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SDT dancers practising at the new space in Bugis+. The bustling and accessible vicinity of Bugis is a boost for the dance company.
Many youngsters have come to see 10 Square as a second home.
The Baba House is a heritage house-cum-museum with a mission to encourage greater appreciation of the Straits Chinese culture. So successful is its restoration that Lonely Planet travel guidebooks today ranks it as one of the top places to visit in Singapore.
Agnes Tan

The gift of space

In land-scarce Singapore, corporations and individuals are helping arts and heritage causes by creating spaces for them to thrive.
Sep 18, 2015 5:50 AM

Ballet made accessible to everyone

Singapore Dance Theatre's
home at Bugis+
Donor: CapitaLand

WITH Singapore Dance Theatre's (SDT) new home at Bugis+ shopping mall, just about anyone can walk up to the seventh floor of the mall and peer through its glass walls to watch the lovely dancers rehearse. No one will give you a second look, no one will chase you away.

In fact, SDT artistic director Janek Schergen welcomes the attention. He wants more people to see what SDT does so it'll banish misconceptions of ballet and contemporary dance as lofty art forms meant to be enjoyed by only the high-brow and well-heeled.

Mr Schergen says: "We get people accidentally wandering up to the seventh floor of the mall as they're shopping ... and then looking through our glass windows and getting a wonderful surprise."

SDT's new studios and offices were made possible by CapitaLand which owns Bugis+. Through the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Community/Sports Facilities Scheme, which places non-profit organisations with strong social missions within accessible commercial developments, SDT was able to move from its previous home in Fort Canning Park to the much-more bustling and accessible vicinity of Bugis.

Mr Schergen explains: "The new space is immeasurably better than our old home at Fort Canning Park. The studios have been designed to specification. The walls are glasses and mirrors, allowing for members of public to see what we do. And our efforts to engage with the public have been 100 times more successful because of the accessible location near Bugis MRT."

SDT's former home in Fort Canning Park was far less accessible and didn't have proper studios. The rehearsal rooms often had their doors open for better ventilation, but this exposed the piano to heat and humidity. Despite that, SDT stayed there for 21 years because of the lack of viable spaces. CapitaLand's gift was heaven-sent.

Teresa Teow, head of retail management (Singapore), CapitaLand Mall Asia, says: "SDT is a good fit for the mall's position as an entertainment mall located in the civic and cultural district and signals part of our commitment to bring the arts closer to the community ... SDT is only required to pay a nominal service charge for its space at Bugis+."

She adds: "As Asia's leading mall developer, owner and manager with the biggest network of 20 shopping malls in Singapore, CapitaLand Mall Asia integrates the arts, heritage and sports into the design and daily operations of many of our malls for the enjoyment of our shoppers and the communities around our malls."

To donate to the Singapore Dance Theatre, write to

Arts haven for less-privileged kids

10 Square, an arts training centre
for less-privileged youths
Donor: Far East Organization

THESE days, the 10th floor of Orchard Central shopping mall is abuzz with teenagers from less-privileged backgrounds. They are singing, dancing, acting, painting or playing a musical instrument - any kind of activity they have an aptitude for and want to pursue at the 10 Square arts training centre.

Hard to believe that two years ago, the space was just another carpark of the 12-storey mall. But mall owner Far East Organization took the generous step of converting the carpark into a 13,000-square feet arts training centre, to be run by non-profit organisation The RICE Company Ltd.

Many of the youngsters, sponsored by The Business Times Budding Artists Fund (BT BAF), have come to see 10 Square as a second home, a place where they can feel safe in expressing themselves artistically. It is also home to the non-profit Happy Pancakes Cafe where teenagers learn hospitality and service skills.

The RICE Company, led by CEO Colin Goh, had been running the Little Arts Academy, an arts training centre in Selegie for underprivileged children below 12, for eight years. But it was looking for another space to extend its subsidised arts education to older kids aged 12 to 19.

When Far East Organization found out, it gave RICE the carpark space to create 10 Square, and went a step further by paying for the construction of the centre which features a performance theatre, three music studios, a visual arts rooms and a dance studio.

Mavis Seow, chief operating officer, Retail Business Group, Far East Organization, says: "We are heartened to be able to contribute a space at Orchard Central to The RICE Company to nurture young people with a gift for the arts ... Since its opening last November, its dynamism has injected new diversity and youthful vitality into Orchard Central."

The leading property developer tapped on the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Community/Sports Facilities Scheme which facilitates the integration of non-profit organisations (NPOs) in private commercial developments for mutual benefit. Most NPOs under the scheme pay a fraction of what they normally would for a space in a central location.

Today, the 10-month-old 10 Square has more than 75 young artists, many of whom receive full sponsorship from BT BAF. It's also tapping on another government scheme, the Cultural Matching Fund (CMF), to expand its reach.

Mr Goh says: "Using the CMF, in which the government provides a dollar-for-dollar match for donations we raise, we can fund the building of two more centres slated to open in 2017 as well as an exhibition hall as part of our plan to encourage cultural exchanges."

Ong Hwee Suan, deputy director of Arts and Culture Development Office, National Arts Council, explains: "10 Square demonstrates collaboration and ownership across three sectors - private (Far East Organization, BT BAF), public (CMF Fund) and people (Mr Goh and The RICE Company). Such private-public-people partnerships offer the cultural sector a more diverse and sustainable source of funding. It is also our hope that the CMF will grow a sense of shared ownership among all in contributing to our local arts and heritage landscape."

Most recently, the family of the late Ng Teng Fong, founder of Far East Organization, donated S$20 million to the National Gallery. The Gallery's roof garden exhibition space will be named Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Gallery and its first commissioned artist is famous Vietnamese-born Danish artist Danh Vo.

To donate to The RICE Company and support its activities for less-privileged children, write to

A woman's quest for Peranakan heritage

The Baba House
Donor: Agnes Tan

TEN years ago, philanthropist Agnes Tan (below) donated S$5.5 million to the National University of Singapore (NUS). But she had an unusual request - that the money be used to buy and restore old Peranakan homes. NUS took her request seriously.

Subsequently, S$1.5 million was used to purchase two attractive Peranakan properties in Malacca, while the remaining S$4 million was used to buy a Peranakan home on Neil Road in Singapore.

The latter is estimated to have been built in 1860 and is the former ancestral home of late Chinese shipping tycoon Wee Bin. After it was restored, it was opened in 2008 as the Baba House, a heritage house-cum-museum with a mission to encourage greater appreciation of the Straits Chinese culture. So successful was its restoration that Lonely Planet travel guidebooks today ranks it as one of the top places to visit in Singapore.

Ms Tan, who is 95, was unable to grant an interview, but appointed the Baba House honorary curator Peter Lee to speak on her behalf. Mr Lee recalls: "Back in the mid-2000s, there were no dedicated spaces showcasing Peranakan culture, despite earlier calls for them. So Agnes, being the daughter of Peranakan community leader Tan Cheng Lock, wanted to make a donation in memory of her father. She recalled her father advising them to remember one's heritage and be aware of the past."

Mr Lee, who is also Peranakan, recommended the Neil Road house to Ms Tan. Unlike many heritage houses whose exteriors may be preserved but its interiors redone for a more contemporary feel, the Neil Road building retained much of its original fixtures. "We saw an opportunity to restore it to its former glory to give visitors a feel of a typical Straits Chinese home circa 1928 ... Wee Lin (the former owner of the house and the sixth-generation descendant of the Wee family) worked with us to source a lot of things that used to be part of the house: its furniture, decorations and even kitchen appliances. To date, we have about 2,000 authentic artefacts in the house."

Meanwhile, the initial S$4 million donation used to purchase the Baba house was eligible for a dollar-for-dollar (1:1) matching grant from the Ministry of Education.

That additional S$4 million has been used to maintain the Baba House and provide regular guided tours for visitors "for perpetuity", adds Mr Lee.

Judging by the rave reviews by tourists and Singaporeans alike on sites such as Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet, their efforts are not in vain.

For enquiries on visiting the Baba House, please e-mail

Two schemes helping arts, sports and heritage

The Cultural Matching Fund

THE Cultural Matching Fund (CMF) is a fund set up by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) to provide dollar-for-dollar matching grants for private cash donations to arts and heritage charities and Institutions of Public Character (IPC).

The CMF will match monetary donations received by eligible organisations, individuals, foundations and corporations and aims to encourage giving to Singapore's arts and heritage sector. This will create a more sustainable arts and heritage scene, and one in which more people in Singapore have a stake.

Since the launch of the CMF in November 2013, it has garnered over S$60 million in applications from more than 70 arts and heritage organisations.

Earlier this month, the lifetime cap for each organisation has also been raised from S$10 million to S$15 million.

For more information, e-mail and

The Community/Sports Facilities Scheme (CSFS)

The Community/Sports Facilities Scheme (CSFS) facilitates the co-location of community and sports uses such as public libraries, eldercare services, childcare services and social services with commercial developments that are highly accessible.

Doing this allows such small-scale community uses to widen their service catchment and raise public awareness - and at a lower cost under the scheme.

So far, 32 applications for various community facilities have been approved under the scheme, such as the Singapore Dance Theatre at Bugis+, Cheng San Public Library at Hougang Mall, NTUC MY First Skool's child care centre at Westgate shopping centre and National Council of Social Service's Social Services Hub at Tiong Bahru Central Plaza.

For more information, e-mail