The latest Gillman Barracks tenant to say it will leave the arts enclave is Australian gallery Sullivan+ Strumpf. It will move out in November, but remain in Singapore, co-founder Joanna Strumpf tells The Straits Times, adding that the ongoing Violent Attachments exhibition will be its last show there.
"Unfortunately at this stage, it is premature to share any further information until arrangements are in place," she says. She did not confirm if the move was the result of the fallout from Covid-19.
This comes after Chan + Hori Contemporary left at the end of June to focus on becoming a curatorial, advisory and artist management business. More recently, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, helmed by renowned curator Ute Meta Bauer, has also said it will close its exhibition hall and residency studio spaces in March next year.
The Gillman Barracks cluster off Alexandra Road was established by the National Arts Council (NAC), Singapore Economic Development Board and JTC Corporation.
Since it opened in 2012, it has seen its share of setbacks. In 2015, five of 17 galleries decided not to renew their leases, citing low footfall and poor sales.
Ms Audrey Yeo, whose gallery Yeo Workshop is situated in the enclave, thinks the district could do with better marketing and support.
"These are the top galleries in the region... We love the beauty of Gillman Barracks and the beautiful high ceilings... We do (typically) get a lot of casual tourists and young people, but in terms of getting the crowd that can buy art... it just needs a rejuvenation, honestly."
Does the NAC plan to rejuvenate the arts district?
Mr Tay Tong, the council's director for sector development (visual arts), tells ST: "A vibrant arts industry in Singapore will continue to need the collective energies of all stakeholders - arts patrons and collectors, artists and galleries - as well as the strong support of the public.
"This does not necessarily require the build-up of a designated precinct to cluster activities. As seen in the Singapore Art Week over the years, different segments of visual arts activities tend to zone together organically at the Civic District, Bras Basah/Waterloo, Gillman Barracks and so on."
The NAC will, where it can, support the galleries at Gillman Barracks for as long as they wish to maintain their business in Singapore, he said.
He added that former gallery tenants such as The Drawing Room and Silverlens Galleries were also invited to present shows at the S.E.A. Focus fair at Gillman Barracks in January this year.
At Singapore Art Week, the involvement of commercial galleries remains vital, he said.
Last month, galleries at the enclave submitted a petition to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), asking it to waive rent till next March and reduce it by about half after that.
"We asked for a rental waiver to keep some of our wonderful neighbours... If we can take away that bit of rent, that money can go into programming at a time like this, when it's uncertain," says Ms Yeo.
However, SLA, which took over from JTC Corporation as landlord more than half a year ago, says it is "unable to offer rental adjustments while the tenancies are ongoing".
It told ST it had already granted four months' rental waiver to the galleries from April to July, and had offered a rental reduction for their two-year tenancy which had begun on March 1.
"For tenants which are facing cash-flow difficulty, flexible rental payments such as instalment plans can be offered to help tenants who wish to stay on. Tenants are also encouraged to tap the various government support packages available, including wage subsidies under the Jobs Support Scheme."
In March last year, Pearl Lam Galleries moved out of Gillman Barracks to Dempsey Hill. It has since closed that gallery space, but retains an office in Singapore with two full-time staff.
"We have been looking for the right opportunity to open a physical gallery and had planned it for this year, but given the Covid-19 situation, we are re-strategising our plans," says senior director of global sales Priya Mudgal.