A Night at the Museum
Posted on October 12, 2013
Oh how the Night Festival inaugurated by the National Museum of Singapore has evolved. By evolved, I refer to the growth and diversification of its audience demographics; as well as the development in its programming. The Singapore Night Festival has developed into one of character, scale, grandeur and vision: and it can truly helm itself as one of the annual peaks one looks out for in the calendar. It was marketed consistently across the nation’s paper spreads, as well as along the transportation lines and systems. Furthermore, it was an intrajectory collaboration between not just statutory boards, but arts hubs, performance collectives, visual artists and bands as well. Held over 2 weekends in August, the Night Festival managed to not just draw in the crowd, but make a unique statement about what constitutes successful and long-term festivalisation.
On its first weekend, I was in awe of the burst of colours that populated the streets in all directions: parallel, perpendicular. A carnivalesque atmosphere was very successfully created and it was like people took to the streets with self-autonomy, initiative and empowerment, all in the sense of young people enjoying a night out with friends, families engaging in out-of-the-ordinary on a weekend, as well as tourists participating in a highlight of Singapore.
For festivals to have a longer shelf life, a balancing act between expansion and streamlining is necessary.
Scale is often what defines how transmittable a festival is onto the radars of the general public, the arts, and the international community. The treatment of the marketing of a festival is usually a sign of how seriously the festival takes itself, and how seriously it wants to be taken. In that respect, the sheer scale of the 2013 Night Festival is a demonstration of an invested budget, and a dedicated programming team to put it all together. Consequently, the larger- than-life quality a festival achieves in the minds and memories of its visitors signifies its success.
What was unique about the Night Festival was that it was not merely just in the technical programming that was memorable (for what is an infrastructure without its users and participants?), but in the makeup of the crowd that really defined the festival. The roaring response of the audience to the live music blasting from the stage set by the Substation, as well as the secret thieveries that took place of Karen Mitchell Chia’s visual art installation, depicts the significance of the festival. The intersections between people, places, culture and art was a kaleidoscopic exchange that was beautiful to witness and be a part of.
On this special Night Festival, locals and foreign visitors get to experience museum-going free of charge, the magical enchantment of street acrobats interacting with the young and aged alike, as well as a plethora of new and emerging creative businesses ranging from food to clothing to literature. The flea market organized by Public House at the CHIJMES hall featured a range of creative startups related to the craft and jewellery, textile and clothing, publications and print industry respectively.
There was an amazing array of creative brands for one to expand his or her own commercial consciousness, and to get a taste of the energizing and inspiring business models from some of these young startups. Not to mention, the pasar malam of food along the SMRT walkway was notably creative, as stall owners fused western influences with local fare— One Ton (Classic mandarin shrimp dumplings with a twist) were marketed as your next best beer grubs. Another was Bread Yard, an impressive startup by a 22-year-old student from Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).
I found that what was ingenious about this pasar malam walkway was not just that it offered a late night snack for the foot-wearied festival-goer, but that it was a brilliant show of youth enterprise, charisma, and creativity all at the same time. The fact that the Night Festival offered such a platform for these young foodie enthusiasts, whether it was subtly planted into its programming or not, offered such an interesting diversification to the night. Aside from just having food, I could really observe and have conversations with young people who were passionate about the creation of an alternative food culture that was filtered and subjected through their own interpretation. I felt that this platform gave the festival a unique twist of its own.
As festivals go, its life is meant to come in a supernovic burst, leaving its participants in want for the next round. If the trend of injecting social enterprises into the festival continues, as well as the continual expansion of international collaborations, its lifeforce will re-energise on its own, and develop sustainability on its own terms. The annual Night Festival, with its platter of artistic offerings and quest to re-invent itself, encompasses all that is enterprising about an arts ecosystem. One looks forward to what the next offering would bring.
Singapore Night Festival is an initiative organised by the National Heritage Board (NHB).
Festivalisation: A word used to describe the expansion and streamlining of a festival, at the same time.
Pasar Malam: Term for night market and bazaar in Malay.