Subdued end to an era as The Substation leaves Armenian Street

The Substation will return to the NAC for a two-year renovation period. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - On The Substation's final day of business on Friday (July 30), general manager Aikes Loh and two Substation staff members made a last walkthrough of the arts venue's empty shell.

Then the 52-year-old locked up the historic Armenian Street building at 3.12pm and left the keys at a collection point for the National Arts Council (NAC) to pick up later.

It was a subdued end to an era for Singapore's arts scene.

The Substation, founded by late theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun in 1990, will return to the NAC for a two-year renovation period. When the building reopens in 2024, it will be a multi-tenanted space rather than the single tenant-operated multidisciplinary space it was before.

The nature of 45 Armenian Street is still open for dialogue and definition, says Mr Tay Tong, 57, NAC's director of sector development (visual arts).

He is overseeing the council's work in convening an eight-member resource panel which will inform what the building will become.

This includes actress Janice Koh who is a former Nominated Member of Parliament for arts, Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum director Kennie Ting and arts educator Venka Purushothaman.

Ms Koh, 47, says: "For many arts practitioners, 45 Armenian Street is not simply a building. It is and has always been a home for the arts.

"As practitioners sitting on NAC's resource panel, we hope to offer our perspectives on how the building can continue to serve this role. But more importantly, we hope to broker important conversations, where the views of the wider arts community can be heard and taken into consideration when it comes to planning for its future incarnation."

Also on the panel are Ms Mae Anderson, chairman of Art Outreach Singapore; independent arts practitioners Edward Choy, Shaiful Risan and David Siow; and Dr Jennifer Lee, who also sits on The Esplanade's board.

Mr Tay notes: "They come from different domains. They are very energised and they will bring to the table their different views, backgrounds and communities."

The panel will not have a representative from the recently announced Substation 2.0, which includes two current Substation board members, Ms Wahyuni Hadi and Mr Jean-Louis Morisot, as well as former Substation staff members who intend to rebuild the arts centre as an arts company with a focus on original programming.

Mr Tay says of the resource panel: "We were looking for people who are objective and have no interest in using the space so they can keep that objectivity and have no conflict of interest."

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The panel has met twice to work on how to engage the arts community for their input on what facilities they would like to see at 45 Armenian Street, as well as what uses the space might be put to.

Feedback sessions with the community are expected to start in the latter half of August. The panel has a December deadline to complete a proposal which the NAC will submit to the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth for budgetary consideration.

The building is ageing, Mr Tay points out, and the NAC anticipates that renovations will be quite extensive and expensive. As the building is a conserved structure, there will also be feasibility studies to do.

Feedback from the arts community will shape the physical space, he adds. "We have a better sense of what is needed or what is wished for. And then the renovation will take a leaf from that."

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