Moderated a panel at The Substation's conference "Space, Spaces, Spacing", 21-22 March 2020

Full recording of 2-day conference:

Day 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7QEe...

Day 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNkrF...

Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhvPI...

Panel 1: The Making of Spaces (State and Policy)

Chair: Kenneth Paul Tan


The Renaissance City Plan (RCP), launched in 2000, makes clear that the arts are deployed in the service of nation-building, whether as social bulwark or branding the imaginary of global cities. As large as the state looms over the arts and public sphere, how do individuals and the art community respond to, and harness tensions between the centre and the fringe?


Is There Space for Diversity?

Alvin Tan

(Artistic Director, The Necessary Stage)

Without throwing the baby out with the bath water, top-down, planned social change need not be undesirable or undemocratic, especially if the state owns resources, is intimate to the terrain of the evolving arts ecology and treats the arts with benevolence; believing in its intrinsic worth, and not just instrumentalising it for economic goals. Perhaps arts and cultural policies can be incrementally more collaborative (and I mean genuine collaboration and not just going through the motion of consultation and then appropriating and tweaking the ideas to serve the leaders agenda for the arts) as the arts habitat mature with its complexities and needs. Fear and diminishing trust will naturally grow when communication ceases with the top management receiving the agenda from their political masters who perceive themselves to be the sponsor of the arts, when using public funds. Is there space for co-existence of difference so that diversity drives the country’s development towards excellence instead of fearing its divisive force? Is there space for divergent views without them being turned into dissident voices threatening social stability or national security? Can state and the arts learn from one another? Can different interest groups respect one another and co-exist instead of appealing to the hierarchical power to banish one another when we disagree?


Post-Renaissance Hangover

Audrey Wong

(Head, School of Creative Industries and Programme Leader of the MA Arts and Cultural Leadership programme, LASALLE and former Co-Artistic Director, The Substation)

In 2000, Audrey Wong was appointed Co-Artistic Director alongside Lee Weng Choy. That same year, the Renaissance City report was released, officially announcing the blueprint for Singapore's future arts and cultural development. It was the start of an era where the economics of the arts dominated, particularly with the quick adoption by our country of the "creative industries" concept and discourse not long after. Managerialism crept into our everyday artistic doings. Major institutions, increasingly well-resourced, developed rapidly. The Esplanade opened in 2002; the National Museum reopened in 2006 with a 'cinematheque' and theatre and eventually launched the massively popular Night Festival in the neighbourhood; the first Singapore Biennale launched in 2006. In this landscape, what was the place of an arts centre with limited resources which prioritised (an often invisible) process over product, but which was also in its own way, becoming institutionalized and inevitably participating in the increasing 'market orientation' of Singapore arts? Are there lessons from this period that can guide The Substation's response to the future?


Ambient Participation, Critical Placemaking and Urban Screens

Audrey Yue

(Professor in Media, Culture and Critical Theory (Communications and New Media), NUS)

Public screens have become significant urban sites for placemaking. Whether through physical location, the programming of art and cultural content, or networking capacity, they are focal points for local embeddedness, community formation and civic belonging. This paper draws on light art projection case studies in Singapore, Melbourne and Hong Kong, to examine ambient participation and critically develop a methodology for critical placemaking. Departing from top-down models of creative placemaking, this paper approaches critical placemaking through theories of urban communication and argues that a robust cultural evaluation model for placemaking must account for the ethical dimensions of the communicative city.

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