Forum: Arts companies need permanent homes to grow

It is disconcerting to read that three established arts companies, namely, The Necessary Stage, Intercultural Theatre Institute and The Substation, have to move out of their premises to make way for redevelopment (Arts institutions pressed for space, July 21).

The issue of arts housing has been a persistent one, given the lack of space in Singapore.

But I view this as part of a larger conundrum that goes beyond just physical space or funding. It has to do with our attitude towards independent arts spaces, which are a vital part of our arts ecosystem.

Independent arts spaces (although not entirely independent as they still depend on the National Arts Council for funding) are important incubation and experimental spaces where young and emerging artists are nurtured, ideas are formed, tested and developed, and cutting-edge works are exhibited.

Our aspiration to become a global city of the arts has unfortunately come at the expense of many independent arts spaces over the years.

On the one hand, we have done well to build world-class arts infrastructure such as the Esplanade and National Gallery Singapore, which are among the best in Asia.

On the other hand, we have not been doing enough to help sustain independent arts spaces, which usually means they go under whenever funding is cut or when they have to look for new, invariably more expensive homes.

For the arts to thrive here, it is important for arts companies to have a permanent home so as to build a unique identity and a sense of rootedness in the community.

We do not see the same extent of displacement of arts spaces in other countries. Some of them have been in the same location for decades or even centuries.

How we value these ground-up, independent arts spaces ultimately reflects how we value the arts.

These spaces can add much-needed vibrancy to our local arts scene and complement our national institutions.

Jeffrey Say Seck Leong

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