The Telok Ayer Com­mu­nity Whis­perer

Ms. Sue-Shan Quek is on a mis­sion to re-en­vi­sion the con­cept of Sin­ga­pore’s beloved com­mu­nity cen­ter with Telok Ayer Arts Club

Portfolio - - IN THIS ISSUE - By An­ton D. Javier

Ac­cord­ing to Ms. Sue-Shan Quek, Founder of The Su­per­mar­ket Com­pany (which is known for the SPRMRKT restau­rants at Robert­son Quay and Cluny Court), set­ting up Telok Ayer Arts Club (TAAC) was a nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion from the SPRMRKT brand.

She says, “The arts have al­ways been a part of my life. I have a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in art and then I went on to do graphic de­sign at Parsons.” While work­ing in the arts wasn’t some­thing Ms. Quek sought out to do im­me­di­ately after grad­u­at­ing, it man­aged to make its pres­ence felt when she opened the first SPRMRKT at McCal­lum Street in 2012. The place dou­bled as an art gallery, in ad­di­tion to be­ing a restau­rant/re­tail con­cept. “I be­lieve it has now come full cir­cle since TAAC is lo­cated where the first SPRMRKT was,” she re­veals. “When I started my own business, I knew from the start that I wanted to in­cor­po­rate what I was re­ally pas­sion­ate about, and that’s art.”

Tell us how the idea of TAAC came about.

When SPRMRKT left McCal­lum Street, an op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self be­cause the orig­i­nal space it oc­cu­pied was still there and I wanted to re­visit that culi­nary-cul­tural con­cept we ini­tially had at SPRMRKT. I placed that con­cept in the fore­front and wanted to ex­plore what that meant for the com­pany. That’s the mo­ment where TAAC came into the fore, along with the team that nat­u­rally came to­gether.

This all hap­pened quite fast. Ev­ery­one was pos­i­tive and very en­thu­si­as­tic about the idea. I came up with the name be­cause I en­vi­sioned a space that’s like a new ver­sion of the com­mu­nity cen­ter, where it’s heav­ily pro­gramed with art and mu­sic events, but at the same time, go­ing back to the con­cept of the su­per­mar­ket, where art is made ac­ces­si­ble to a wider au­di­ence.

I un­der­stand there are sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als in­volved at TAAC. Who are they and what do they bring to the ta­ble?

We have two cu­ra­tors on board. One of them is Ms. An­mari Van Nieuwen­hove, who is al­ready work­ing with The Su­per­mar­ket Com­pany, and the other in­de­pen­dent cu­ra­tor is Ms. Ka­mil­iah Bah­dar. Both of them are in­volved in the arts pro­gram­ing side. They will be reach­ing out to young and emerg­ing artists who are multi-dis­ci­plinary in their fields, and work­ing with them in a way that they can re­spond to TAAC’s space. This also where our mu­sic di­rec­tor, Mr. Has­nor Sidik, comes in. He speaks to the cu­ra­tors on a weekly ba­sis, al­low­ing him to come up with a fresh take – al­most tongue-in-cheek – on playlists for spe­cific nights. We also have our bev­er­age man­ager,

Mr. Din Has­san, who is com­ing in with a very in­ter­est­ing take on South­east Asian cock­tails. Mean­while our head chef, Mr. Ber­tram Leong, will be bring­ing to the ta­ble his take on French-Mediter­ranean cui­sine, but mak­ing it more rus­tic and ap­proach­able.

What kind of clien­tele will TAAC be at­tract­ing?

We are look­ing to at­tract both cre­ative and non-cre­ative types; peo­ple who come from var­i­ous back­grounds, both young and old. The idea was to get them to dis­cover some­thing dif­fer­ent within the space and have some­thing dif­fer­ent to do, which will hope­fully open up their minds a bit more. For TAAC, pro­gram­ing is key to sus­tain­ing in­ter­est. There will be weekly ses­sions to look for­ward to, while the cu­ra­tors will meet with the F&B team so that ev­ery­one has some cre­ative in­put that goes into the whole pro­gram. Peo­ple can then look for­ward to F&B of­fer­ings unique to the ex­hi­bi­tion that’s cur­rently on­go­ing.

As an es­tab­lish­ment that works with young Sin­ga­porean artists, what kind of chal­lenges do you think they face?

The chal­lenges they face are very real. They some­times suf­fer from not hav­ing the right plat­form to show­case their work and I be­lieve they also suf­fer from the fact that col­lec­tors don’t quite un­der­stand who they are or where they’re com­ing from. We are hop­ing to fill that gap where we’re not just putting art on the walls, but cu­rat­ing mean­ing­ful ex­hi­bi­tions.

Young artists can al­ways come up to us and how us what they have. If they’re se­ri­ous, have a plan, and know that there’s a lot of hard work in­volved in want­ing to be­come a re­spected artist, we’d be more than happy to talk to them.

Art as a business in Sin­ga­pore – is it vi­able? For those who want to ven­ture into the field of art, what ad­vice do you have?

As a business – yes, of course! It’s re­ally about whether you want to com­mit the time and ded­i­ca­tion to build­ing your­self up. It takes a lot of com­mit­ment, but at the end of the day, it’s re­ally about be­liev­ing in your­self.

For those look­ing to get their start, per­se­vere through the hard times. They will al­ways be around. Never be com­pla­cent, keep look­ing out for the right op­por­tu­nity for ex­po­sure, and al­ways have a point of view. De­vel­op­ing your own per­sonal taste and style is also key, and you can only do that by be­ing on the look­out for what’s hap­pen­ing.

How do you want peo­ple to re­mem­ber TAAC and its team?

I don’t know why, but I can’t help but think of Zouk. It has crossed gen­er­a­tions and ev­ery­one that you speak to, whether older or younger, has a spe­cial mem­ory about the place. That’s some­thing that I hope TAAC will be able to achieve. Whether you can call it an in­sti­tu­tion or not, we’ll see. But I hope it be­comes a place where peo­ple can come to cre­ate new mem­o­ries.

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