Arts community puts out statement of concern about NAC's Substation response

The Substation is slated to close after its 45 Armenian Street building is returned to the National Arts Council in July for renovation works.
The Substation is slated to close after its 45 Armenian Street building is returned to the National Arts Council in July for renovation works.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - More than 100 members of the arts community have signed a statement to express concern about how the National Arts Council (NAC) has framed The Substation's funding issues.

The Arts Community's Statement Of Clarification, made public on Friday (March 19), came on the heels of a series of public exchanges between the NAC and The Substation.

The Substation board had announced the arts venue would close after its historic 45 Armenian Street building is returned to the council in July for renovation works. It said it could not accept having to share the space with multiple arts groups upon its return.

The arts community's statement said misconceptions about arts funding would have adverse effects on the overall arts ecosystem and how its practitioners are perceived and valued.

It noted that The Substation has traditionally shared its rental subvention and benefits with artists and arts groups, offering them in-kind venue support or use of facilities at highly subsidised rates.

The NAC's shared facilities are for hire, which not all artists and groups can afford despite tiered rental rates.

The statement also noted that while The Substation is "a safe space for artistic experimentation", many in the community "do not have faith that this safe, inclusive space will continue to be extended should 45 Armenian Street be returned to the custodianship of NAC".

It took issue with the limitations of current funding schemes, noting that while The Substation's identity has been a multi-disciplinary arts centre, the fact that it is funded under the Major Company Grant Scheme has placed it on the same plane of expectations as Major Companies.

This is despite it "playing a distinctively different role, and delivering different - and no less valuable - outcomes for the arts ecosystem".

It pointed out that from FY17 to FY19, the Major Company Grant monies accounted for up to 34 per cent of The Substation's total expenditure. This is within the requirements of the scheme, which funds between 50 and 70 per cent of a Major Company's total qualifying costs.

The statement queried NAC's inclusion of "indirect government funding" as an indicator of financial sustainability.

The NAC had previously said that The Substation's heavy reliance on direct and indirect government funding would not be sustainable in the long term.

The statement noted that as early as 1994, a "commercial element" was present in arts housing spaces. Some arts organisations are contractually obliged to find and manage commercial tenants for areas zoned for retail or commercial use.

The focus on quantitative metrics "fails to account for the multi-dimensional value of arts programming, and the long-term impact and value of arts centres such as The Substation", said the statement. It added that the NAC had used "an inconsistent and confusing mix of numbers and percentages".

It concluded that a mutual exchange of statements via the media might not be the most conducive route to resolution, as such public statements risk perpetuating a negative image of the arts ecosystem and may take on a combative tone.

It called on the NAC "to remain open to conducive modes of dialogue with voices on the ground".

In response to queries, the NAC declined to comment and directed media to a page on its website which recapped existing policies and mission statements, such as the broad principles behind the Framework for Arts Spaces (FFAS) and its rationale for promoting co-location and the sharing of facilities.

"As part of an open and competitive approach, the FFAS is intended to benefit new and existing players through a fair merit-based process," the website says. "NAC also remains committed to ensuring the upgrading of infrastructure and to secure the resources required as such costs should not be borne by arts tenants."