Search Menu
Home Latest News Menu
Asia News

The Substation in Singapore will close permanently this July after 31 years

Another one bites the dust

  • Adrianna Cheung
  • 3 March 2021
The Substation in Singapore will close permanently this July after 31 years

After more than three decades of operation, Singapore’s first independent contemporary arts centre has announced in a statement that it will close permanently when it leaves its 45 Armenian Street space in July.

“It is with profound sadness that the Substation Board announces the permanent closure of the Substation. There is no other place like it,” its announcement said.

It went on: ”This difficult decision was made after lengthy deliberations and several discussions with the National Arts Council (NAC) and with members of the arts community.”

The Substation was due to vacate its existing location in July 2021 for two years because of much-needed renovations to the historical building. However, the NAC said that in order for it to return when renovations are over, it may only as a co-tenant and share it with other tenants.

This didn’t bode well with The Substation Board, who rejected the offer for two reasons.

“Firstly, the Substation will lose a fundamental part of its identity and heritage if it cannot return fully to 45 Armenian Street. From its opening in 1990, the identity of the arts centre has been inextricably linked to the building, generating a unique and creative buzz that has been central to placemaking in Armenian Street for 30 years. There is no other place like it.”

The second reason states that even if it returned as a co-tenant, The Substation would be unable to control the building facilities integral to its operations such as the theatre and gallery. “This has two implications, namely, the loss of autonomy over the spaces and facilities crucial for its mission, and the loss of income from venue hiring. These factors impact the Substation’s ability to operate as an independent arts centre and incubator. The Substation will not be in a position to fulfil its mission to support and provide a safe space for artists to do pioneering and experimental work.”

Funding was also a factor in the decision. The Substation relies heavily on fundraising, and with COVID, fundraising for the arts was difficult. According to the board, several donors have been cautious with their funds or have refocused their philanthropic outreach.

Founded in 1990, Substation — named after the building's first job as a substation — opened after playwright Kuo Pao Kun injected over $1 million of government funding into the abandoned building. The venue became Singapore’s first home for experimental and underground arts and culture, pioneering a program that saw it evolve from punk shows by local hardcore acts to a fully-fledged contemporary arts centre. It was also an early advocate for promoting LGBT rights. In our community, Substation was the home to events by local outfits like Blackout Agency.

Although it is with profound sadness to see the independent arts centre move out of the conserved building it has occupied for three decades, we hope that other underground sanctuaries will continue Singapore's legacy as a creative hub.

"With our closure, we hope that other arts organisations in Singapore will continue to carry the torch to give budding artists a safe space in which to experiment and develop their art. We also hope that the NAC will take a chance on young unproven passionate artists, and support the work of independent arts incubator spaces that have been vital to these artists, as it did for the Substation through the prior 30 years. The development of any society can be marked by the value it places on the arts. We hope Singapore will not only value risk-taking, bold, boundary-breaking and innovative ideas from which great art emerges, but also support our artists without whom such ideas would never see the light of day.”

We hope that small venues in Singapore like The Council, which has been enterprising several concepts to stay afloat, will help provide artists in Singapore with a home following the announcement. Their latest concept, which is ironically taking place at The Substation, is a large-scale immersive art exhibition that explores the world of light and sound and its impact on human perception.

Singapore, stay strong...

Load the next article