Light / Dark mode

CITRUS fest: A Splash of Refreshment for Singapore’s Arts Scene

Think of citrus fruits and associations of zesty, succulent refreshment might come to mind, especially in the face of the recent interminable heat we’ve been facing in Singapore.

In a similar vein, the work of CITRUS practices is set to offer nourishment and succour to arts workers in the city with its latest event — CITRUS fest: Who Cares?, which is supported by the National Arts Council (NAC) and is part of Wellness Festival Singapore 2024.

Set up in 2020, CITRUS practices stands for “Care, Intimacy, TRaUma-informed and Safer practices in the arts.” It’s a gathering of arts workers seeking to “infuse zest into enabling greater sustainability in the arts,” and its vision is “for the arts to deeply care for, refresh, and nourish both arts workers and audiences alike.” 

What this has translated into since 2021 is the digital resource Library of Care as well as various gatherings for arts workers.

CITRUS practising: Hustle with Care was a gathering organised in April this year, in partnership with the NAC’s Arts Resource Hub. Here, arts workers reflected on and workshopped ideas on how to work and live with less exhaustion and burnout. Image courtesy of CITRUS practices.

At the end of this month, CITRUS fest: Who Cares? kicks off over 28–30 June to give arts workers a chance to come together and shape practices of care and support.  I sat down with co-festival directors Chong Gua Khee and Hoo Kuan Cien, as well as artist Zarina Muhammad to find out more. 

Mental wellness for all 

It’s no secret in Singapore that burnout and mental wellness have been at the forefront of many public debates. In February this year, no less than 31 parliamentarians spoke about the importance of mental health and advancing the mental well-being of Singaporeans. Even more recently, the government has mandated that all employers should have processes in place for workers to make formal requests for Flexible Work Arrangements, on the basis that work-life programmes such as these support employees in achieving a healthy integration of their work responsibilities and personal lives.

For the self-employed and freelancers, however, there are often no formal structures of employee handbooks, whistleblowing procedures, and human resources departments to rely on when confronted with unsustainable, unethical, or unfair work situations. About one in three arts and heritage workers is a self-employed person, and while there are some groups in place to assist creative freelancers, mental wellness remains an issue of particular concern to arts workers. 

Coming together 

Framed as a three-day “potluck” festival of communal dinners, workshops, and conversations by and for arts workers, CITRUS fest is bookended with opening and closing dinners by Practice Tuckshop to emphasise the importance of conviviality to the team. The festival will see a line-up of talks and workshops addressing topics as diverse as parenting and caregiving, intimacy in performance, and conflict and communication management.

Ingredients and cuisines for the meals have been selected with care, with a focus on nutritional elements, local produce, and inclusivity. The Opening Dinner: Come Say Hi on 28 June, for example, will be fully vegetarian. The Sunday closing dinner, Bye For Now! Recess Time: CITRUS fest, will incorporate a live barbecue station using unwanted or “ugly” produce, as well as pickles and condiments made with “rescued” veggies. 

A dish incorporating rescued produce from Recess Time. Image courtesy of The Theatre Practice.

Both dinners will not contain pork, lard, beef, or alcohol, and participants can request for halal-certified bento boxes when they register their attendance.

Practice Tuckshop Programmer and Recess Time creator Ang Xiao Ting (centre, holding the microphone) facilitating Recess Time: On Tour in Calgary, Canada. Image by Tim Nguyen Co., courtesy of The Theatre Practice.

Artist Zarina Muhammad will team up with frequent collaborator and good friend Irfan Kasban to offer a Rest & Digest Corner, which will be open to all throughout the festival’s opening hours from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday to Sunday.

Artists Irfan Kasban (left) and Zarina Muhammad (right). Image courtesy of the artists.

Zarina’s Rumah Rimau Dapor will be familiar to those who attended this year’s Pesta Raya at the Esplanade. It’s billed as a “peculiar habitat and shelter that invites and welcomes delight, softness, ferocity, and the quiet pauses and spaces of multispecies cohabitation.” Rumah Rimau Dapor is the name of Zarina’s studio, which is also home to her five pet cats and translates into “House of the Kitchen Tiger,” referencing Walter William Skeat’s 1899 tome Malay Magic

In a similar vein, Irfan’s Port of Reciprocity is “a space and time shared to alleviate the aches of being a burnt-out artist.” For CITRUS fest, the pair will offer free access to some food, musical instruments, rest, and conversation for any visitors who might require them in the event’s Rest & Digest Corner. The festival’s “main entrance” and Front-of-House is also going to be sited in this space, inviting visitors to enter through the “green room” of the theatre, as opposed to the building’s conventional entrance at 42 Waterloo Street. 

Zarina and Irfan will also be offering some activations involving the “making of things together,” but the space will largely be for participants to decompress or rest in between talks and workshop sessions. 

“Perhaps it’s the equivalent of a calm room,” Zarina muses.

“In the last few collaborations that Irfan and I have done together,” she explains, “we’ve talked a lot about the immense weight of grief and violence that’s happening all around us. What does it mean to think about these shared solidarities of finding love, hope, and comfort within community, and within gatherings? How can we co-create these spaces of rest together?” 

These are indeed important, big questions, but my mind can’t help but turn back to the nitty-gritty details of practical implementation — how really, can an arts worker create boundaries to protect their mental well-being? Hoo, Chong, and Zarina offer some insight. 

Just say no — but keep an eye on the big picture 

In a busy urban environment like Singapore, real economic trade-offs take place when work is turned away. One often wonders how creative freelancers can realistically balance their mental wellbeing with the more quotidian concerns of earning a decent living. Add burdens of caregiving into the fray, and it’s a potent mix. Turn away work and you may not get approached again. But take it on when you’re already stretched to your fullest, and you run the risk of snapping altogether. Hoo acknowledges frankly that you can only do so much on an individual level to make yourself feel better.

“A lot of it is also systemic, and has to be addressed in funding systems, or at institutional levels,” he explains. 

As he sees it, one main problem is the fact that there is an inordinate amount of hustling or competitive behaviour in the arts, with most players are “going after the same limited set of opportunities.”

He highlights the measurement of outcomes as a key issue, suggesting a shift in focus from the counting and accumulation of physical events to deeper evaluations of artistic quality and merit. He also proposes assessing criteria such as the development of artists’ careers over longer periods, like a decade, rather than tying performance measures to individual outcomes at the end of specific projects.

“If we could also pay people better, then perhaps artists wouldn’t have to juggle so many things at one time,” he quips.

A team meeting in 2021 for the Library of Care project initiated by CITRUS Practices with support from the NAC’s Self-Employed Person Grant. Library of Care is an online resource built by CITRUS to introduce key concepts and strategies around care in artmaking processes. To view it, send the team a request through this page. Image courtesy of CITRUS Practices.

Just say no but be constructive about it 

Chong offers a different perspective on the language of saying “no.” 

She explains:  “It’s not just a ‘no’ full stop, right?”

“Can we [instead] take the time to explain or to invite the other stakeholder[s] to be in a conversation about alternatives? This language of finding the nuances within ‘yes’ or ‘no’ — or thinking more broadly about consent — is actually a language of collaboration. And the more we learn to speak this language, the more fluent we will get in it. Over the past few CITRUS gatherings that we’ve done, many people have expressed fears around saying no. And I think that’s partly because people are worried about how to manage possible repercussions.” 

Sharing her own experience as a facilitator, dramaturg, and director, Chong elaborates, “I’ve come to realise how having facilitation skills has really empowered me to feel more comfortable about negotiating my boundaries, proposing alternatives, and facilitating conversation towards something fair and equitable that works for everyone. It will not always be ideal or perfect, but having the skills helps me feel a lot more comfortable about even having that conversation to begin with. Even if the answer is eventually ‘no,’ I know that I have tried to figure out a different possibility.”

“And then,” she continues,  “it’s up to me to make a decision about whether I still want to take on the project for other reasons.” 

Indeed, communication and conflict management are things that Chong and Hoo hope to foreground in CITRUS fest: Who Cares?.

“We’re also coming together to think about how each of our individual strategies can be gathered into a collective playbook that we can all refer to, as a way to build our vocabularies [and] be able to negotiate these things. And hopefully, in the long term, that will lead to a sectorial shift,” Chong explains. 

Just say no but be intentional and creative about it 

Zarina shares her own outlook towards boundary-setting: “There’s a constant need to produce to be visible, to be always doing something as opposed to witnessing and being attentive. The shift [away from that], I feel, has been very important in my own work — for example, in saying ‘no’ to projects when I don’t feel that I have the capacity to take them on.”

Irfan and Zarina in the performance Wandering Without Any Hope of Rest on 10 May 2024. This was part of Jalan Raya, a programme created by Zarina Muhammad for the Esplanade’s Pesta Raya Malay Festival of Arts 2024. 

“What I did recently at Pesta Raya was an experiment for me, but I think it worked out.”

She explains further, “I invited 25 different collaborators, all from different age groups and art forms, and opened up the space like a [Hari] Raya ‘open house.’ I didn’t want people to feel pressured to create something new. Existing work, fragments, or things that might have been perceived as ‘failed,’ but that [contributors] wanted to bring to the conversation … those were all perfectly fine. It’s how Irfan and I work as well — we don’t see everything as needing to be absolutely resolved or perfect. I feel [that] with a lot of our works, it’s an episodic sort of flowing, unfurling, and unfolding.”

If any of this resonates, you’ll certainly be drawn to the lively and invigorating discussions at CITRUS fest: Who Cares? this June.


CITRUS fest: Who Cares? runs from 28–30 June 2024 at 42 Waterloo Street.

While the event prioritises Arts Resource Hub subscribers, it welcomes all arts and cultural workers, whether freelancers or those tied to institutions, as well as the wider public.

Admission is completely free, but registration is required for the ticketed programmes. Find out more at


Support our work on Patreon