Compared to Golden Mile Complex, which shut down for redevelopment in May last year, Peace Centre – which popped up in the same era (the ’70s) as one of Singapore’s pioneer shopping centres – hasn’t quite gotten the same fanfare with the news of its imminent closure. That is, until pals Gary Hong and Yvonne Siow stepped in.
Peace Centre has undergone a radical transformation into a creative hub just months before its shutters close on January 27. The street art on its glass entrance is by DLPMT, one of the art collectives that has taken residency in the building.
The former is the art-enthusiastic owner of Autobahn Motors and TenSquare, Landmark of Good – a car-vending building across the road on Short Street. The latter leads OneSight EssilorLuxottica Foundation – the philanthropic arm of European eyewear maker EssilorLuxottica – in the ASEAN region and has over a decade of experience in the CSR and philanthropy sectors. Together, they came up with a grand if daring plan to repurpose 400,000 sq ft of space across the vacated mall’s first four storeys before the wrecking ball comes in: Open it up to social enterprises and creatives – particularly students from the neighbouring art schools – and transform it into a hub for businesses, events and collaborations that drive positive social change with an element of play.
Since August last year – alongside the likes of thrift stores, a barber and community‐building enterprises – many units in Peace Centre have been taken over by the creative class and transformed into artist studios and galleries for the public to visit.
Christened PlayPan, the idea was so well-received by the new owners of the building – property players CEL Development, Sing-Haiyi Crystal, and Ultra Infinity – that the demolition date of the site was postponed from August 2023 to end-January 2024. Now into its final days, Peace Center – previously known for its sleepy printing shops and seedy KTV lounges – has become rejuvenated into one of the buzziest spots in town to see, experience and create art.
Since August, local artists have been given permission to use the mall’s interior as a canvas, resulting in murals all over its walls, ceilings, staircase landings and even toilets. Meanwhile many of the units have been rented out to independent artists to use as studios and exhibition spaces at highly subsidised rates.
Weave artist Natalia Tan’s installation, Ties That Bind, is a massive curtain that cascades down the atrium of Peace Centre from the second floor.
There are no official figures on the number of creatives who have taken up residence or whose works can be found at PlayPan (there are also the likes of thrift stores, ad hoc social service events and the hit, now-defunct Rest.In.Peace Centre Horror Experience, which roped in everyone from student writers to a recycling company that donated furniture to turn the mall into a horror house for Halloween). However Siow estimates that the project has drawn a total of between 80 to 100 participants, all of whom were curated and invited by her and Hong with many recommended by friends and players in the creative industry.
The one requisite for the participants of Play Pan at Peace Centre: Everything they do on site must incorporate an element of play and contribute to the greater good in some way.
They range from the legendary Singapore calligraphy artist Simon Wee – known for his skill in executing thick strokes in a single breath – to emerging names such as the 3D, A.I. and new media studio Sangreal. While details are kept under wraps, the low overheads offer great relief in a city increasingly tagged as the most expensive to live in, allowing them to focus on and hone their practices at least for the short time that the building remains standing.
Since August, local artists have been given permission to use the mall’s interior as a canvas, resulting in murals all over its walls, ceilings, staircase landings and even toilets.
Then there are fledglings who have been given the space and – in many cases – a first chance to bring their ideas to life and let the public experience them. Take Heard In Win Printing Shop, which is run by three Lasalle College of the Arts undergraduates. Coining its name partly in tribute to the former occupant of its ground-floor space, the trio have in fact staged a series of interactive installations that recreate and reinterpret the past of Peace Centre for those who might not have known it during its heyday (makeshift KTV lounge where passersby can belt out a tune or two, anyone?).
Many of the units at Peace Centre have been rented out to independent artists to use as studios and exhibition spaces at highly subsidised rates.
Says PlayPan’s co-founder Yvonne Siow: “In a way, PlayPan serves as an enabler and catalyst for many artists who possess talent but haven’t explored and fostered it due to other circumstances or social biases against artists. In providing them the space to showcase their talents and empowering them to produce exceptional works of art, we awaken their passions and level the playing field.
A scene from an art market held in December at the pop-up art space Cereal Bowl (#01-36).
“And since all this creativity happens in what we call a mall of good, the public can simply walk in and enjoy everything. These works are not housed and ring-fenced in museums and art houses, thus democratising accessibility for all.”
Or as her more media-shy, but equally bighearted co-founder Gary Hong puts it: “Art should be for the masses and not reserved only for the famous and rich.”
Things To Do In Singapore: A Mega Farewell Party At Peace Centre, A Cartier Exhibition & More
Things To Do In Singapore: A Major Exhibition On Plastics, A New Farm-To-Table Restaurant & More