Plans are afoot to develop a multidisciplinary arts cluster in Tanjong Pagar Distripark, as the National Arts Council (NAC) looks into collaborations with tenants of the Keppel Road warehouse building.
The news was announced yesterday by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong at the preview of S.E.A. Focus, a Singapore Art Week event.
He said: "NAC intends to launch a series of engagements and partner the arts community to cocreate innovative new concepts and programmes in areas such as Tanjong Pagar Distripark. NAC is also exploring new ideas and collaborations with existing tenants in the distripark to grow its organic development as a cluster for multidisciplinary arts as well as other ancillary services."
NAC will identify suitable spaces in the distripark for these innovations and ideas, he added.
Tanjong Pagar Distripark - which already had a reputation as an edgy arts hub a decade ago - is home to exhibition venue Artspace@Helutrans and Gajah Gallery, which promotes South-east Asian contemporary art.
The Singapore Art Museum (SAM), whose buildings in Bras Basah are undergoing a major revamp, is also using the distripark for an Art Week exhibition.
S.E.A. Focus, which showcases art from galleries in the region, had been held in the Gillman Barracks art enclave since its launch in 2019. This year, it runs in Artspace@Helutrans.
Mr Tong said of the distripark: "With its industrial vibe and large spaces, there is tremendous potential here as a dedicated space for creatives to experiment, to produce and to exhibit their works.
"In fact, today's unique exhibition space (for S.E.A. Focus), which was designed by Zarch Collaboratives and put together by STPI, is an example of what can be conceptualised and brought to bear in this location. It eschews the usual booth format of art fairs in favour of a more open and fluid concept. This is just one of the many possibilities that can be introduced here."
He added: "This area is rich in heritage and also holds special memories for the arts community, as the inaugural Singapore Biennale in 2006 was held at the historic Tanjong Pagar Railway Station just next door."
Former tenants of the distripark include art galleries like Valentine Willie Fine Art and ReDot Gallery.
Mr Tong said: "Our cultural infrastructure - including possible art spaces such as these - can contribute greatly to our urban landscape and value-add to the lifestyle offerings for everyone in Singapore, as well as our friends from around the world."
The new plans for the distripark have raised questions about the future of the Gillman Barracks arts cluster off Alexandra Road, which has seen its share of setbacks since it opened in 2012.
In 2015, five of 17 galleries there decided not to renew their leases, citing low footfall and poor sales. Chan + Hori Contemporary and Australian gallery Sullivan+ Strumpf exited last year, and in March this year, the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore will close its exhibition hall.
Gillman Barracks was developed by NAC, the Economic Development Board (EDB) and JTC Corporation.
In 2012, prominent Malaysian gallerist Valentine Willie complained that the EDB should instead help existing arts clusters, such as the one at Tanjong Pagar Distripark, as "you can't manufacture demand".
He had told ST: "Instead of trying to harness the energy of an existing hub and helping it, they are trying to kill it. It's unfair competition."
SAM director Eugene Tan said the museum would like to use the distripark as a venue, at least until its revamp - targeted for completion in 2023 - is over. "The space is really suitable for what we need as a contemporary art institution. The proportions, the size of the space, just the whole feel of it. It gives us the flexibility we need to do our projects and exhibitions."
The museum is presenting an exhibition by artist Choy Ka Fai at the distripark till Feb 21. Dr Tan said they are exploring if they can use the space for a longer period, although he stressed nothing has been confirmed.
He added that they would try to make the distripark more accessible - by offering shuttle bus services from nearby MRT stations, for instance.
Gajah Gallery founder Jasdeep Sandhu, whose gallery moved to the distripark five years ago, welcomed the news. He said: "If you look around Singapore right now, you've got little galleries like Coda Culture in Aliwal Street, the museum cluster in Bras Basah, and I think it's exciting to have another (cluster). It will boost Singapore's position as an arts hub in South-east Asia. It's not just Gillman Barracks as a standalone - there are so many places to visit."
He said parking in the area could be "more flexible", but added that he was looking forward to the Cantonment MRT station nearby that is slated for completion in 2025.
NAC's director of visual arts sector development Tay Tong told ST that the distripark is meant to complement Gillman Barracks, along with the rest of the visual arts ecosystem, and that more details would be available at a later date.
When asked what the council's plans were for Gillman Barracks, Mr Tay said: "NAC will continue to stay connected and support the galleries at Gillman Barracks for as long as they wish to maintain their business presence in Singapore."