Beloved Singapore arts space The Substation to be revived by new board

‘Substation 2.0’ will be a new iteration of the long-running arts centre and incubator

The Substation, the long-running independent arts centre in Singapore that announced its permanent closure in March, will live on in a new form and led by a new board.

In a press release sent today (July 23), the Substation announced that the ‘Substation 2.0’ would evolve from its decades-long role as an arts centre to become an “arts company focused on developing original programming”.

Though its core mission will remain discovering and nurturing new and diverse voices in the arts, the Substation will be led by a refreshed board that includes only two members from the previous one. The new board will lead the Substation by the end of August.

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Substation 2.0 will also not be based at the institution’s longtime home of 45 Armenian Street; it has yet to find a “new home”, it said in a Facebook post today. Scheduled to close next Friday (July 30), the building will be handed back to Singapore’s National Arts Council (NAC), which has plans to renovate it into a space for multiple arts groups, the Substation claims.

The Substation’s future came into question in February this year when it was announced that the Sub, as it is affectionately known by the community, would leave its Armenian Street premises in July. The Substation has resided in the building, an old power station, since its founding in 1990 by theatre giant and Cultural Medallion winner Kuo Pao Kun.

Serving artists of all disciplines, the Substation has had a long-running relationship with Singapore’s independent music scene, serving as a haven in particular for the country’s rock, punk and hardcore scenes.

Singapore arts centre the Substation leaving Armenian Street after 30 years
A crowded live gig at The Substation in the 1990s. Courtesy of The Substation

In March, the Substation’s board announced that it would close permanently upon its departure from Armenian Street. One reason that the board cited for its closure is the Substation’s inability to occupy the building in its full capacity following its renovation, under the auspices of the NAC, into a multi-tenanted space.

“The Substation will lose a fundamental part of its identity and heritage if it cannot return fully to 45 Armenian Street,” the board wrote at the time, adding that the Sub will be unable to carry out its mission as an independent arts centre.

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The NAC responded in a statement calling the announced closure a “missed opportunity”. “NAC has emphasised that it would like for the Substation to continue its role as an arts incubator,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

In its press release today, the Substation said that it will apply for funding support from the NAC. An NAC spokesperson told the Straits Times that “NAC has been informed by the board of the Substation that it will not close the company and will submit its proposal to NAC for funding support. We are happy to engage in constructive discussions with the board on its new plans.”

Wahyuni Hadi and Jean-Louis Morisot are the only current Substation board members that will be on the new board come August; the former will also move up to the role of chairperson.

Notable new additions to the board include Joe Ng, former member of Singapore ’90s rock band the Padres, and filmmaker Kirsten Tan, who directed the award-winning 2017 film Pop Aye.

Raika Matra, who was appointed co-artistic director of The Substation last year, will continue as artistic director.

Singapore arts centre the Substation leaving Armenian Street after 30 years
A mural at The Substation in 2012. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

The Substation’s press release today said that its board invited proposals for the continuation of the Substation after a townhall meeting on March 6, which heard members of the arts community express their views on the Sub and raise possible strategies for keeping it alive.

Two proposals were submitted to the board, each drawing from their proposers’ backgrounds in the punk and theatre scenes. Though the board entered into discussions with those proposers, they were ultimately not approved.

“A number of the individuals behind both proposals will be invited to participate in various capacities in Substation 2.0, and we are happy that they have expressed support towards the Substation and its continued future,” the statement reads.

“The Substation will return to its roots and defining mission, realigning them to our new circumstances,” said incoming chairperson Wahyuni Hadi in a statement. “The Substation’s purpose over the next few years will be to re-establish and redefine the Substation 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.”

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