Art groups feel the heat as rents rise at Goodman Arts Centre

Despite the increase in the cost of renting a space at Goodman Arts Centre, some of its tenants say they still get a better deal than on the open market.
Despite the increase in the cost of renting a space at Goodman Arts Centre, some of its tenants say they still get a better deal than on the open market. PHOTO: GOODMAN ARTS CENTRE

Cost of rental at arts centre is up by 2 per cent, with service charges to rise and subsidies cut

Arts housing in Goodman Arts Centre (GAC) has become more expensive and some artists there are feeling the pinch - though several others say they still get a better deal than on the open market.

The cost of renting a space at the centre off Mountbatten Road has gone up 2 per cent since last month. This is to meet market rates for civic rentals in similar areas, according to a joint statement from Arts House Limited (AHL), which manages the space, and the National Arts Council (NAC). Tenants will pay this rate for the following three years, until rentals are reviewed again.

Tenants get different subsidies and pay different rents according to the support scheme they are under. Service charges payable by tenants will increase from Sept 1 as well, and NAC subsidies used to offset these charges are being cut.

This is part of a phased removal of subsidies first announced to tenants in 2014, when the actual cost of running GAC was established three years after the first arts groups moved in. Costs of cleaning and security had increased and it was decided that having these offset by NAC and AHL was not sustainable in the long term.

According to some artists, service charges are almost as high as the rentals - a unit with market rental estimated at $1,950 a month, for example, owes a service charge of close to $1,200 - so lower subsidies for service charges are a blow.

Still, some long-term tenants of GAC told The Straits Times that they continue to find the arts centre affordable and convenient, especially as rentals remain heavily subsidised.

"Overall, we can't complain," says Jerry Hinds of the Association of Comic Artists Singapore (Acas), which has occupied a 110 sq m unit at GAC since 2011. "There's no way we could afford, on the open market, a commercial property of this size, at this rate and this close to an MRT station."

Acas pays less than $2,000 a month for the space, including rental, service charge and utilities, he says. The unit is used as a workspace by its artists, including 53-year-old Hinds, and for weekend art classes.

Similarly, puppetry artist Benjamin Ho of Paper Monkey Theatre says he is content with his $1,200 monthly payment of rental and service charge for a 100 sq m unit at GAC. The price has gone up by $300 since he moved in in 2011, but the 49-year-old says: "It's still cheaper than market rate."

The only cheaper space he found was in an industrial area, where he feared for his actors' security after late night rehearsals. In addition, he likes the shared facilities at GAC, including a black box for rehearsals.

Arts groups get different housing subsidies based on the stage of development they are at. NAC and AHL say that even after the rates review, arts groups continue to enjoy a rental subsidy of 80 per cent, up to a limit of $800 or $3,000, depending on the support scheme the group is under.

Traditional Arts Centre, a group that promotes Chinese opera to youth, used to pay $868 a month in rental and conservancy charges for a 73.5 sq m space that includes office and rehearsal space. Now that it is five years old and on a different stage of development, it pays nearly $300 more a month.

Mr Eric Tan, 50, an administration manager and assistant arts instructor at Traditional Arts Centre, says: "Everyone will wish that we don't need to pay so much in rental, but it is still affordable. Of course, we don't want it to go higher and higher, that will not be sustainable."

Older tenants at GAC were almost guaranteed three leases of up to three years each. Cake Theatrical Productions, which moved into GAC in 2011, moved last year to a space in the Yishun industrial area with competitive rates.

Other artists worry they will have to move out of GAC once their lease cycle is up. NAC and AHL say open calls for tenants last year were oversubscribed by three times.

T.H.E Dance Company's company manager Jael Chew says the infrastructure of the arts centre suits the troupe. The increase in rental and service charges was announced well in advance, she adds. A circular went out in March last year with estimates that allowed the company to factor in increased rentals into their funding application to the NAC.

The troupe's funding from the council fell between 7 per cent and 10 per cent this year, after the council split the pie among more arts groups. T.H.E Dance Company is weathering it by increasing the search for sponsors and trying to cut programme costs.

When its lease is up in 2020, the company will probably throw its hat into the ring of applicants for space at GAC again. "We want to come back to Goodman. You don't get a lot of places with a fully furnished dance studio, greenery and a thriving arts community," says Ms Chew.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2017, with the headline 'Rent woes at Goodman'. Print Edition | Subscribe