SINGAPORE – It was a problem acknowledged by both the establishment and the community: With some 520 new arts entities formed over the last 10 years, the demand for arts housing has been “extreme”, as National Arts Council (NAC) chief Benson Puah put it.
After a year-long consultation, the NAC is now formally addressing the space crunch with an overhaul of its 25-year-old Arts Housing Scheme.
A key change in the framework for subsidised rentals for artists is to optimise space through shared facilities such as rehearsal studios and galleries, even as the NAC will acquire more properties.
Goodman Arts Centre (picture) at the former Lasalle campus in Goodman Road will be the pilot project next year.
Costing some $9 million to redevelop, it will increase the number of spaces for lease by 50 per cent, from the current 96 tenants.
It will cater to artists at different stages of development, another key strategy as the scheme moves away from a one-size-fits-all approach in assessing tenant applications.
Other plans include co-location arrangements with community or commercial premises.
The NAC now has only two co-location spaces: Singapore Wind Symphony at Ulu Pandan Community Building and The Necessary Stage at Marine Parade Community Building.
Over the next 10 years, the new framework could benefit 285 artists and groups, compared to 135 tenants over the previous decade.
“To be able to do that, we need to adapt existing properties … relook existing properties and re-evaluate if they’re still suitable even with adaptation, and consider new ones,” said Mr Puah, who declined to name the properties.
When asked about cost, NAC deputy chief executive (planning and policy) Yvonne Tham conceded that rentals may increase, “reflecting the rising costs of maintaining our properties”, even as tenants will see a simplified fee structure.
“Right now, artists pay sinking funds, rent, and on top of that, a maintenance fee,” she said
Another change: Instead of tenants taking on the role of daily maintenance via tenant management committees, each new or redeveloped property will be run by an NAC-appointed manager who will also facilitate collaboration among tenants and with the wider community in the area.
For instance, Goodman Arts Centre, which will also be NAC’s new location, will be managed by The Old Parliament House Ltd.
The arts community was generally positive about the news.
TheatreWorks managing director Tay Tong called the Goodman Arts Centre “good and exciting”.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how it all pans out. There seems to be a consideration of charting the growth and progress of young companies with the incubation programme, as well as taking them onto the next level with the Scheme for Developing Artists and Arts Groups,” he said.
Visual artist Tang Mun Kit, a tenant of Telok Kurau Studios, agreed that the new framework was a boost for younger artists. “The old arts housing scheme was really very biased against the young artists. They have no chance at all to step in. Some old tenants are really entrenched in their spaces,” he said.
However, not all artists took to the idea of shared facilities.
Toy Factory’s Goh Boon Teck said: “If it’s your own property, you’ll be more passionate about it. But as a collective, I’m not sure.”
Nominated Member of Parliament Audrey Wong, who helped facilitate consultation sessions between the NAC and artists, said the consensus was that change had to happen, even if the transition was going to be “painful”. Her concern was for older and veteran artists.
“Given the way Singapore is moving, and telling artists ‘you got to survive on your own and get support from the private sector’ is okay for young ones who are more commercial minded.
“But the old ones who aren’t as business-minded might have difficulty making that adjustment.”
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