Are the Sports Hub and National Gallery white elephants?

By Chris Reed

The Sports Hub in Singapore was built at a vast cost of at least $1.3 billion with a promise of a packed program of concerts, sports events, and community events. Currently it is used to show pictures on the top of the roof and giving up 10 prime Saturdays for National Day Parade practice sessions as it has no other significant content booked in.

Part of the Sports Hub Ptd Ltd (SH) consortium Global Spectrum Pico is being removed for failure to deliver concerts and sporting events. I am certainly glad that I didn't buy a season ticket or special corporate hospitality ticket. Mariah Carey, Jay Chou, and Rugby 8's are not what I expected from the Sports Hub. A string of events are either being staged at other parts of Asia or not coming at all.

Is it a white elephant?

The new National Gallery Singapore was built at a vast cost of $532 million and took many years to do so. It has opened and is now not only deserted of people but also of art. On a recent visit I wandered around desperately trying to find something to see other than the seven restaurants it has. Does it have more restaurants than art exhibitions? Certainly felt that way. The ones it does have are sparse, to say the least, in the ones I visited.

Like the Sports Hub it's not as though they didn't have years of time and oodles of money to plan and buy the content calender, source art and events. So where is all the art?

When we asked them this is what they said: "The Gallery currently displays more than 1,000 artworks across six exhibition spaces – DBS Singapore Gallery, UOB Southeast Asia Gallery, Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery, Concourse Galleries, Wu Guanzhong Gallery, and the Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Gallery. The Singapore exhibition has about 400 artworks, including those by prominent local artists such as Cheong Soo Pieng, Chua Mia Tee, Georgette Chen, Liu Kang, and many more." This still felt empty to me in such a vast museum of space.

This also still doesn't address the really bemusing factor for an art gallery is the lack of any art on the many walls between offices/empty rooms/exhibitions which are all currently blank. Boring beige. Empty. Grey. Nothing on them. It's an art gallery!

Surely they could have some, I don't know, um, art on the walls to bring the whole place to life? It's currently more like a library than an art gallery. As a brand it's not marketing the very thing it should be known for, art. Present it as a thriving active interesting art gallery, not an empty shell of a vast building with nothing in it of interest to anyone. That's not how any business can be sustained, let alone one paid for largely by the Singaporean tax payer.

I know that it used to be the Supreme Court and City Hall but it still looks like it still is being used as both. It's the least visual and engaging art gallery I have ever seen and from a business point of view I worry about its reputation and the amount of money it costs to create and curate. It still looks looks like a courtroom and political venue. It's boring.

Is this the next white elephant? All that money and nothing there. It should be treated as any business, it needs to engage the consumer base both local and tourist to justify the vast investment and coverage it has received.

Even the restaurants are empty. If you are one of the business owners of these you would be let down by the lack of traffic and lack of customers seeing the venue as a place to specially visit. I have been on Saturdays and weeknights and managed to get any table in any restaurant I wanted (bar Odette) no problem. It's not an obvious place to go for food and drink despite having stunning views over Marina Bay from the bars/restaurants overlooking the Padang. The businesses are not marketing themselves as a special destination enough and the gallery itself is not pulling enough visitors in to justify this many restaurants.

Both venues were built with the best intentions. However, the saying "build it and they will come" only works in movies. In reality when people have limited time and limited money, you have to build it and fill it with something worth seeing. If you don't, you end up with two very expensive white elephants that not only end up costing a fortune to maintain but as they are both in such visually impactful areas are then constant reminders of what is not happening in Singapore…

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