Arts festival in the heartland

19 Aug 2013
Interview by Sam Kee
Photo by Yellowren Productions

Recently we witness the emergence of arts spaces that used to be unthinkable. Restaurants, parks, community spaces in the heartland… our artists never fail to surprise us with their creativity and flexibility. We spoke to the people at Yellowren Productions about holding an arts festival at a park in the heartland – Lower Seletar Reservoir.

arts festival in the heartland

It is exhilarating to know that something so exciting is going to happen in my neighbourhood! The rejuvenated town plan for Yishun was sketched and released a few years back, and Lower Seletar has been neatly renovated to include a water park – a favourite amongst children and young adults alike. To chance upon an arts event at my doorstep is such a decadent luxury!

So.. What is “Yellowren”? A yellow person? What is your story behind this motif?

Yellowren is a fusion name, yellow being the ‘color’ of the Asian majority and ‘ren’ being the romanization of the Chinese character, ‘人’, which means people.

Yellowren Productions is an arts boutique company based in Singapore. The company envisions to effect lives with stories of renewal and to emerge the transformation of communities through spaces of the arts. Also, Yellowren creates a platform for innovative artists to bring and bridge the expressions of their works within communities, igniting conversations, relationships and stories.

Despite our broken world, Yellowren believes in the certainty of hope.

Since Yellowren anchors on bridging expressions of art within the heartland, tell us, is there any
a) advantage
b) potential
c) challenge
of holding an arts festival in the heartland, instead of a more stereotypical arts precinct of Singapore?

The authentic Singapore experience is validated to be only complete when one experiences the heartlands of our nation. It is in the heartland where the essence of community carries the potential of being epitomized. It is in community where arts go beyond appreciation and ventures into transformation.

While it seems more fitting to organize a carnival in the heartland, we took on the challenge of designing an arts festival that understood the heartlandish context without losing its artsy direction. We think and feel that our biggest advantage is the challenges that will reap the potential of injecting the north of Singapore with an arts presence. This will be a journey and the festival is only the beginning.

Is it difficult to start an arts festival from zero? What was the process like? Was there help from the governmental institutions?

None of us has any experience in organising an arts festival. In other words, we have no prior knowledge and experience to fall back on. However, there are already many models of arts festival around the world that we could take reference from but the challenge for us was to discover our unique edge for our arts festival.

During the process, we had to come to an agreement as to what an arts festival entails and narrow down to a singular focus or theme for the festival. We then defined the components of the arts festival through the experiential area of “see”, “do” and “hear”. Following that, we had to build up the contents and get connected with the relevant artists whom we wanted to work with. The artists that we are working with now are not all practicing artists with arts background. They are very much ordinary people with an extraordinary passion to excel in the areas that they are gifted in.

We are fortunate to have the support of NParks, PUB (forthcoming to advise us on usage of space) and MDA (helpful to provide guidance on licensing requirements).

We realized that the Japanese counterpart of this arts festival is Shimokitazawa, albeit a very hip place amongst young people. Having lived in Yishun my entire life (what a coincidence =P), I’m quite sure it isn’t the hippest place around… So how did you guys derive at Yishun?

Indeed, Yishun is unlike Shimokitazawa in terms of being a hip place. However, both locations share a commonality of a physical and social relationship we have established or are establishing with their respective communities. The team at Yellowren also carries previous experience of building social capital in Yishun through community projects. But in the offering of a full arts experience, the festival is a first.

Having said all that, there must be something special about Yishun in your hearts, given that your headquarters is there as well. What is the appeal of Yishun that would probably entice someone who stays as far away as, say Tampines, to travel all the way here for an arts festival?

Yes, we are based in Yishun. Beyond our geographical marriage, it is special in our hearts because of the holistic relationship we share with this town.

For someone staying a sizable distance from Yishun, hopefully the free admission will serve as a consolation for the travel effort. For the general visitor, there are opportunities to create, play, eat and chill-out. For the artsy visitor, hopefully the uniqueness of an arts festival at a non arts-precinct will serve as an arousal for curiosity.


Yellowren Arts Festival will take place at Lower Seletar Reservoir, Yishun from 30 Aug to 1 Sep 2013. More