A world-renowned architect headlining an arts festival may sound odd, but half an hour before Toyo Ito's keynote address at The O.P.E.N., the queues outside the School of the Arts Drama Theatre were already zigzagging around the foyer.
In fact, the response to Ito's presentation was so overwhelming that the organisers had to switch venues from the school's 200-seat Studio Theatre to its 421-capacity Drama Theatre, just to accommodate the crowd.
A bold, assured programme and a responsiveness to public opinion on issues such as ticketing and venues was what made this year's festival a resounding success. It wrapped up last weekend after 19 days of exhibitions, film screenings, concerts, talks and performances.
This year, 12,000 attendances - a 50 per cent increase from last year's first edition - were recorded at the pre-festival of ideas leading up to the Singapore International Festival of Arts, which begins next month.
Last year marked the return of the revamped annual festival, which took a hiatus in 2013 and returned with festival director Ong Keng Sen at the helm.
It also marked the first time that there was an extensive, separate pre-festival programme such as The O.P.E.N.
This year, as before, the majority of the festival's programme was accessible via a $45 O.P.E.N. Pass, while some dance and theatre performances were separately ticketed for $35.
This year, hosting the festival at six venues tapped on the existing communities at these locations, and also encouraged artistic cross-pollination among the different disciplines.
Festival director Ong says that with one year of experience under its belt, The O.P.E.N. is slowly beginning to find its footing.
"I think that this year, as compared to last year, we are more focused and confident in terms of programming," he says, citing the events which took place at multiple niche venues, such as Golden Mile Tower's The Projector for film and Prinsep Street's Deck for photography.
In comparison, last year's edition of The O.P.E.N. was concentrated at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road and the School of the Arts, which drew feedback that it should be expanded to more downtown venues.
Director of The O.P.E.N. Noorlinah Mohamed adds that she was pleasantly surprised by the strong response from festivalgoers.
"Many of the venues were packed. We had to move Toyo Ito's talk to a bigger venue which had more than double the original capacity and, at Inch Chua's set at Barber Shop, people were spilling out the door," she says.
The single pass, all access format of The OP.E.N. was a boon for many newbies who wanted to dip their toes into the world of art.
Research analyst Yvonne Yock, 30, bought the pass to check out augmented reality exhibition 15 Stations, as well as acclaimed sign language film The Tribe and This Is Not A Film, by Iranian film-maker Jafar Panahi.
She also attended screenings of Post Mortem, a film about a love affair between a mortician and a cabaret dancer, set against the backdrop of the 1973 Chilean coup, and Battles, about the impact of wars on four European landscapes, although she left both mid-way.
"I think the selection of films wasn't too bad, although I wouldn't say that I enjoyed all the films," says the first-time festivalgoer. However, she adds that she will be buying the pass again. "The O.P.E.N. Pass is a good deal that allows me to sample a range of films and exhibitions," she says.
Architect Liane Ee, 26, bought an O.P.E.N. Pass primarily because she wanted to attend the keynote talk by Ito.
"He is one of my favourite architects and the rest of the programme was just a bonus," she says.
However, she ended up catching The Tribes and Citizenfour, which documented Edward Snowden's handing over of classified documents, at The Projector as well.
"I'm glad I caught the films. They are not films I would normally watch - The Tribes was filmed in sign language with no subtitles and some scenes were pretty graphic - but it was a really interesting piece."
The introduction of $10 single entry tickets to events covered by the pass, which were not available last year, was also a welcome move.
Noorlinah says that the events which benefited most greatly from the single ticket sales were the exhibitions, such as the augmented reality 15 Stations at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.
"Some people even told me that they bought single tickets twice because with their schedules, that was all they could attend," she says, adding that this single tickets will be available for future editions as well.
Ong says that while he does not yet have concrete plans for future editions, one avenue The O.P.E.N. may explore in future is "new trajectories and new pathways".
"In addition to performances and exhibitions, I also want to get disciplines such as architecture and film more involved."
This article was first published on July 07, 2015.
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