Museum lights up with night music

Museum lights up with night music
American artist William Close transformed the facade of the National Museum of Singapore into a giant harp. The performance was part of the Singapore Night Festival 2014.

Thousands poured into the streets of the Bras Basah-Bugis district last Friday and Saturday night for the first weekend of this year's Singapore Night Festival.

The area teemed with free open-air and indoor performances and installations.

Despite the thick crowds, the vibe was generally relaxed, as families and avid shutterbugs scouted perfect vantage points to catch a glimpse of both roving and stationary acts.

The perennially popular event drew 400,000 people last year and, while organisers are still tallying the numbers, it seems that this year's turnout has been promising.

There was hardly an empty space to be seen on the front lawn of the National Museum of Singapore, where one of the festival headliners, American artist William Close, transformed the facade of the museum into a giant harp.

Artist Rachel Goh, 38, arrived at least half an hour early to snag a spot with her husband and twin six-year-olds.

She says: "We're just being practical because we have two young ones and we wanted to make sure we had a comfortable spot. We actually brought dinner in our bags, so we're going to have a picnic here. I think we need to have more outdoorsy festivals."

Hundreds of people could be seen pooling on the other side of Stamford Road as they paused to take in the performances.

Auxiliary policemen and security staff were a visible presence in keeping crowds from clogging major sidewalks and to ensure that visitors were crossing the roads safely.

But it was still difficult to exit the grounds of the museum as excited onlookers pressed in, trying to navigate around scaffolding and several raised platforms.

Mr Julius Choy, 34, who works in banking, attended the festival with his wife and two-year-old son.

He says: "Inside the museum, it was still quite accessible, it wasn't too crowded when we were there, but outside the museum, it's definitely a little too packed."

The inaugural Festival Village at the Cathay Green, across the road from The Cathay, also saw heavy footfall, but it was significantly easier to move around because of the open layout.

Customers also rarely had to wait more than five minutes for food and drinks.

The Village also hosted a flea market, musical performances and film screenings.

Mr Chung Deming, 33, founder of the dessert retailer Durian Creme Brulee, sold 300 of the dessert on Friday night, eating into his inventory for Saturday night. He had to spend Saturday morning making more to keep up with demand.

He says: "Friday night's crowd was amazing. It was really packed and we had to call in reinforcements on Saturday. We were here from 6pm till past midnight, and even when we wanted to close, people kept asking for more."

Software programmer Akmal Abdul Rahman, 34, who attended the festival with friends, enjoyed the breezy atmosphere of the Festival Village and said he would definitely come back for the festival next year.

But he felt that the area around the National Museum was "pretty packed", adding: "I thought it was funny that the roads were still open. With such a large crowd, I thought it would have been easier to manage if some of the roads were closed."

The National Museum, which organises the annual festival, had applied for a permit to close Stamford Road to traffic and open it up to pedestrians, but it was unsuccessful. It will be applying for the permit again next year.

As in past editions of the event, Armenian Street was closed to traffic on festival nights, creating a convivial air for a street carnival called Block Party.

Arts space The Substation, also located along Armenian Street, hosted the improvisation sketch show Fat Kids Are Harder To Kidnap: Something Borrowed, Something New in its 110-seat theatre as part of the festival.

Nur Khairiyah Ramli, 26, The Substation's performing arts programme manager, says audience members were lining up for the free showcases at least an hour before they started.

"It's great that the shows were full, but it's also sad that we had to turn away people at the door," she says. She estimates that 200 to 300 people turned up for each performance.

The festival's creative director Christie Chua said in an e-mail statement: "The safety of every festival participant - performer or visitor - is paramount. We have worked to the best of our ability with each artist and our logistics partners to ensure that festival conditions are proper and safe, especially for programmes requiring special logistics such as outdoor staging.

"The festival grounds have been designed in a way that we try to disperse crowds as much as possible to ensure the best positive experience for all."

The Singapore Night Festival concludes this weekend. It will run from 7pm to 2am on Friday and Saturday.

This article was first published on August 25, 2014.
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