Noor Effendy Ibrahim stepping down as The Substation's artistic director, call for new head

During Noor Effendy Ibrahim's five years at The Substation, he has actively pursued its mission of "nurturing and challenging Singapore artists". -- PHOTO: ST FILE
During Noor Effendy Ibrahim's five years at The Substation, he has actively pursued its mission of "nurturing and challenging Singapore artists". -- PHOTO: ST FILE

The Substation is looking for a new artistic director. Its current head, Noor Effendy Ibrahim, 41, will step down in January after a five-year stint.

Applications are open till Dec 15 and the vacancy is expected to be filled by March. The Substation is Singapore's first independent arts centre and was founded in 1990 by the late dramatist Kuo Pao Kun. It turns 25 next year.

During Effendy's five years at The Substation, arts practitioners say he has actively pursued its mission of nurturing and challenging Singapore artists - welcoming and giving a platform to emerging and mid-career artists alike, and setting out a safe space for the experimental and confrontational.

He tells The Straits Times: "I never set out to transform The Substation into just another arts space. It needs to be a very convoluted space, which is what I believe Pao Kun meant for it to be as a home for the arts - it has to be a home for anyone and everyone who seeks the resources and the support that it can offer."

His tenure saw a revamp of the centre's Associate Artists Scheme, now known as the Associate Artist Research Programme. Practitioners such as visual arts collective Vertical Submarine, writer and curator Tania De Rozario and performance and video artist Loo Zihan were invited on board for the two-year residency programme that supports research, development and discourse in contemporary art and interdisciplinary practice.

He also helped put in place a new mentorship programme with modest funding for participants - the Directors' Lab, which grooms practitioners who want to grow as directors, resulting in exciting new performance works.

He says he looks for resilience and humility: "I've met a lot of resilient and very humble, low-profile artists who are really working - and that is the kind of artist I reach out to and I'm sure the current team also feels that way."

He adds that there was a great temptation to become a more traditional arts space: "Not that I want to, but the temptation is due to a lot of factors: economic factors, the demands of the arts landscape today, a lot of other spaces out there, so there's a lot of competition."

But The Substation has resisted categorisation. It played host to a variety of colourful, invigorating performances and events, from Cake Theatrical Productions' divisive Decimal Points series, which saw designers and behind-the-scenes practitioners taking the helm in various mind-boggling productions, to the Zentai Art Festival earlier this month, where 19 full-body-suited performers poured out of The Substation and into the public, startling and delighting passers-by.

It also reaffirmed its strong support of the indie and the underground, pushing young poets into the limelight with its Love Letters Project and giving graffiti artist Samantha Lo a canvas for her work.

Under his watch, The Substation also brought back the Substation Conferences, a nod to a series of iconic conferences held at the space in the 1990s. In 2012, the topic was Target Audiences and the Publics of Art, and last year, The Arts Community and the University, reiterating the importance of the public discussion of arts-related issues and hot topics.

He laughed when asked what he loved most about the space: "That it's falling apart? That's what I love about it. It's very stubborn. The stubbornness is what draws the kind of chaos that it has witnessed over the years, since Day One."

He was oblique about his future plans, saying "it depends on what opportunity comes first" and that he was sending out applications. Speaking candidly, he said: "For me, it's also age - I'm getting fatigued and that's not fair to The Substation. I wish I could have lasted longer, but my personal needs are getting neglected."

He only felt it fair that some new blood be injected into the space, adding: "I gave myself five years, and then said I would consider extending for another one or two more years. But it seems that five years is just enough."

On the search for a new artistic head, Mr Chew Kheng Chuan, chairman of The Substation's board, said: "Change is part and parcel of the normal developmental process of arts organisations... This is an opportunity to readdress and reaffirm our mission and methods of developing the arts in Singapore."

Natalie Hennedige, 39, artistic director of Cake Theatrical Productions, said Effendy had done "wonderful things" at The Substation during his time there. She added: "He's brought many different communities together, but in a way that's kept the spirit of The Substation alive and true to its essence - that kind of indie spirit - and in his way, allowed it to live again, breathe again and thrive again."

Follow Corrie Tan on Twitter @CorrieTan

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