The Substation Closes: Look Back At Singapore’s First Independent Contemporary Art Centre

Did you know Prince Edward made a surprise visit in 1992? Take a nostalgia ride down The Substation, with archival images dating back to the 1990s.
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Image: Facebook/The Substation

After three decades of being a mainstay in Singapore's art scene, The Substation Board announced yesterday the permanent closure of The Substation. The decision was made after lengthy deliberations and discussions with the National Arts Council (NAC) and with members of the local art community. 

"I am saddened by the permanent closure of The Substation. The Substation provided a place for meaningful connections (people, ideas and spirit) on my art journey. This is valuable not just for me but also to many others who have come forward and commented generously over the weeks regarding Substation's future," said Joint Artistic Director, Woon Tien Wei in a press statement. 

As previously announced in local media, The Substation was to vacate its premises in July, with the NAC taking back the building for renovation works. However, it was unable to return fully to its premises, and lost autonomy over the spaces and faciltiies.

Ahead, we take a look back at The Substation over its 30 years of running, and its impact on the local arts scene in Singapore.

The Substation was set up by playwright, theatre director, Cultural Medallion recipient and arts activist Kuo Pao Kun in September 1990. The idea for an independent arts centre first came in Kuo in December 1985, where he envisioned the future for the then abandoned power substation as a place where people could gather freely to interact and engage across different art forms.

It was set up as a home for the arts, and centrally located in the city's civic district, and the first building under the National Art's Council's "Arts Housing Scheme." The site was previously a power sub-station (hence the name), with a building that dates from 1926.

Under his direction, The Substation during the 1990s was an inter-disciplinary, multicultural and pioneering arts space, with a focus on experimental arts.


For more images of The Substation, check out PictureSG from the National Library Board (NLB) collection.

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