5 techniques the Esplanade has built an effects on Singapore’s arts scene

SINGAPORE: This week, the Esplanade kicked off a 12 months-extensive marketing campaign to rejoice its 15th anniversary. Called #mydurian, it started with a gentle-up of its prickly domes, a social media marketing campaign and contests.

The arts centre has also commenced a collection of fundraising initiatives, together with backstage excursions by artists, aged-university donation boxes all around the arts centre, a fundraising gala supper subsequent 12 months, and an on-line art auction, all mostly to enable in its subsequent huge project – the development of an further waterfront theatre.

Set to be up and jogging by 2021, it prices S$thirty million, of which the centre is hoping to increase two-thirds by means of corporate sponsorship and community fundraising.

The legendary Countrywide Theatre (remaining) was developed with the enable of community funds. Nowadays, the Esplanade is hoping to do the identical for its subsequent creating project. 

If it all seems familiar, it’s for the reason that it was accomplished before – the legendary, and now-defunct, Countrywide Theatre was developed in 1963 many thanks to “a-dollar-a-brick” marketing campaign, in which Singaporeans gladly chipped in as a way of staking ownership.

And just after being all around for 15 yrs, the Esplanade is making an attempt to do the identical for its new creating, crossing its fingers that the community feels the identical way about #mydurian.

But has it accomplished plenty of to verify its worthy of? Channel NewsAsia appears to be back at some of the centre’s achievements.


one. Creating AN Audience

The discussion around whether or not the Esplanade was heading to turn into a white elephant was nicely and certainly settled almost from the extremely get started. Throughout its very first entire 12 months of operation, from 2003 to 2004, it notched up an attendance of 949,906. Final 12 months, it was a whopping 2 million.

A effectiveness for the duration of A Day With Good friends, a competition for seniors. (Photograph: The Esplanade)

It has reached this many thanks to its numerous festivals that cater to just about every kind of viewers: Dance fans, music lovers, families, senior citizens, hardcore theatregoers, and visitors. In addition, there are the cultural festivals that appeal to folks across the board, these as Huayi, Pesta Raya and Kalaa Utsavam.

It has also extensive debunked the idea that it was heading to be only for the cultural elite – last 12 months, far more than 3 quarters of the viewers arrived to see non-ticketed occasions located at its indoor and outdoor venues.

Aside from programming occasions for young children, the Esplanade has also established up a compact place for them. (Photograph: The Esplanade)


It has also adjusted to the moments, environment up an Annexe area for far more dwell music performances for millennials, making a new nook for young children referred to as PIP’s PLAYbox, initiating far more occasions for senior citizens, and of class, its planned mid-sized theatre for even far more reveals, workshops and occasions.

30-seven thousand performances, 26 million audiences and ninety two million guests in 15 yrs? Not negative at all.

2. Building SWEET Music

The Esplanade carries on to enjoy host to numerous major-notch orchestras and far more “atas” musical performances. But its largest musical successes have been Baybeats and Mosaic Music Festival, which started in 2002 and 2005, respectively.

The previous is still all around when the latter officially wrapped up 3 yrs ago, just after morphing from a sort of jazz and globe music event to a thing far more indie-pleasant. (Nowadays, it has also turn into far more of an ad-hoc collection.)

The once-a-year Baybeats music competition has been one particular of The Esplanade’s largest achievements stories. (Photograph: The Esplanade)

These two occasions introduced audiences to a vast variety of music each domestically and internationally, and signalled to business promoters that there was a thing there worthy of pursuing.

“Mosaic was the template for subsequent festivals,” said Yeow Kai Chai, Singapore Writers Festival director and previous music journalist. “They seeded the thought in which you appear to a location to verify out acts of distinct genres, and other festivals noticed that it was achievable as extensive as you build an surroundings in which folks are comfy and keen to verify out acts they’ve never heard before.”

Singapore hip-hop musician DJ KoFlow just lately carried out at the Esplanade Concert Hall. (Photograph: The Esplanade)

The Esplanade’s disposition to consciously give nearby musicians a platform to complete was also a boon. Just lately, acts like Gentle Bones and DJ KoFlow have carried out their personal huge reveals – and one particular could argue that it was the arts centre’s constant programmes showcasing nearby acts that built what was once unthinkable achievable.

“The Esplanade dismantled the thought that Singaporean musicians can’t maintain their personal,” said Yeow. “They’ve invited bands at distinct degrees of advancement, maintain workshops, and now these bands are executing at huge live performance halls. It was not just about presenting them but creating them.” 

three. Location THE Phase FOR THEATRE

When the Esplanade very first commenced, there were being fears it would only enjoy host to huge, global touring musicals and would have no area for Singapore’s theatremakers.

Whilst it did do the previous – a purpose that has considering the fact that shifted to other venues these as Marina Bay Sands – it’s safe to say that it has also turn into a second residence for the nearby theatre scene.

Kit Chan for the duration of the 2006 run of Forbidden Metropolis. (Photograph: Singapore Repertory Theatre)

From commissioning massive and compact reveals (beginning with Forbidden Metropolis in 2002) to keeping festivals of its personal and being a location for other folks these as the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival and the distinct iterations of the Singapore Arts Festival, it has turn into the area in which audiences can catch good quality theatre reveals of all sorts.

Its once-a-year Studios time carries on to feature numerous compact-scale or experimental works by nearby and global acts – and can be rightfully considered a collection in which one particular can get an correct snapshot of what nearby theatremakers were being accomplishing. The Theatre location also available groups a probability to attempt their hand at greater items, with musicals these as 881 The Musical, Forbidden Metropolis, and December Rains.

“I imagine the Esplanade is still the premier arts centre in Singapore just after all these yrs,” said Melissa Lim, basic manager of The Essential Phase (TNS).

The Esplanade’s The Studios collection has been a trusted way to get a snapshot of the nearby theatre scene. (Photograph: The Esplanade)

“It has the finest venues and technological assist out there to artists and arts groups there. It supports the creation of new works by commissions and attributes on its programming platforms.”

But she also included an overlooked contribution – to have all all those reveals in all sorts of styles and languages under one particular roof had created an surroundings that was various plenty of for audiences to stage out of their favored theatre silos. And it has supplied theatre groups a probability to do so, far too. Lim cited how TNS, known mostly for its English language works, was commissioned to build Malay and Chinese pieces, for occasion.

“I sense these intercultural efforts are essential, specially in a society like Singapore, in that they stimulate dialogue on variety and nationwide identification.”

4. Building THE Proper MOVES IN DANCE

3 yrs just after it opened, The Esplanade introduced da:ns competition, a entire-blown event devoted to all items dance. It was a huge offer, in particular for a scene that was relatively compact compared to other executing arts.

Nowadays, the 12-12 months-aged competition has turn into a fixture on the calendar – so significantly so that Oct has turn into a de facto “dance month”, with the Countrywide Arts Council also starting its personal dance event Bought To Go all around the identical time.

Singapore Dance Theatre executing Swan Lake at The Esplanade. (Photograph: The Esplanade)

And in true Esplanade fashion, the fest carries on to supply a whole variety of offerings from huge ballet acts to reducing-edge present-day choreographers to standard groups and even flamenco masters. In recent yrs, it has also appear to champion Southeast Asian works, and numerous of Singapore’s most exciting choreographers.

“It was a greater platform for distinct genres and it has accomplished nicely to fulfill the desires of distinct audiences,” said dancer and choreographer Kuik Swee Boon.

And like its assist-and-nurture purpose in music and theatre, the Esplanade has accomplished the identical for dance artists. Kuik recalled how the arts centre was the very first to assist his very first entire-length piece just after he decided to strike it on its personal just after stints at Singapore Dance Theatre and Compania Nacional de Danza in Spain.

Le Corsaire by English Countrywide Ballet under the da:ns collection. (Photograph: The Esplanade)

Following Kuik started THE Dance Enterprise, the arts centre also encouraged his group to attempt their hand at accomplishing a thing greater at its Theatre location in 2009 – a shift that was unheard of for a nearby present-day dance enterprise. The partnership would go on as it supported THE’s new M1 Contact competition.


It is comprehensible that folks do not imagine of checking out an exhibition at a executing arts location, but artworks are all all around nonetheless. From Han Sai Por’s sculptures exterior, to paintings, movie works and sculptures guests come upon strolling past the underground Tunnel or the Concourse, the Esplanade built area for visual artists.

It was not an effortless get started, while. The spaces for these were being in truth uncomfortable: The Concourse is simply just a enormous open up area, the Tunnel is a chaotic pedestrian thoroughfare, and the Jendela gallery was at first supposed to be a bar. All hard spaces for visual artists to operate with.

In advance of it was exhibited at the Venice Biennale, Zai Kuning’s Dapunta Hyang set up was presented at The Esplanade’s Concourse, one particular of the spaces that senior artists were being skeptical about when the centre very first opened. (Photograph: The Esplanade)

In addition, as Puah recalled in a preceding interview, the far more set up artists had been skeptical at the get started. “I was belittled by numerous of our senior artists. How (it was) disrespectful to put art up like this when it’s not a distinct area.”

Website visitors strolling by means of The Esplanade Tunnel can routinely see exhibitions, these as this one particular by Singapore artist Mrydette. (Photograph: The Esplanade)

These days, it’s not abnormal to see art sprouting up at the oddest places. And when the Esplanade won’t give the Singapore Art Museum, Gillman Barracks or the Countrywide Gallery a run for their funds, it’s yet yet another location for artists of all sorts.

Sometimes, it can be in advance of the curve, far too. Remember Zai Kuning’s huge boat set up that represented Singpore at the recent Venice Biennale? It was very first exhibited at the Concourse two yrs before that. Informal guests had encountered a globe-class artwork by a Singapore artist way before anyone else did.

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