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What does it take to transform an ordinary space into a cosy and fun space for the community? Artist Anne Neo reveals three key insights from her experience livening up the Potong Pasir community plaza. Her story shows that with a bit of creativity and effort, we can turn our public spaces into delightful, engaging places for everyone to enjoy. 

Self-taught artist Anne Neo at a painted bench at Block 44 Potong Pasir Avenue 3, she led the painting of 33 benches to brighten the community plaza

Anne Neo at one of the painted benches.


A pharmacist and a self-taught artist, 29-year-old Anne Neo turned a community plaza near Block 44, Potong Pasir Avenue 3 into a lively and vibrant space by painting 33 benches in 2023. The process took a few months, from conceptualising the designs to working with volunteers to complete the painting. Many of the volunteers who helped with the bench painting were families, seniors and children living in the area, including students from the nearby St Andrew’s Secondary School. 

Some of the repainted benches at Potong Pasir community plaza, led by artist Anne Neo

Each bench was unique, featuring motifs and designs that reflected the area’s identity and activities such as birdwatching, cycling, running, and playing ball games. The designs were developed through conversations with residents to understand what they liked about the area. Anne has always been passionate about using her drawings to help brighten her surroundings. Besides this project, she has also initiated and created 15 murals and paintings for various other locations in Singapore, including nursing homes, senior activity centres, libraries, outdoor spaces and playgrounds. 


A mural painted by artist Anne Neo at Toa Payoh East

A mural at Toa Payoh East painted by Anne Neo. Image: Anne Neo.


Reflecting on the transformation of Potong Pasir community plaza, she shares three takeaways for anyone interested in leading or contributing to the enhancement of public spaces.

1. Embrace flexibility and co-creation with residents 

“Don’t be too caught up with sticking to your original designs. Keep an open mind for new ideas and possibilities. Be flexible to refine your designs based on the residents’ views and feedback and from implementing the actual designs on the benches.” says Anne. Simplicity can often be more impactful. “Often, it is better for the designs to be simple and relatable so that it can appeal to many different groups of people, from the young to the old,” she adds.

2. Apply for funding and outsource where needed

Anne tapped on the Lively Places Fund, which has supported hundreds of projects and efforts since 2019 in activating spaces within HDB estates and around Singapore. Administered by Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the Housing & Development Board (HDB), the Lively Places Fund supports efforts that improve and activate public spaces, to foster community connections. Applicants can receive up to $20,000 in funding. 

Painting in progress at the Potong Pasir community plaza

Volunteers helping to paint the benches. Image: Anne Neo. 


From conceptualising the design, recruiting volunteers, and working with the People’s Association and grassroots leaders, to organising painting sessions and repairment of the benches, Anne committed to the project in both time and effort. This commitment also shows that with the right resources and teamwork, creating vibrant community spaces is both achievable and rewarding.

“Be mindful that you won’t be able to do everything yourself and you may need to get professional expertise and help.” Beyond just painting the benches, she was careful to ensure their durability. She sought help from a painting contractor to repair the cracks within benches and to also apply strong base coats, ensuring that these benches would last longer.

3. Coordinate and work closely with volunteers 

“Be sure to coordinate the volunteers efficiently,” advises Anne. Sometimes, having too many volunteers can be overwhelming, making it important to assign specific tasks meaningfully and ensure each volunteer is well supported. 

 A family of volunteers who helped with the repainting of the 33 benches at Potong Pasir community plaza

A family of volunteers who helped with the bench painting. Image: Anne Neo.


“For seniors who are volunteering, I tried to make sure that they are able to do the bench painting under sufficient shelter and shade to make it more comfortable for them.” 

Beyond these tips, she also received guidance from the Lively Places Fund’s URA team. “I found the application process smooth, and it was helpful to have additional support from the team.”

Tap on the Lively Places Fund to activate public spaces

Inspired to enhance and activate a public space in your neighbourhood or anywhere else in Singapore? You can tap on the Lively Places Fund to support your ideas. In collaboration with the National Arts Council, public space activation efforts can receive up to an additional $5,000 artist fee if one artist is involved and up to $10,000 artist fee if two or more artists are involved. 

For more information about the fund and to apply for it, go to www.go.gov.sg/LivelyPlacesFund

Source: https://www.ura.gov.sg/Corporate/Resources/Ideas-and-Trends/Liven-up-your-public-space-top-tips-for-a-brighter-community-plaza

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