NAC to convert The Substation's Armenian Street space into centre for arts groups

The Substation will have the option of returning as a tenant under the Framework for Arts Spaces scheme.
The Substation will have the option of returning as a tenant under the Framework for Arts Spaces scheme.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - The Substation will move out of its home in Armenian Street in July, as the National Arts Council (NAC) prepares to renovate the building and turn it into a new centre for multiple arts groups.

The contemporary arts institution, which was founded in 1990 by late theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun, has a reputation as an incubator space for artists to experiment and collaborate. Its 1,630 sq m centre has a black box, art gallery and studio and working spaces.

After the refurbishment is complete, The Substation will have the option of returning as a tenant under the Framework for Arts Spaces scheme, an NAC spokesman told The Straits Times on Monday (Feb 8). The scheme was introduced in 2011 and subsidises rent.

But NAC said it would also ask other arts groups about sharing the 45 Armenian Street building with The Substation, saying that the increasingly vibrant arts scene meant a higher demand for physical spaces to support work.

Discussions about The Substation's fate have been going on for a while. Last July, ST reported that the arts institution, which was established under NAC's Arts Housing Scheme, would risk losing much of its space after handing it over for renovation works.

The move recalls the fate of theatre development venue Centre 42 in Waterloo Street. Members of the arts community reacted with dismay when it was announced last year that Centre 42 would be renovated and its venue would be co-run by an Arts Resource Hub, an NAC initiative to support freelancers.

The Substation's co-artistic director Raka Maitra, 51, told ST on Monday that its future looks uncertain and a lot of plans will have to change.

"I was hoping we would be able to come back full-scale, otherwise I don't know how we'll keep our Associate Artist Programme going, how we will have festivals, how we will have an interdisciplinary space," she said. "There's a difference between arts housing and a home for the arts.

"If we get only part of the space and we have to rent the theatre for our own shows, it won't be an incubation space anymore. It will be very difficult to keep the vision of The Substation alive. We have artists from every discipline working here, and this is really a space for young artists."

They have been looking at places such as Goodman Arts Centre and Aliwal Arts Centre as interim venues during the two-year renovation period, which is slated to begin in the third quarter of this year.

At the moment, half of The Substation's funding comes from an NAC grant, while the rest comes from rental income from leasing out spaces in the building. It currently employs 11 full-time staff and three part-timers.

NAC said the renovations will introduce technological features and offer an improved design to support the creation and presentation of multi-disciplinary arts.

Noting that the building is a conserved property, the arts council added that it had identified the need for upgrading in late 2017 after site inspections, and that it had consulted The Substation about this.

"Following this, NAC delayed the renovation project and extended The Substation's lease to accommodate their 30th anniversary programming on the premises," said the spokesman.

"Since then, NAC has also engaged The Substation and its key stakeholders regarding their needs and plans. NAC has also offered The Substation interim space options and provided additional funding to support its needs during this period."

The Substation's last festival before moving out of Armenian Street will be SeptFest: In The Margins, a slate of productions and exhibitions which will run from March 4 to 28.