The Arts Housing Scheme

Singapore Infopedia


The Arts Housing Scheme is a project under the National Arts Council (NAC).1 It was introduced in 1985 by the former Ministry of Community Development to support local artists and arts activities.2 Recognising the scarcity and high cost of land in Singapore, the scheme was initiated to provide subsidised rental spaces to arts groups for their artistic practice.3

Opened in 1985, the Telok Ayer Performing Arts Centre was the first performing arts centre established under the Arts Housing Scheme.4 The scheme has since housed arts groups in a variety of buildings, from disused warehouses to old shophouses in central locations.5

The development of the Arts Housing Scheme was marked by three distinct phases over the years.In its first phase, locations such as the Telok Ayer Performing Arts Centre, The Substation and the Lasalle College of the Arts were refurbished. Phase Two of the scheme began in 1992. Under this phase, old buildings earmarked for conservation in the Waterloo and Rochor areas were identified as suitable sites for housing arts groups.The third phase, which started after 1996, included more central locations in ChinatownLittle India and along the Singapore River.8

Arts housing properties under the Arts Housing Scheme are usually either a single-tenanted building housing a single arts group or a multi-tenanted building housing several arts groups.9 The third type involves co-locating an arts group with non-arts tenants in the same building.10

As at 2017, the two main arts belts are on Waterloo Street and in Chinatown. The third, smaller arts belt is in Little India. There are also two co-located facilities in Marine Parade and Ghim Moh.11

Tenant selection is based on several criteria: need for housing, artistic standard, track record, merit of planned activities, managerial strength and growth potential. Successful applicants are required to pay 10 percent of the rent charged by the Singapore Land Authority, as well as utility and maintenance costs. The remaining 90 percent of the rent is subsidised by the NAC.12

1985: Former Telok Ayer Primary School on Cecil Street is converted into Telok Ayer Performing Arts Centre, which houses arts groups of different cultural traditions and art forms.13
1988: Former Stamford Primary School building is restored as Stamford Arts Centre housing nine arts groups, with Theatre Practice as its anchor tenant. Built by the Japanese in the 1900s, the building was used as a Japanese school until World War II. After the war, it became Stamford Primary School.14
1990: Converted from a 60-year-old Public Utilities Board electric substation, multidisciplinary arts centre The Substation opens on Armenian Street.15
1990: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts’ campus at Short Street opens, with campuses on Middle and Wilkie roads added later.16
1992: One-Two-Six Cairnhill Arts Centre opens at the restored former Anglo-Chinese School building, housing groups such as Act 3 and Teater Kami.17
1992: Lasalle College of the Arts moves into its new Mountbatten campus.18
1995: Chinese Calligraphy Society, Dance Ensemble Singapore and other arts groups begin relocating to Waterloo Street.19
1997: A group of artists, including Teo Eng Seng and Tan Swie Hian, moves to Telok Kurau Studios, housed in another former primary school.20
1998: Smith and Trengganu streets become home to nine Mandarin arts groups including Chinese Theatre Circle and Xin Sheng Poets’ Society.21
1999: Premises of Sculpture Square and Action Theatre open in the Waterloo area, marking the completion of the S$5 million Waterloo Street Arts Belt under the Arts Housing Scheme.22
2000: Theatre company The Necessary Stage is co-located with the Marine Parade Community Club in the Marine Parade Community Building.23
2001: NAC acquires 10 units of shophouses along Kerbau Road for the Little India Arts Belt.24
: NAC has 43 properties and spaces under the scheme, occupying a total floor area of approximately 48,487 square metres. These include shophouses in the Chinatown Arts Belt, Little India Arts Belt, Armenian street, Robertson Quay, Selegie Road and Waterloo Street.25

Nureza Ahmad

1. Tong Min Chien, “Arts District to Foster Creative Spirit,” Straits Times, 3 March 1995, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
2. National Arts Council, “New Framework for Arts Spaces – Annex A: Review of the National Arts Council’s Arts Housing Scheme,” press release, n.d.
3. Ho Sheo Be, “Amateur Arts Group Told to Vacate Premises,” Straits Times, 18 November 1994, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “From Classrooms to Restored Buildings,” Straits Times, 11 July 1999, 9; “Arts Council Gets Pick of 38 ‘Homes’ for Artists,” Straits Times, 28 May 1993, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Arts Spaces: Art Housing Scheme,” National Arts Council, accessed 21 April 2017.
6. Phan Ming Yen, Old Buildings Set Aside for Arts Groups,” Straits Times, 3 September 1993, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Arts Council Gets Pick of 38 ‘Homes’ for Artists,” Straits Times, 28 May 1993, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
8. National Arts Council, “Arts Spaces.”
9. National Arts Council, “Arts Spaces.”
10. National Arts Council, “New Framework for Arts Spaces,” press release, n.d.
11. National Arts Council, “Arts Spaces.”
12. National Arts Council, “New Framework for Arts Spaces”; National Arts Council, “Arts Spaces.”
13. “From Classrooms to Restored Buildings.”
14. “From Classrooms to Restored Buildings”; “Stamford Arts Centre,” Today, 28 April 2006, 94. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “From Classrooms to Restored Buildings.”
16. “From Classrooms to Restored Buildings.”
17. Ricky Yeo, “New Arts Hub,” Straits Times, 1 May 1992, 8 (From NewspaperSG); “From Classrooms to Restored Buildings.”
18. “From Classrooms to Restored Buildings.”
19. Leong Weng Kam, “Calligraphy Society Happy with New Centre,” Straits Times, 4 February 1994, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “From Classrooms to Restored Buildings.”
21. “From Classrooms to Restored Buildings”; Clarissa Oon, “Chinatown Houses for Arts Groups,” Straits Times, 8 December 1998, 61. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “From Classrooms to Restored Buildings”; Hong Xinyi, “Fighting the Rattle of Waterloo,” Straits Times, 17 July 2003, L8; “Arts Council Lauded for ‘Great Job’,” Straits Times, 29 May 1999, 63. (From NewspaperSG)
23. National Arts Council, “Arts Spaces.”
24. “Arts Spaces: Art Housing Scheme – Little India Arts Belt,” National Arts Council, accessed 21 November 2017. 
25. “Review of National Arts Council’s Arts Housing Scheme,” National Arts Council, accessed 21 August 2018.

The information in this article is valid as at August 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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