feasible because the traffic here is already very bad."

"The hotels bring in big tourists buses, which can cause 20-minute jams during peak hours, and we have to make a big detour to avoid the road," added Ms Xu, who is a trader.

The URA said it has designated coach drop-off points to cater to the hotels and places of interest in the vicinity.

Some residents also fear that the quiet of the area will be disrupted. Student Margaret Aniela, 19, who also lives in Waterloo Apartments, hoped the events will take place in the day "as it might be hard to sleep at night if it's too noisy".

OM The Arts Centre coordinator Gim Lee thinks everyone will benefit from the new plans. The centre runs guzheng and erhu classes, among others.

"The area is teeming with talent and I look forward to a more lively place, where the public can mingle with musicians, calligraphers and dancers," he said.

"Art, culture and heritage are meant to be shared."

melodyz@sph.com.sg

jantai@sph.com.sg

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