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After more than 30 years, The Substation will vacate Armenian Street premises in end-July

SINGAPORE — The Substation, Singapore’s first independent arts centre that has been a part of the country’s indie arts scene, will be vacating its premises along Armenian Street in July as the National Arts Council (NAC) takes back the space for renovation works.

A view of the entrance of The Substation. The building will be undergoing renovation after July 2021.

A view of the entrance of The Substation. The building will be undergoing renovation after July 2021.

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  • The Substation is vacating its premises along Armenian Street in July for renovation works
  • The indie arts centre is in talks with NAC to move to a different location for the next two years
  • It may return to Armenian Street after the renovation, but it is uncertain if it will be configured the same way
  • The arts community is saddened by the move, saying the space there is important for artists who do more unconventional work


SINGAPORE — The Substation, Singapore’s first independent arts centre that has been a part of the country’s indie arts scene, will be vacating its premises along Armenian Street in July as the National Arts Council (NAC) takes back the space for renovation works.

For the moment, the arts centre is planning to relocate and is considering some venues, including Goodman Arts Centre in Mounbatten and Aliwal Arts Centre in Kampong Glam, but declined to give details due to ongoing discussions with the authorities.

Speaking to TODAY on Thursday (Feb 4), Mr Loh Aik Khoon, the centre’s general manager, said that the team has “zeroed in” on some venues. These included the above locations suggested by NAC, as well as other places sourced by The Substation’s team.

There may be a chance that it could return to the premises after the renovation but that is all up in the air for now.

An art mural wall at The Substation. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

The Substation was founded in September 1990 by Cultural Medallion winner and playwright Kuo Pao Kun. It was thus named because the conserved building, which was built in the early 1900s, was formerly a power substation.

Responding to the news, members of the arts community rued the loss of the space, which they said was integral to supporting less conventional works and collaborations within the arts community.

Ms Raka Maitra, the centre’s artistic co-director had said on its website on Wednesday that The Substation will close soon.

“At the end of July, The Substation will be no more, and what was plainly obvious would disappear. It will be the end of an era.”

However, she said that “this ending will be marked with a SeptFest like no other”, referring to the final festival that The Substation will host before it relocates.

The Straits Times had first reported last July that The Substation would be returned to NAC for renovation works.  

The 1,630-sqm centre was the first to be set up under NAC’s Arts Housing Scheme, which provides affordable spaces to the arts community.

The Substation has been operating on Armenian Street since 1990. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

The Substation houses a black box, studio and art gallery, and it has been home to some of Singapore’s most critically acclaimed artists, including Ms Amanda Heng and Mr Kok Heng Leun, artistic director of theatre company Drama Box and a former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP).


Ms Raka and Mr Loh said that discussions with NAC on The Substation’s fate have been ongoing even before they had assumed their appointments last January.

However, they had yet to firm up plans with NAC on the centre’s relocation or its return to Armeninan Street after the two-year renovation.

Mr Loh said that while The Substation may “likely” to return to Armenian Street, he is not sure “what form and shape” the centre will take.

“We don’t know if we will have the whole building for us to manage and to work with all the artists or if it will be a shared working space with other arts groups. We’re not sure what plans NAC has at this point.”

In response to queries from TODAY, the NAC said that it had identified The Substation for upgrading in late 2017 and informed The Substation. With the renovations completed, the building will be a newly refurbished arts centre that offers subsidised tenancy spaces under the Framework for Arts Spaces, said NAC.


Members of the arts community lamented the impending closure of the space, calling it a loss for artists who are keen to experiment with unconventional ideas.

An exhibition space within The Substation. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

Mr Alvin Tan, 58, the founder and artistic director of theatre group The Necessary Stage, said: “It is definitely a huge loss because the space allows for exploration (of art) without the pressure of meeting ‘key performance indicators’.”

Ms Audrey Wong, the artistic co-director of The Substation from 2000 to 2010, said that the centre’s closure was worrying because it means that there is one fewer incubator space, which gives artists the freedom to try new works.

The former NMP for the arts added: “While The Substation has been overshadowed in the past decade as the Singapore arts scene developed with more international shows, festivals and mass crowd-pleasing events, it has always had a role and purpose (here). So having it disappear will be a huge loss.”

Similarly, Ms Ngiam Su-Lin, 47, the co-founder and executive director of ArtsWok, an arts-based community development organisation, said that there is no other venue in Singapore to bring together different art forms such as music, art and theatre under one roof like The Substation.


Mr Loh from The Substation said that discussions with NAC have been prolonged partly because it has been difficult to find a space similar to The Substation, which fosters collaboration among different groups of artists.

“It’s hard to find a new space that gives us what we have now — a theatre, a gallery, a dance studio, working spaces all interconnected to give an organic collaboration space for artists.”

With the relocation, The Substation is also likely to lose the income it makes from leasing its spaces. This will make it harder to support its programmes, Mr Loh said.

Half of its funding comes from an NAC grant while the other half is through rental income.

Given the difficulty in finding a new venue that will have space or rooms that may be leased for rental income, The Substation’s bottom line will likely be affected after its move, Mr Loh added.


In the immediate term, The Substation is preparing for its final festival, SeptFest: In the Margins, to be held from March 4 to 28. 

It will feature 11 productions and two exhibitions, including one on the orang asli community by artist Zai Kuning.

The team is also preparing for the space to be returned to NAC, and is discussing how much of the building needs to be restored to its original condition. 

With 11 full-time and three part-time staff members, Ms Raka is not sure what will happen to them after July, but she hopes that The Substation’s fate can be finalised by the end of next month.

Regardless of where the arts centre is stationed next, it will not be the same for Ms Raka.

“For me, it’s like the end of a chapter because we’ve been making work and art here for 30 years… and even if we relocate, it’s going to change. It’s not going to be The Substation anymore.”

Related topics

The Substation arts relocation Armenian Street National Arts Council

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