Written by Kimberley Wee

On the evening of 15th October 2023, artists, cultural workers, art patrons and art workers alike gathered at the open grounds of DECK to observe a panel discussing what it meant to make space count in Singapore’s arts space ecosystem. The inaugural panel of DECK’s latest series of programming entitled “Currents Above Ground” saw the voices and hands behind three independent art spaces share in the challenges of existing as an independent art space in Singapore, each highlighting the importance of carving out spaces for artistic spontaneity and experimentation.

It was made evident that larger than the fight for physical space is the ongoing negotiation of territory for ideas in Singapore, as Dr. Wang Ruobing highlights, to wrestle space for artistic expression that do not necessarily line up with the roadmap of most government-awarded grants. Independent art spaces need to exist because “the niche matters” and should continue to matter, as Gwen Lee puts it, without which, no robust scene can ever begin to take root in Singapore.

Interestingly enough, the concerns of financial sustainability that surrounds the operations of most independent arts spaces is precisely what facilitates the establishment of alternative resource networks. All three representing spaces, ranging from fully to partially self-funded, share in the comfort of contributions from the artistic community. Across many exhibitions, Tan Pey Chuan shares that help has shown up in the form of an additional equipment, set-up hands, peers who volunteer their specialised skills, and other skill sets borrowed to execute productions.

To be an “independent” arts space is an active and consistent rejection of the ideological terms that is so often tied to material necessities. When independent arts spaces permeate the civic district, the public is forced to alter their existing perception of what an artist does and what artistic labour looks like, and artists themselves are forced to speak to others beyond ourselves. It is only by taking control of our own physical spaces can we have the liberation to make them count.