While Singapore isn’t exactly the cheapest city to live in, locals can always expect free fun and complimentary culture.
TEXT BY JO TAN
Published on 3 February 2015
TEXT BY JO TAN
The arts are for everyone, so don’t imagine that a musical or theatre performance, exhibition or arts workshop is beyond your means. Don’t skimp on those cultural cravings. In fact, indulge yourself with the following arty amusements — they’re all absolutely free!
Stride through the hushed halls of your friendly neighbourhood libraries islandwide to the enclaves of activity that are their programme zones — replete with free fun for all ages. The National Library Board, which manages the National Library, National Archives and 26 public libraries, offers a wide range of programmes for all ages.
To participate, just register at golibrary.nlb.gov.sg.
For example, the hipster generation can check out the Press Play programmes for workshops on everything from Lomography to African percussion. Some events even help you save cash: instead of expensive Valentine’s Day gifts, learn to make a personalised leathercraft wallet (left) or antique-style copper lamp — materials and expertise provided. For young’uns aged up to 12, the libraries’ Bounce programme lets parents and tots enjoy family-friendly movie screenings or join clubs like the Young Author Club with mentors and activities to pave the way to a literary future.
Want to satisfy artistic yearnings without travelling out of your neighbourhood or forking out a cent? With performances and art installations travelling to the heartlands, you can do just that. Every month or so, you can probably find at least one walking-distance art-ivity at PAssionArts Hotspots islandwide. For instance, Toa Payoh Central has talents from the very neighbourhood strut their stuff on the last weekend of every month
You can also catch visiting talents from outside the community (even out of town) at festivals like the PAssionArts Festival in May, or the Arts in Your Neighbourhood series throughout the year. The latter has showcased works of internationally-celebrated artists like Vertical Submarine’s interactive installations, New Opera Singapore’s operatic excerpts and award-winning theatre company The Theatre Practice’s community shows, all in the vicinity of neighbourhood malls or supermarkets. Outside festival season, visit Community Arts and Culture hubs like Bedok, which hosts performances and activities on the last Sunday of each month in front of Blk 18 Bedok South Road. Check www.passionarts.sg for upcoming events.
Some professional arts companies even have their own community season. The Singapore Chinese Orchestra’s SCO Community Series takes place from early- to mid-February at Ang Mo Kio, Yishun and Orchard Road, so make sure you pop down to enjoy their lush orchestral arrangements. More details at www.sco.com.sg.
If you’re up to it, go for a walk around the block. You’re likely to come across interesting works ranging from massive public art sculptures to Community Art Galleries — which can take the form of paintings in void decks to Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1’s Arts Bridge, festooned with photographs themed on ‘Laughing With My Neighbours’. Taman Jurong even has its own community museum, Our Museum @ Taman Jurong, that showcases art by and about the community. See www.facebook.com/omattj for more.
Talk is cheap? We beg to differ. It’s often free and by leading poets and wordsmiths, no less. Local book boutiques like BooksActually often host readings, talks and book launches featuring literary luminaries from the island and beyond. Check booksactually.com for details on upcoming events.
Or pop down to the Arts House, where you can meet leading literati like Australian author Cate Kennedy or local poet Gwee Li Sui conducting workshops and talks. Also catch the works of budding writers at events like Captions Without Pictures (running till 8 February), which showcases promising bite-sized literature, ranging from aphorisms to micro-fiction by the students of the National University of Singapore’s University Scholars Programme, under the mentorship of local writer Jason Wee. Details at www.theartshouse.sg.
If you like having romantic verse recited to you, check out Speakeasy, on 13 February at Artistry Café. In this special Valentine’s outing, love poems curated by Singapore poet Pooja Nansi will be read to you by local bards. Speakeasy is, in fact, a regular poetry event at the cafe, taking place at least once every two months and attracting a good audience each time, thanks to the ready, heady wit of poets involved, Deborah Emmanuel or Ng Yi-Sheng being some of them. Check www.artistryspace.com for other events, which besides Speakeasy, also include visual art exhibitions.
While the Esplanade Theatre is the venue of choice for ticketed performances, visit the Esplanade Concourse for free views of visual-art installations and near-nightly performances. Fancy experiencing a show against a backdrop of sea and stars? The Esplanade’s Outdoor Theatre along the waterfront hosts a constant stream of musical performances every weekend, eve of public holidays and public holidays.
While many museums are already free for Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents, these also boast free-for-all activities, such as talks with leading artists, in their foyers or smaller halls. For example, the Singapore Art Museum’s Glass Hall often houses free workshops or talks, while the National Museum of Singapore’s Stamford Gallery and Concourse often host entire exhibitions like DiverseCity 2014.
Arts festivals like the upcoming Huayi — Chinese Festival of the Arts also include complementary and complimentary programmes in their line-up, and you can view details at www.huayifestival.com/2015. Alternatively, you can pop into certain museums during their free-entry sessions. For the Singapore Art Museum, that’s every Friday from 6pm – 9pm and on Open House days like New Year’s Day. Or pay a visit to the smaller galleries and museums that are free almost all the time.
Your mobile phone could be your best art accessory, what with mobile apps connecting you to the best cultural offerings from Singapore’s past and present. Need a little poetry in your life? Download the Text in the City app, which has over 100 poems by local poets, with different ones triggered by the location you are in and recited aloud to you, like a soundtrack for your day.
Or put on your walking shoes and install apps to accompany you on the National Heritage Board’s walking trails at numerous venues like Balestier and Kampong Glam. Check the app store for the name of the place and add ‘heritage trail’ at the back. These virtual tour guides will take you through the historic art and architecture in the areas.
Don’t even feel like getting out of bed? Landmark local art is accessible with the swipe of a screen. The National Gallery’s Liu Kang: Paintings and Places app showcases 10 of the famous artist’s trademark depictions of uniquely Singapore scenes, including Samsui Women and National Day from years of yore. The app also allows you to explore the history surrounding the artwork.
Catch good performers gratis before they hit the big time at arts-school productions: local screen and stage mainstays like Ebi Shankara and Sharda Harrison once flaunted their skills for free at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and LaSalle College of the Arts respectively. For even fresher faces, check out the School of the Arts Singapore’s periodic student showcases that span the spectrum from visual to performance art. Visit
www.nafa.edu.sg, www.lasalle.edu.sg and www.sota.edu.sg for information and to register for these free progammes.
Don’t worry about performances coming across as amateurish. Tried-and-tested classic choreography or scripts are often performed at schools since they typically pay lower licensing fees to stage them than professional companies would. While some performers might be greener than others, the shows’ choreographers/directors and designers are often stellar names with years of experience. For example, theatrical leading man and musical theatre academic Caleb Goh teaches LASALLE’s Musical Theatre students and directs several of their shows; award-winning actor Matt Grey teaches at NAFA’s theatre department and often directs their plays. Well-known guest choreographers and directors are sometimes also roped in, with The Finger Players’ artistic director Chong Tze Chien premiering his rave-reviewed new work, Starring Hitler as Jekyll and Hyde, with LASALLE students in 2014.
The visual-arts departments of these schools also stage exhibitions at their campuses, so view their pieces and see if you can spot the next Ming Wong.
At the end of February, The Necessary Stage launches its The Orange Playground programme, where a myriad actors from new to known, including Siti Khalijah and Seong Hui Xuan, try out different devised ideas. Register for free tickets at www.topshowcase.peatix.com. The sessions are so popular that tickets have been snapped up quickly. The above event is already fully-subscribed to.
Sneak in a free art-appreciation experience with your beverage at cafes with gallery areas. Examples include the abovementioned Artistry Café or The Fabulous Baker Boy which, other than well-reviewed cake, has an attached space named That Spare Room that has exhibited art by photographer Sung Lin Gun and hosted storytelling sessions. Other boutique cafes with galleries include Cups n Canvas, designed with a studio adjacent to the eating area, where art is exhibited and painting classes are taught.
Even coffee conglomerates are in on the act. Starbucks Singapore not only sells CDs by local musicians, but also periodically hosts their acoustic sets at certain branches. Previous performers include The Ukulele Girls and Inch Chua (above), no less. Keep abreast of their activities at Starbucks Facebook Page.
Catch shows with gorgeous greenery for a backdrop at parks like the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Its Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage regularly hosts free concers ranging in genre from percussion to opera. Details at www.sbg.org.sg. Also making sure the hills (well, fields) are alive with the sound of music is the SPH Gift of Music Series, which showcases the most prestigious local ensembles — Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Ding Yi Music Company, Singapore Wind Symphony Percussion Ensemble — at green spaces and other places. The National Arts Council’s ExxonMobil Concert in the Park series features hip and (often) young musicians displaying their talents at verdant venues around the island.
In the meantime, the Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay is often a site for free music and dance acts as well as workshops in its activity rooms. The Supertrees themselves, which become part of a light- and music- display (with the input of musical director Bang Wenfu and lighting designer Adrian Tan), can be enjoyed on Fridays, Saturdays, eves of public holidays and public holidays. Visit www.gardensbythebay.com.sg for details.