Singapore Budget 2015: $740 million invested on Civic District revamp

A total of $740 million is being invested in the civic district, from mapping out a commemorative Jubilee Walk to mark the nation's 50th birthday, to refurbishing the forecourt of the Esplanade - Theatres On The Bay.

"It's an important investment in our heritage, to remind us of the common history that unites us as a nation," said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong in Parliament on Thursday at the Committee of Supply debate.

The Esplanade and the National Gallery Singapore - housed in the City Hall and former Supreme Court buildings and scheduled to open in November - are among several sites along the 8km Jubilee Walk, in the downtown and Marina Bay area, which will have trail markers to help passers-by appreciate their cultural and historical importance.

The Esplanade will close its forecourt for upgrading works from March 22 to July 31, though the area can still be accessed via underground links from City Hall and Esplanade MRT stations. The forecourt reopens in August with more garden features, seating and better pedestrian connections to public transport, Esplanade Park and the new Jubilee Bridge to the Merlion Park.

As for the National Gallery, Mr Wong said it would grant sneak previews of the inside of its refurbished premises to members of the public in April and May before its exhibits are installed. More details will be on the Gallery's Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ nationalgallerysg) by month-end, a Gallery spokesman said.

Mr Wong also said the ministry is looking into enhancing and conserving the Singapore Art Museum in future, to complement a major revamp of the displays and public spaces at the National Museum of Singapore which will be completed by September.

Other upgrades include a paved connection and new lawn between the Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall and the Asian Civilisations Museum. The museum too is adding new galleries and a new entrance opening onto the Singapore River.

Three works by home-grown artists have been commissioned for the Jubilee Walk by the National Arts Council's Public Art Trust which aims to make art a part of urban spaces.

Along the Singapore River will be a series of stone and steel sculptures reinterpreting the national symbols and titled The Rising Moon by Han Sai Por and Kum Chee-Kiong, as well as Cloud Nine: Raining by Tan Wee Lit, which will mimic a floating cloud and shower water drawn up from the river.

At the Asian Civilisations Museum on Empress Place will be a sound sculpture installation, 24 Hours In Singapore by Baet Yeok Kuan, which will broadcast a day's worth of sounds from around the island, from the morning raising of the national flag at a school to the chatter at a market.

"I grew up in the 1960s and have seen the changes in Singapore, so I wanted to do something related to memory," Baet, 53, told The Straits Times. "This can be an archive of sounds and 20 years later people can listen to the sounds and see how things have changed. I myself would be interested to revisit it 10 years later."

In Parliament, Mr Wong also said public consultation would begin in due course on two mid-sized theatres that were part of the original building plans for the Esplanade - Theatres On The Bay.

He was responding to a question raised by Member of Parliament Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC), who pointed out the lack of arts spaces here with seating of between 600 to 1,600.

No timeline was given for the consultation and eventual building of the theatres which, Mr Benson Puah, chief executive officer of the Esplanade, separately told The Straits Times that Singapore artists have long been asking for.

The Esplanade's Concert Hall seats 1,600 and Theatre holds 2,000 but Mr Puah says medium-sized spaces "are most ideal" to present traditional arts from Singapore and the region as well as "85 per cent of what happens around the world for theatre and dance".

If built, the theatres would support the creation of local content as well as develop capabilities in technical theatre, programming and venue and production management, Mr Puah added.

akshitan@sph.com.sg