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The Substation arts centre was housed in a conserved building, formerly a power substation, at 45 Armenian Street (pictured) for more than 30 years. — TODAY pic
The Substation arts centre was housed in a conserved building, formerly a power substation, at 45 Armenian Street (pictured) for more than 30 years. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, July 25 — The Substation on Armenian Street, which announced its closure in March, is here to stay, with plans to be a company focused on original arts programming.

The independent arts centre, which was founded in 1990, intends to have a new team of arts professionals and practitioners from multiple disciplines and age groups leading what it dubbed “Substation 2.0”, it said in a media release on Friday.

The team is now working with the National Arts Council (NAC) to find a suitable holding space to continue its operations while renovations take place at the Armenian Street building where it had been housed.

Raka Maitra, 50, will be the artistic director and Serene Yap, who has 20 years of experience in arts and culture management in both non-profit and commercial organisations, will be the general manager.

Maitra, an experienced dancer, was the co-artistic director of The Substation last year.

The Substation said: “The months ahead will be a period of transition and challenge where The Substation will apply for funding support from the National Arts Council, in addition to using this time to recalibrate and plan.

“The new team will also begin the process of seeking private sector and community support in its new form.”

Substation 2.0 will be led by a new board by the end of August.

Wahyuni Hadi, 45, who is to be chairperson of the new board, has in the past promoted Singapore and Southeast Asian cinema and independent arts. She was also the former programme manager at The Substation.

Wahyuni headed the Singapore International Film Festival in 2009 and later from 2014 to 2019 as its executive director.

Other members of the board consist of Michelle Chang, managing partner at post-production house Mocha Chai Laboratories; Jean-Louis Morisot, co-founder and director of Foundation la Roche Jacquelin, a philanthropic initiative; musician and composer Joe Ng; playwright and director Bryan Ng; filmmaker Kirsten Tan; and poet and writer Cyril Wong.

How decision was made to stay open

In early March this year, the board of The Substation announced its decision to close the centre permanently.

It said in its latest statement that the closure was due to its financial sustainability as an independent arts centre, arising from its obligation to vacate its premises when NAC took the space back for renovations. The Covid-19 crisis also affected its ability to continue operations after the renovations.

TODAY reported previously that it could no longer occupy the conserved building at 45 Armenian Street in its entirety after renovations and it would lose income from leasing spaces at the venue. Rental income made up the bulk of half its funding. The other half comes from an NAC grant.

Fundraising was also hampered due to the pandemic.

On March 6, in a meeting organised by The Substation, the arts community discussed initiatives and ideas to keep the venue open.

The board later announced that it was open to receiving proposals from the arts community to keep operations going.

This was because some in the community believed that The Substation should not be closed permanently even if it could not return to fully occupy the Armenian Street building or to continue in its present form as an independent arts centre for multi-disciplinary experimental arts, it said in its news release.

“While the decision to close was one The Substation board collectively made and believed was the right thing to do, we also acknowledged that many in the community felt otherwise and sought an opportunity to drive The Substation forward. We were heartened by this spirit of communal responsibility and initiative,” it added.

Two proposals were received after an April 27 deadline.

The people behind the proposals were said to have drawn inspiration from their backgrounds in theatre and the punk movement.

“Their proposals reflected their passion for The Substation’s history and its role in shaping the arts scene, underscored the critical importance of having an independent and multi-disciplinary arts centre in Singapore, and recognised that the areas of long-term growth, budgeting and fundraising remain key challenges that need to be addressed,” The Substation said.

Wahyuni and Morisot then worked to conceptualise a new Substation 2.0, which seeks to reconcile the centre’s historical artistic mission with the long-term challenge of financial sustainability.

The team thus decided that The Substation should remain as an independent arts company. A number of the individuals behind both proposals will also be invited to take part in various capacities in the new venture.

It will continue to stay to its “core mission” of “discovering, nurturing and supporting” new and diverse voices in the arts, it added.

Wahyuni said: “The Substation’s purpose over the next few years will be to re-establish and redefine it as the home for independent artists in Singapore, independent of our original building, while expanding our collaborative partnerships locally and in the region.

“The Substation still has an important role to play in the Singapore arts scene, and we are grateful for this new beginning and the support the community has shown.” — TODAY

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