The Covid-19 pandemic took the world by surprise, forcing many organisations in the arts and beyond to explore uncharted territories and reconsider their existing modes of being. Yet out of the pandemic emerged a thread of positivity: within the arts, we witnessed a coming together of individuals and organisations to support each other, using their platforms to reflect on the changing nature of presenting art, while reiterating its importance in bringing creativity and flavour to life.
In August 2020, three local theatre juggernauts—Wild Rice, Pangdemonium and the Singapore Repertory Theatre—came together for the first time to co-produce and release a short film titled The Pitch, which shines a light on the complexities facing arts companies at a time when live theatre had to shut down. Despite their distinct styles, the film was a heart-warming tribute to the shared mission of these theatre companies in bringing positivity to others through theatre. Within a month of its release, the film raised over $110,000 in donations from the public, who left a torrent of encouraging comments on the fundraising page that echoed the importance of the arts in such times:
“Creativity is not cancelled! May all of us pull through these challenging times.”
“There’s no better season to band together like this – for the love of arts and the people working tirelessly to bring arts to art lovers”
In the same vein of collaboration, 12 local art institutions and independent art spaces joined forces with over 170 local artists and cultural workers to mount a collective response to a world changed by the pandemic titled Proposals for Novel Ways of Being. Initiated by National Gallery Singapore and the Singapore Art Museum, the project comprises a series of exhibitions and programmes in art spaces all over the island from August 2020 to February 2021. The title references the early name of the “Novel Coronavirus”, serving as a sombre yet hopeful reminder that Covid-19 is not the first crisis the world has encountered, neither will it be the last. IMPART Awards 2020 Curatorial Winner Syaheedah Iskandar was selected to co-curate the exhibition at National Gallery Singapore titled An Exercise of Meaning in a Glitch Season.
In the midst of all these efforts, Art Outreach considered how we could do our part to support the arts community. With the team adapting well to working from home, we decided to share the value of a ready resource we had on hand: our 67sqm office space in Gillman Barracks. We launched HEARTH in September, initially opening it up for free bookings until November, inviting independent art practitioners to use the space to support the creation and photography of their works, or to mount small-scale exhibitions, installations and workshops. The response was overwhelming. Within 2 weeks of launch, the space was booked back to back for 9 different proposals that testified to the diversity and breadth of art practices in Singapore. Many of the proposals had elements of education and advocacy for causes including mental health, the environment and breast cancer, resonating with our own beliefs of the artist as a messenger and art as a means of reflection on issues in society.
Our first artists to use the space in early September were mother-daughter pair Loh Soh Cheng and Jillian Chan, who turned it into the studio for their independent creative endeavours. Soh Cheng, an artist who makes linoprints and monotypes, revelled in having a studio to explore the unpredictability and imperfections of a medium she refers to as being “humble yet phenomenally diverse”, dabbling in experimentations that she hopes to bring to her students as an art educator. Meanwhile, Jillian used the space to support her bullet journal and stationery brand that she recently founded, finally having a space to focus on creating new products and photographing them. They shared about the value of the space for them as independent artists:
“HEARTH is an amazing space for small businesses and artists, the most important factor being the flexibility and it being cost-free. Not having the overhead of a studio space is a tremendous help, and provides the focused environment for ideas and creative progress.” – Jillian
“I am grateful for Art Outreach's empathy towards artists like myself; allowing me to create artworks without any interruptions.” – Soh Cheng
Our second artist was wildlife artist Sofiya Shukhova who used the space to rework sketches and linocuts into large-scale paintings as a continuation of her ongoing project that raises awareness on the illegal trading of the Asia songbird through art. She aims to exhibit these paintings in Singapore in 2021 and travel it subsequently around Southeast Asia.
“I spent eight days working on large scale artworks at HEARTH, but that week was as productive as a month (or even more) in my own studio.” - Sofiya Shukhova
In offering creatives and artists a conducive and affordable environment to focus on honing their craft, HEARTH follows in a line of independent art incubators that were introduced to fill gaps and support the art ecosystem. Examples include 21 Moonstone, which took the form of a flexible co-working space for creatives; and Supernormal, which was launched as a project space for experimental and offbeat exhibitions. We’re excited to see the kind of initiatives that HEARTH will enable to grow.
Check out the projects that will be hosted at HEARTH this October to November: