Yet another ban; this one on Substation

September 15, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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After months of planning and negotiations with the authorities, the police have turned down our application to close down Armenian Street for a “Street Party” — a collaboration involving several individual artists, arts groups and civil society organisations (CSOs).

It would have featured musical performances on the street, and a range of activities by artists and civil society organisations indoors. It was scheduled for 30 September, several days after the conclusion of the World Bank and IMF meetings.

In their response to our application, the police said that only if ALL activities were held indoors, would permission for the event be granted. If the entire event had no CSO involvement, we believe we might have had a better chance of getting permission for the road closure.

However, we decided that the event wouldn’t have the same meaning if we couldn’t have at least some performances on the street, and we wouldn’t go ahead without CSO involvement. Therefore we decided to cancel it.

While we are of course deeply disappointed, we want to try again and organise a Street Party in the future. We think it is important for two reasons: (i) we strongly believe in the value of such a community-wide arts and civil society gathering, and (ii) we believe that if successful, it would set a positive precedent for engagement between the arts, civil society and the authorities.

Indeed, government leaders have been consistently encouraging civic participation and constructive debate about society. And it’s not as if there haven’t been road closures for arts events before: in 2002, we got permission to close Armenian Street to stage a tribute to our late founder, Kuo Pao Kun.

In this press statement we would like to explain our motivations for organising the Street Party, assert the values we believe it represents, and summarise our negotiations with the authorities.

Since the beginning in 1990, The Substation arts centre has always recognised that art cannot be separated from its social contexts and the circumstances in which it is produced.

The Substation’s vision and role — a vision that continues to be urgent and relevant today — is to be an open space that fosters cultural diversity: a place where a wide range of artists, audiences, activists and the public can meet to make art and exchange ideas not just about art, for art’s sake, but to reflect on art’s larger purposes.

This approach has led to the emergence, with instrumental support from The Substation, of some of the most exciting artists working in Singapore today — a number of whom are represented in our first international biennale of contemporary visual arts.

It was in this spirit that we decided to organise an event involving the closure of Armenian Street, in front of our building.

Our plan was to bring together the diverse arts and civil society groups, and to affirm ourselves as a community of active citizens. Precisely because we hardly ever come together as a community, we believed the Street Party would be especially significant, as it would encourage Singaporeans to appreciate the values of civic participation.

Moreover, we wanted to create a strong sense of community ownership of public space, and that’s why closing the street — even if only for one day — matters so much.

It bears repeating: the arts and and civil society are inseparable. In supporting the biggest cultural event of the year, the inaugural Singapore Biennale, the government confirms this.

Organised to coincide with the World Bank and IMF meetings, and funded mainly by the government, this biennale, like almost every other biennale in the world, showcases many artists whose work is deeply concerned with social and political issues.

In planning for our Street Party, we worked closely with the authorities, taking into consideration their sensitivities about security during the WB/IMF meetings, and we made compromises.

At first we wanted to hold the Party just after the WB/IMF meetings. After discussions with the police, we rescheduled it to the 30th, well after the conclusion of the meetings.

We had also initially wanted to organise booths on the street, creating something like a flea-market of arts and civil society organisations. Again, in response to police advice and as a compromise, we decided to move all CSO activities indoors. But what we did not want to compromise on is the involvement of CSOs — their participation is essential.

During this whole process our engagement with the police and other authorities have been very positive. We are encouraged by the open communication that we have had with them, and believe this is something to build upon. We plan to apply to them again in the future with another proposal for a Street Party.

We intend to convene a meeting on 5 October 2006 with the participants from the Street Party, which will be open to the press and the public. The purpose is to discuss everyone’s concerns in the wake of the cancellation of the event. The list of participants (arts groups and CSOs) is below. These organisations may be issuing press statements of their own.

A big thank you to all the participating organisations and individuals for their invaluable support.

The Substation: [email protected] (65) 6337 7535


Participants of the Street Party:

Migrant Voices
Vegetarian Society
Pelangi Pride Centre
PLU
Crashout
TWC2
Nature Society
Green Volunteers Network
Singapore Environment Council
Sea Shepherd
STITCH
Cat Welfare
Think Centre
SADPC
AWARE
Youth Employment Singapore
Village Xchange

Footprint Singapore

Magdalena (Singapore)
Mercy Relief
The Society for Reading & Literacy
ONE (Singapore)
ADLUS
p-10
Spell #7
WITA