New co-working space for arts freelancers


A new co-working space for freelance artists will spring up at 42 Waterloo Street later this year, as the National Arts Council (NAC) ramps up efforts to help freelancers have sustainable careers.

Centre 42, the current occupant of the building there, will become a co-tenant after renovations are completed – prompting some members of the community to voice concerns about the centre’s future.

The new co-working area will be the third to be launched by the NAC as part of the Arts Resource Hub (ARH) initiative, after such spaces in Goodman Arts Centre and Stamford Arts Centre opened to freelancers earlier this month. The ARH, which also features online resources and talks, reflects the arts council’s efforts to boost support for freelancers – a priority outlined in the Our SG Arts Plan (2018-2022).

Centre 42 was developed in collaboration with the NAC and established in 2014. Run by a group of independent theatre practitioners, it is known for its events and programmes that give playwrights a platform to develop their work. The building also has a black box and rehearsal spaces.

In May, Centre 42 will hand over the bright blue pre-war bungalow in Waterloo Street to the NAC, and it will occupy an office on the second floor after renovations are done.

The changes are in line with the NAC’s desire to “maximise available spaces” and make them more multidisciplinary. Details will be released at a later date, a spokesman told a group of about 30 arts freelancers at an engagement session in Stamford Arts Centre on Wednesday.

Some artists have questioned how useful the space will be for them. Actor-director-playwright Grace Kalaiselvi, 42, said: “What I need, more importantly, is a space for rehearsals. Why would I come here if I can’t rehearse here?”

Still, the ARH website’s resources on finance could be helpful, she said, adding that it would also be useful to lay out what salaries should be like for freelancers. “Lots of freelancers are exploited, especially payment-wise.”

Nearly half of those working in the arts in Singapore are freelancers, and they do not have it easy. In 2017 and 2018, engagement sessions between the council and more than 370 people from the arts community found that many freelancers did not have work insurance coverage, lacked legal knowledge, and felt burnt out from the long and irregular hours.

Some expressed a desire for a space to share ideas and network, as well as an online platform consolidating information and resources.

Wednesday’s dialogue saw arts freelancers air some of their concerns, from the difficulty of getting insurance, to a desire for dental benefits for part-timers. Others in the 90-minute dialogue asked if the arts council would collaborate with other groups to draw a more diverse crowd to the spaces.

Responding, an NAC spokesman said it hopes to work with more parties, such as ministries, for events like networking sessions.

Stamford Arts Centre is down the road from 42 Waterloo Street, while Goodman Arts Centre is near Mountbatten MRT station. Their co-working spaces – which are 750 sq ft and 650 sq ft respectively – have been open to freelancers for free since this month as part of a trial. A tiered membership subscription will be launched after March.

Another feature of the ARH is a website,, which comes with a jobs portal as well as information on financial planning, career development, legal knowledge and other topics.

About 2,100 people have “subscribed” to the ARH on the website. The job portal lists about 60 employers and 70 jobs and opportunities.

Talks and workshops have also been held since late last year.

Freelance theatre practitioner Shannen Tan, 26, has used the co-working space in Stamford Arts Centre several times since the trial run began earlier this month. When she is there, she sends e-mails, prints out scripts and helps herself to coffee from the pantry. There is a meeting room too, but she has not used it.

“You can work out of a cafe, but it can be tiring to tussle for power points (and you need) a plan B if the Wi-Fi is down,” she said. “(In the co-working space) there is the perk of seeing familiar faces in the arts community and working together.”

Straits Times, 24 Jan 2020

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