Four years on, the Gillman Barracks arts enclave is a different place than when it first opened and the change will be evident at its anniversary celebrations this weekend.
It was mostly filled with art galleries at the start, but it now has a more even mix of offerings, including new tenants and new partnerships, which will helm highlights of the celebrations.
A slew of art-related activities and exhibition openings, including live music acts and art tours, will be rolled out over two days back to back, starting with the enclave's popular Art After Dark event on Friday evening, followed by the family-friendly Art Day Out! on Saturday afternoon.
Highlights include an exhibition of porcelain ware by home-grown design store Supermama, a new tenant of the enclave since July, and an exhibition showcasing the works of winners of the fourth edition of the Tokyo International Photography Competition. The photo exhibition is part of the Singapore International Photography Festival and it marks the festival's first partnership with the enclave.
Mr Low Eng Teong, 47, director of visual arts development at the National Arts Council, who oversees the Gillman Barracks programme office, says the cluster's fourth anniversary celebration marks how far it has come.
BOOK IT / GILLMAN BARRACKS 4TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS
WHERE: Gillman Barracks, 9 Lock Road
WHEN: Art After Dark, Friday, 7 to 11pm, Art Day Out!, Saturday, 2 to 7pm
The cluster was predominantly a visual arts cluster at the start and last April, nearly a third of the 17 galleries then chose not to renew their leases, citing poor sales and visitor numbers. Two more tenants left earlier this year, but new businesses have also opened in the cluster, including Australian gallery Sullivan+Strumpf and ice cream parlour Creamier.
The mix of tenants at the cluster now includes 11 art galleries, seven artist residency studios, two art outreach organisations and seven food-and-beverage outlets.
Mr Low says the dedicated programme office, set up in April by the National Arts Council and the Economic Development Board, which jointly manage the cluster's development, has been working to deepen the integration between the cluster and the wider arts and culture landscape.
Besides its partnership with the photography festival, the enclave also hosts the studio for Singapore artist Zai Kuning as he works on the installation that will show at the prestigious Venice Biennale exhibition next year in the Singapore Pavilion. A free tour of Gillman Barracks on Saturday will allow visitors to view the studio and the work in progress.
Mr Low says such collaborations are meant to be "a win-win for our partners and us".
The artistic director and co- founder of the photography festival, Ms Gwen Lee, 40, says: "For each edition, the festival looks for new venue partners to present photography to a new audience.
"Knowing that the galleries in Gillman Barracks are active in presenting photographic works and are advocates of photography as a form of art, we find that there is good synergy."
The photography festival also opens an exhibition of works by the critically acclaimed South African photographer Roger Ballen at Gillman Barracks today.
Galleries in the cluster, including Mizuma Gallery and Sundaram Tagore Gallery, have photography shows on during the run of the festival too.
To mark the anniversary celebrations, Sundaram Tagore Gallery has commissioned a 10m mural to be painted on its exterior wall on Saturday. The mural, which will depict an abstract landscape that represents the cultures of Singapore, will be done by the urban art duo Sam Lo and Soph O, who are known collectively as UCA, short for Unknown Chinese Artists.
Mr Sueo Mizuma, 65, chief executive of Mizuma Gallery, says that while big events such as Art After Dark draw visitors to the enclave, things are "usually very quiet" on weekdays.
"I think it will take a lot of time to make this place livelier than it is right now," he says. "We need to be patient and we need to continue to show good artists and good exhibitions in our gallery."
On future plans for the enclave, Mr Low says it will bring more outdoor artworks to the area "so that art can be closer to our visitors", and it will launch a public art trail for the enclave during Singapore Art Week in January next year.
He says it also plans to "help budding art collectors learn more about purchasing their first artwork in Gillman Barracks" by continuing to partner its tenants in holding art appreciation events.