Thursday, December 23, 2010

Arts housing! Arts centre mania?! What about the oldies?!

23 December 2010
By Mayo Martin

The former LASALLE-then-SOTA campus looks pretty much the same. Except that they’re sprucing it up (naturally).

We called some artists on our, er, speed dial, for their initial impressions on the new arts housing framework.

But unfortunately, Thom Yorke, Frank Black and Jeff Koons did not pick up. So we had to look for alternatives. (Cymbal crash!)

Anyway, some interesting points were brought up by a couple of arts folks, particularly for what’s going to happen in already existing arts spaces, especially since the general consensus about Goodman Arts Centre is two thumbs up. (We think so too).

Here are two important ones worth mulling over based on some initial impressions.


TheatreWorks’ Tay Tong, for example, highlighted the Arts Centre Scheme, which of course will directly affect them seeing as right now they’re holding fort at one of the earmarked places, 72-13 Mohd Sultan Road.

Generally speaking, he broaches the question of whether there seems to be an obsession for arts centres – citing “Esplanade, the museums, the Substation, NUS UCC, The Arts House, private galleries, your IRs, SOTA, La Salle, NAFA and others.”

The other point he raised, which I think is also a pertinent point for whatever discussions follow, is that, with the Arts Centre Scheme, are these tenants expected to produce shows (like what SRT and TW do right now in their respective places for example) and programme events like an arts centre does? Or is it going to be either/or?

It’s a rather tricky question because, unlike say, Substation which is an arts centre (and IMHO should really just get their own permanent building because well, isn’t 20 years enough?), some companies who are now residing in these earmarked places are producing companies. They may rent out their space, like SRT does for their theatre, ditto TW for their white space, but these places are still primarily for their own productions.

So does that mean they’ll have to change the way they do things when the time comes for them to reapply? Or get booted out if they insist on being primarily a producing company?

And then, while the arts housing issue is (arguably) not an arts funding issue, in these circumstances, they might be linked, actually.

While the scheme is “interesting and challenging”, TT pointed out, using TW as an example: “The annual grant for TheatreWorks is $310,000, which is a result of a consistent reduction in the last few years, which is about 20 % of what we need. What does it mean if you’re cutting, on one level, the grants and yet asking the same company whose grants are being cut, to increase our job scope by becoming an arts centre aside from being a producing company?”


Visual artist and long-time Telok Kurau Studios resident Tang Mun Kit also had some sharp observations.

The new housing approach has commendably and finally addressed the uneven playing field between the younger artists and the established ones in getting space. But, he pointed out, it seems to have overlooked the third category: the really established ones with medallions hanging around their necks.


If you look at the schemes again, the Arts Centre Scheme (which looks to deal with the “mature” groups) isn’t really looking at the individuals per se but the space and what it’s used for.

Mulling over TKS, Mun Kit did agree that for it to regain its luster, it might be a good idea to concentrate on developing and mid-career artists and well, let the oldies go. (Because, well, some of them don’t really need it right and are successful enough and earn enough to actually be able to rent their own spaces – which, ahem, some of them actually do right now.)

“If NAC want Telok Kurau Studios to be vibrant and humming, that should be a place to fill it up with young, developing and mid-career artists. I have a sense that the young artists and mid-career artists can mix and be open. But when it comes to the established, even among themselves, they do not really communicate,” he said.

I mean, you hope the oldies would actually mentor or just mingle with younger ones and impart some of their knowledge, but – and this is from what I’ve seen and heard when I did a story on TKS way back – that’s hardly the case.

But before you get all riled up, here’s his groundbreaking suggestion.

Give them permanent space. Not arts housing space, but permanent space.

Leave the arts housing spaces to the young and mid-career ones and give the oldies a different place.

Said Mun Kit: “They make up the backbone of the whole art scene. Why can’t they be given a permanent housing for as long as they exist. Then you can leave the other two groups to even out the fair distribution of housing resources. If you look upon them as “cultural assets” because they have already done their part, if you recognise their contribution, then you reward them with permanent housing, regardless of whether they are financially able.”

In an ideal world, it actually makes sense, don’t you think?

NAC had underscored the idea of housing spaces as simply finite.

One view would be to say that their hands are tied – there’s only so much space and they’re doing the best they can (they have earmarked three completely new buildings).

Another view, perhaps, would be that they should insist on pushing for more land/space as they champion the arts and those who have contributed so much to it.

Again, this new arts housing thing is in its infant stages and Goodman Arts Centre, their test baby before rolling out the changes until 2014, doesn’t even have tenants yet. Let’s hope it’ll work out for the better for everyone involved.

Hey, it’s Christmas in a couple of days.

Thoughts anyone?