As an art space converted from a former factory in Shek Kip Mei prepares for its official opening this month, a similar, but perhaps more focused and ambitious project has got off the ground in Singapore. Q8, short for 8 Queen Street, once housed the Catholic High Primary School, and later a church. It is now the new wing of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM). The 3,500-square metre space has four levels, two food and beverage outlets, a retail space, a children's gallery, and two function rooms. More importantly, it has six white cube galleries. For 8Q's inaugural exhibition, eight curators worked with eight emerging Singaporean artists to explore the theme of 'school', responding to the heritage of the site. Titled 8Q-Rate: School, a play on the word 'curate', the exhibition is on until January 9. Artworks include a scaled-down, stylised classroom by design collective :phunk studio; ceramic forms by Ahmad Abu Bakar; and an ode to truancy spray-painted on several walls by graffiti artist Jahan Loh. There's also an installation of pleated fabric forms by Grace Tan. Jason Wee's paper and wood structure, dubbed In My School Are Many Rooms, is reminiscent of a paper funeral house, 'a structure that realises its full value only after it has been reduced to a pile of ashes'. One artwork is intriguingly invisible: Chong Li Chuan's Palimpsestos Pathetikos, in which he attached devices to various glass and structural surfaces in the museum, making them reverberate with different versions of the Catholic school song, played at various speeds. Donna Ong's The Caretaker is a site-specific installation with antique wooden cupboards filled with neatly labelled boxes, each suggesting an old doll filed away for posterity. The piece was inspired by a 1927 Japanese Friendship Doll Project, in which American and Japanese students sent dolls to each other. 'It was a project motivated by schoolchildren, as harbingers of peace, so I thought it was quite appropriate to have the work here,' says Ong. In a way, the school theme resonates in terms of 'schools of art', as well as the formal and self-taught routes to creative success. As the exhibition notes put it: 'There is no such hierarchy nor teacher-student relationship in the museum world, where artworks, expressions and interpretations are only completed through sharing and inter-learning between artists, curators and audiences.' Funded to the tune of S$6 million (HK$32 million) by the Singapore government, the art space signals that the island nation is prepared to take the cutting-edge, experimental works put out by younger artists today. SAM director Kwok Kian Chow, who oversees the new wing 50 metres away from its main building, says: '8Q takes on a contemporary outlook that is differentiated from the museum's historical art programmes.' He adds that it'd be interesting to see how the different art spaces 'talk to one another' when the National Art Gallery is ready in 2013. In keeping with the museum's aim of drawing younger audiences, the new space is envisioned as a community-oriented one. At times, galleries will be turned into temporary studios, with dialogues between visitors and artists in the thick of their practice. Upcoming exhibitions include Accelerate: Chinese Contemporary Art until October 26 featuring Xu Bing and Miao Xiaocun and others as well as a Japan Media Arts Festival showcasing video games, anime and manga works. Singaporean officials are increasingly tuning in to the idea of contemporary art as a reflection of national identity, not to mention a source of prestige and potential economic gains in the face of soaring art prices worldwide. SAM's new chairwoman Jane Ittogi is confident that the state-funded contemporary art platform will not be a restricted area in terms of what its artists can say. A lawyer and former journalist, she is married to Singapore's finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and professes an abiding interest in contemporary art. 'I'm very happy that we've got 8Q. It's a very strong signal that we are here creating a mainstream space for experimental art,' she says. 'Having done that, I don't think we're going to suck the life out of the place. 'We're going to want to attract people who are edgy and can try to help us find out what is our new identity, and how it's evolving.' For many artists in the city, the new wing is a timely addition. Tan Kai Syng, whose video installation A Fool on a Stool in School Drawing Margins to Exercise Her Common Sense is part of 8Q-Rate: School, echoes many others when she says: 'It's good to have a contemporary art museum. It's the future. We have to respond to what's ahead.' The 33-year-old returned three years ago after a stint in Japan. 'My nieces and nephews can come here and experience what I had to go overseas to do 10 years ago,' she says.