Survival tips for Singapore’s independent arts community

Survival tips for Singapore’s independent arts community

The closure of the Post-Museum on August 7 grants a few lessons for Singapore’s indie artists
The Post-Museum will be remembered for its offbeat ideas.

When the Post-Museum first opened in September 2007 in two small shop houses in Little India, the artistic, creative and left-leaning communities in Singapore were delighted.

This was a home for them.

Comprising exhibition and performance space, artists’ studios, offices and Food #03, a social enterprise café, Post-Museum hosted events, programs and edgy initiatives covering issues such as sexuality, civil society, social issues, independent film, art, music and literature and alternative culture; often pushing the envelope and providing a platform for things that were a challenge to engage in openly in mainstream Singapore.

Post-Museum was able to pull off its off-kilter, alternative agenda, largely because, on principle, it did not accept funding from government and had very little corporate sponsorship, which, “does not allow us full autonomy” says its founder Jennifer Teo.

Free(er) from obligation or restrictions ... Post-Museum had the independence to pursue its vision.

Instead, it supported itself through its own small enterprises, like social enterprise café Food #03, venue rental, and from monies made at events and private donations.

Free(er) from obligation or restrictions that came with financial support from the government and big name sponsors, Post-Museum had the independence to pursue its vision.

So news of their impending closure was greeted with dismay.

“Once people heard Post-Museum was closing they wanted to try save it,” says Amanda Lee, curator for “House of Incest,” one of their final events, “On top of our event, which was quite big, people organized many smaller fund raising events, like guerrilla nights -- our event raised good money; and all the proceeds went to Post-Museum.”

“But it’s been difficult to talk to them about money,” says Lee. “They have been suffering deficits for a while, even though their rent is heavily subsidized.”

“If they reopen, I wonder how it will be possible for them to sustain themselves given that they haven’t been able to, in spite of having such a kind landlord, which they might not have elsewhere.”

Money is indeed a topic about which the Post-Museum is keeping discreetly silent.

Independent arts, cultural and community spaces can survive in Singapore -- but with caveats.

Teo only wants to state that, “our lease was for three to five years and towards the end of last year, we started thinking of closing the space,” and confirms that they "do not have any concrete plans at the moment.”

 

Both Lee and Teo feel though that even though Post-Museum is folding, independent arts, cultural and community spaces can survive in Singapore -- but with caveats.

An eclectic mix of people could always be found at the Post-Museum.“You can’t have too lofty ideals and think that people are just going to come and support you unwaveringly,” says Lee. “You still have to run your space as a business and manage it well; balance practical concerns with the independent, community part of it.”

“You have to think about drawing people to your space constantly and have events that are really vibrant."

"This can be hard in Singapore because supporting local arts and community endeavors -- and paying for them -- is not inculcated into the average person here."

"And there is still a lot of reluctance by people to take ownership over what they want to do and put everything you have into doing it, which is what Post-Museum tried to do.”

As Post-Museum faces its final days at Rowell Road and its future hangs in the balance, it leaves behind rich memories of “numerous inspiring and wonderful people and experiences, “ says Teo, and will be something people hold in their minds as a space which did not seem possible in Singapore, but became possible, at least for a while.

When asked if she would have done anything differently, Teo’s answer is clear, “No, not at all.”

Elaine Ee writes about Singapore, the city she lives in, covering the arts, events, personalities and social issues. Her stories have appeared in Time Out SingaporeTatler HomesFood & Travel and Jetstar Asia. She’s also an editor at publichouse.sg, a Singapore community-driven website run by socially conscious denizens. When she’s not at her laptop, she practises Bikram yoga, spends time with her three kids and makes it a point to keep trying something new. 

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