In the last 25 years, the arts landscape has evolved tremendously.
More than 500 arts groups were formed just within 9 year, from the year 2000 to 2009. Furthermore, many new working arrangements and new types of spaces in creative clusters or community facilities have been developed for artists and arts groups, giving National Arts Council(NAC) a unique opportunity to enable and empower today’s artists and arts groups to flourish . In December 2010, the Framework for Arts Spaces was therefore announced to1. better support the changing needs of a growing and increasingly diverse arts sector;2. provide platforms where artists and arts groups can collaborate with each other, and;3. to bring the arts to the surrounding communities. Aliwal Arts Centre and Goodman Arts Centre are just two of the properties which were developed under the National Arts Council’s Framework for Arts Spaces.
Under this Framework, NAC offers tenanted studio spaces at these arts venues for lease to artists and arts groups . NAC then commissioned Arts House Limited (AHL), a non-profit organization which runs The Arts House, a multidisciplinary arts centre focusing on literary to manage Aliwal arts centre and Goodman arts centre. Both are creative enclaves for artists, arts groups and creative businesses; and presents festivals through the arts centres . Both centres are catered to the arts across different disciplines and have the same vision and mission, which is to provide a conducive environment that could support the artistic development of both the contemporary and traditional arts groups as both are managed by Art House limited. However, there are bound to be some differences between the two centres.
Despite being managed by the same company, both centres do not intefere and compete againts one another even though they share the same goal.They cater to two very different demographics market, which results in them having their own distinct identity . Aliwal arts centre is catered more towards the urban subcultures whereas Goodman arts centre caters more towards family-orietated arts. This identity focus can be see through two aspects. Firstly the residents of the arts centre and how the art centre uses their space, and programmes held that they have which we will be looking into. In the case of residency, Aliwal arts centre has more performance-based resident groups. They house theatre, music and dance groups. Even their visual arts and literary arts section are specialized in such a way that these different multi-disciplinary art groups could collaborate together.
For example, Word Forward Ltd. is a literary arts company which nurtures writer and performers . Thus, they could collaborate with Avant theatre & language who whishes to be the premier provider of high quality commercial theatrical performances induced from various Asian and global techniques/cultures . This then makes Aliwal arts centre a community where the different residents could become an instant support group for each other.
On the other hand, Goodman arts centre, has a wider variety of multi-disciplinary artists as it has more space to house more residents. From the list of residents, there isn’t really an overarching theme to their residence. Thus, from residency alone we can tell that aliwal arts centre is catered more towards the urban subculture group as their residents are geared more towards entertainment. At this point, it is not clear yet that goodman arts centre is more family orientated.
However, we can see this in the next point. Looking at the various programmes ran by the two centres, we can tell how each centre caters to the different demographics. Both Aliwal Arts centre and Goodman arts centre have several programmes which help generate revenue for the arts centre as well as expose art to the community . Based on the Arts House Limited(AHL)’s annual reports as of 2017, I have chosen two successful key programmes for both Aliwal arts centre and Goodman Arts centre.Two Succesfull examples for aliwal arts centre programmes would be the Aliwal Arts Night Crawl and Aliwal Urban Art Festival. In Aliwal arts night crawl, it is led by Art House Limited(AHL)’s CEO Lee Chor Lin and is a programme that takes people through a trail of three batik institutions in Kampong Gelam. Majority of Aliwal tenants, almost 80% of them, took part in the festival by presenting performances and conducting workshops that scattered around the Centre and businesses within Kampong Gelam. This year also marked the first partnership with the Malay Heritage Centre, who held their annual Hari Raya Open House on the same evening .
Secondly, the fourth edition of the Aliwal Urban Art Festival, which was the first one that was fully programed by Aliwal Arts Centre, featured a wide variety of interactive programmes, and subcultural genres. Over 5,800 people attended the event, which included a street art tour by Aliwal tenants and pioneer street art collective RSCLS, performances by Singapore bands and DJs, a skateboarding competition, as well as a market of Singapore artisanal brands. For Goodman arts centre, the Goodman Place Management Office (PMO) worked closely with stakeholders, tenants and community partners to reach out to the public. Some of the sucessful programmes initiated by Goodman PMO or in collaboration with tenants and/or partners include Tanjong Goodman Open House 2017 and Tanjong Goodman Weekend Market #1.The sixth edition of the Tanjong Goodman Open House saw close to 40 artists and arts groups that presented over 100 arts activities, including parent-child workshops, dance performances, and an Open Studio Visual Arts tour. The event drew over 3,000 visitors and will continue to be a staple programme at Goodman Arts Centre. At Tanjong Goodman Weekend Market #1 programme as well, Over 7,500 parents packed their kids and grabbed their friends to the lush compounds of Goodman Arts Centre where theTanjong Goodman Weekend Market was held. An artisan flea market was spread across the 7-acre Centre grounds and at the new Block O, The Great Singapore Garage Sale #7 at the Multi-Purpose Hall and a Food Bazaar cum Bric-a-Brac Fair at the Amphitheatre by Ascent Events Management Group.
Tenant La Barca Ristorante participated with a BBQ, water slide and bouncy castle for young families. In addition, GAC PMO invited the Very Special Arts Singapore Ltd (VSA) to join in as part of its outreach efforts. In total, 115 vendors spread themselves across the Centre with GAC PMO providing technical, logistical and marketing support. Media features in The Straits Times and TODAY newspaper also helped a lot in publicising the event. The biggest reward for GAC PMO was the crowd of families from diverse nationalities coming together under one roof, with the survey results showing that 52% of respondents finding the overall quality of the programme ‘Excellent’ . Thus, based on this few examples collated by AHL, annual report, this shows that both arts centres were effective in making the arts relevant to the differnent demographic groups and accessible thereby helping Singapore build a foundation of understanding and importantly, a love for the arts, which is the the only sustainable way to broaden the base of Singaporean audiences, readers and art collectors in the long term.
As these programmes included the tenants, it has also allowed the residents to contribute and gain exposure.For spaces, Aliwal arts centre and goodman arts centres has spaces which small time artists could rent to conduct workshops or continue their practice. For instance, Naradsign, a well known watercolourist on instagram who actually teaches classes at her house corridor is a great example of this. To conduct bigger classes, she would rent a place at the Aliwal Arts centre instead of having it at the corridor of her house. Thus, the availabilty to rent the space for a day for artists such as herself allows her to nurture her discipline as well as share it amongst the rest and at the same time profit from her workshops.
Due to the profits earned, she is now able to venture into turning her watercolor designs into shawls, expanding her creativity into a business as an artist. However, this is in the case of a short term rentals but what about long term rentals?In 2017, Goodman arts centre, in particular, is struggling to continue making a conducive enviroment for artists recently due to the rising cost of art spaces. According to an article from Todayonline.com, Resident artists at the Goodman Arts Centre (GAC) are angry over recent increases in rent and service charges. Some artists claim that they will no longer be able to afford to keep their spaces at the centre. Previously, the rentals charged ranged from about S$500 for the smallest 37sqm space to about S$695 for a 73.5sqm space after subsidies, and inclusive of service charge, they can now expect to fork out about S$800, almost 70 per cent more for a unit of the same size and it is largely due to the removal of NAC subsidies covering service charges.Due to this, longtime and established artists at Goodman Arts centre such as Robert Zhao Renhui, 34, said that he has had to pay more over the last few years, and will likely have to give up his studio if the current trend continues.
Zhao also mentioned that the price is rising fast, and he doesn’t think he can afford it if it goes up any more. Such is the concern of many other tenants. While National Arts Council(NAC) is trying its best to improve the arts infrastructure as well as support the growth and development of the arts community, the end result is rising costs for tenants. As said by Mr Sonny Liew, While NAC is trying its best, the end result is rising costs for tenants, so perhaps we need to talk about adjusting the structure of things rather than just what is possible within existing conditions . Therefore, I feel that National arts council could start by considering the artists point of view rather than just the public.
Perhaps getting the artists feedback and then coming up with a solution would be be a better way to solve the issue of the funding structure. Despite NAC’s subsidy on the art spaces, the artists occupying the spaces at Goodman arts centre are still required to pay quite a sum for the monthly service charges. Furthermore, after the NAC’s release of the recipients of its Seed Grant and Major Company scheme in April, some arts groups had to tighten their belts due to funding cuts of less than 10 per cent, following budget reduction across.
For the financially strapped independent arts groups to not just survive, but also make their art affordable for the masses, greater support is needed not just from the public but also from the private sphere.10 However, there is no denying that National Arts Council (NAC)’s framework of arts spaces has created a better arts scene in Singapore and a conducive space for artists to a certain extent. In 1985, The Arts Housing Scheme was implemented to provide affordable spaces to arts groups and artists. Its main purpose is to give arts groups and artists a home within which they can develop their activities and thereby contribute to an active Singapore arts scene. Under the scheme, rental charges by the Singapore Land Authority are heavily subsidised by NAC. Utilities and maintenance costs are borne by the tenants. However, the rising costs of the studio spaces are taking a toll on the artists especially with NAC recently cutting their funding.
For example, tenants at Goodman arts centre such as Mr Robert Zhao and Mr Kamal Dollah has taken measures such as conducting classes in Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in order to sustain the increased rental charges, even with the several arts schemes NAC has provided to help artists. Artists still have to wait for approval on getting the grants and what then happens to the artist, if the grants are not approved? Furthermore, as artists take up the grant and tenancy, they have to become a non-profit organization. Thus, all the profit from the workshops conducted at aliwal and goodman arts centre do not go back to the artist but the arts centre, further adding on to the cost of material used to hold these workshops for the artist to bear. For instance in the financial year 2015/2016, $70.9 million was disbursed through the Grants Framework and $7.
4 million through the Arts Housing Scheme. Perhaps more money shoud be invested into the arts housing scheme given that the tenants are non-profit organizations. It is tough for those in the arts industries to make profit without any funding.
Most arts practitioners struggle to cover costs as it is. Thus, given the small market in Singapore, sponsorship is essential to an artist since the arts are not self-sustaining and may never be, 10.Therefore, I Think that NAC should not cut down on their funding but instead increase it. These places provide a conducive environment in terms of working space and an artist community but it is not something an artist can sustain financially especially when they are non-profit organizations and not earning from the workshops conducted.
It is important to promote the arts to the public but it is also important to look at it from the artists’ point of view and help the artists themselves. If state funding makes it possible for Singaporeans to go to museums for free and for events such as the biannual Arts In Your Neighbourhood, which takes experiences such as playground theatre and music walks to the heartland to reach wider audiences around the island10, then it should also be possible for NAC to relook at their funding structure in order to help the artists instead.