Stamford Arts Centre reopens to arts groups

The Stamford Arts Centre underwent a $7-million redevelopment. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Project architect Ng Xinying explains how the paint was scrapped off the old window panes during the revamp of Stamford Arts Centre in order to restore them to its full glory. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
The revamped Stamford Arts Centre will now house a new 162-seat Black Box, while also providing new music and project studio spaces. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - The Stamford Arts Centre (SAC) is housing arts groups again, fresh from a $7-million redevelopment that included adding a new 162-seat black box theatre with retractable seats, as well as five project studios and a music studio.

Tenants were selected from an open call on the National Arts Council's website from mid-July to end-August. They include Chinese music groups Ding Yi Music Company and The Teng Ensemble; Siong Leng Musical Association, which promotes Nanyin and Liyuan opera; and Shantha Ratii Initiatives, which explores Indian dance.

Dance troupe P7:1SMA, known for its contemporary take on Malay dance, has moved in from its similarly sized 72 sq m studio space in Gambas, Woodlands.

Meanwhile, Chinese opera group Traditional Arts Centre moved from its 73 sq m space at Goodman Arts Centre, off Mountbatten Road, into a 91 sq m unit at SAC.

Artists from both groups say they were attracted by the central location of SAC, which is in Waterloo Street and near arts schools such as the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, as well as cultural sites such as the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple and Sri Krishnan Temple.

Traditional Arts Centre's founder Cai Bi Xia, 46, says in Mandarin, through a translator: "Stamford Arts Centre is more accessible than Goodman. We also have arts from the different races and we can learn from one another."

Choreographer Norhaizad Adam of P7:1SMA says his group is interested in site-specific community works and is looking at the history of SAC for a project.

Choreographer Norhaizad Adam of P7:1SMA says his group is interested in site-specific community works and is looking at the history of the Stamford Arts Centre for a project. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

The Waterloo Street site originally housed a Japanese school in the 1920s, followed by several other schools, including Stamford Primary School, until 1986.

In 1988, it was restored as Stamford Arts Centre under the National Arts Council's Arts Housing Scheme and housed eight groups, including dance troupe Bhaskar's Arts Academy and theatre company The Theatre Practice. All moved out by end-2016 to allow for the redevelopment of the arts centre.

The redevelopment of SAC was led by Multiply Architects, which was also behind the makeover of Chijmes in Victoria Street, completed in 2015.

Key aspects of the redevelopment at SAC included bringing the nearly century-old compound up to code, as well as conservation works. Ramps, connecting walkways and two new lifts were added to improve accessibility across the three blocks in the compound.

Key aspects of the redevelopment at the Stamford Arts Centre included bringing the nearly century-old compound up to code, as well as conservation works. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

The asbestos roof was replaced with a new steel structure and clay tiles, similar to those used originally in the 1920s.

Since little was known about the original foundation and the load it could support, additions such as the lift shaft had to be created separate from the existing buildings. Piling works were needed to add columns below the black box to support its weight.

In addition, restoration specialists had to cope with water damage to the walls, now repainted with "breathable" paints that allow moisture to seep out, rather than build up within. Layers of old paint were carefully dissolved off the old baffled glass in the windows, and cracked panes replaced with similar glass.

Perhaps the most visible change is that many interior walls have been painted red, to match the familiar red window frames.

Ms Ng Xinying, 29, architectural associate at Multiply Architects, says: "We wanted to bring back the strong character of the building."

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About 380 sq m of space on the ground floor has been designated for commercial use by shops or food and beverage outlets.

The arts centre also offers two arts residencies under the arts council: a traditional arts residency for artists and arts groups to work on innovative content with a traditional arts focus, plus a community arts residency for artists to co-create artworks with the community.

Currently, the traditional arts residency is held by ruan player Neil Chua and the community arts residency by new collective Artist Duo, comprising visual artist Joanne Lio and artist/art therapist Karen Koh.

The four-month residencies end on Nov 25. Chua is working on a multidisciplinary work on the theme of sleep, while Artist Duo is facilitating guided walks and visual arts activities for the community around the centre, ending with a 3-D mixed media work.

Lio, 32, says: "I was especially excited when I saw the open call looking for a community artist working in a space rich in history and culture. I am curious to find out more about the community around SAC, while spending time interacting and creating art with the residents around the centre."

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