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Recognising stewards of Singapore’s intangible cultural heritage

Opening Address by Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth & Communications and Information, at the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) Symposium 2019

Distinguished speakers and guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

  1. Good morning, and welcome to today’s symposium on intangible cultural heritage (ICH). It is heartening to see all the speakers and participants who will be sharing your invaluable insights and exchanging ideas on this important aspect of our heritage.

    Safeguarding our intangible cultural heritage

  2. This year, Singapore is commemorating our Bicentennial anniversary, which marks 200 years since the British established a trading post here in 1819. But our commemoration goes back further than just 200 years, and asks all Singaporeans to reflect on values such as openness and multiculturalism, which have long been part of Singapore’s history. These are values which have helped to shape who we are as a people over time, and which will carry us forward together in future.
  3. Singapore’s multicultural character has been a great source of strength in the development of our nation. Our forebears were a mix of Chinese, Indians, Malays, Eurasians, Peranakans, Arabs, Parsis, and many more. Each of these communities had their own rituals and traditions, which evolved over time as they mixed and mingled with others. This diversity is clearly reflected in Singapore’s ICH, which showcases how the practices and customs of our multi-racial and multi-religious communities have shaped, and been shaped, by their interactions with one another. Collectively, our ICH forms a composite picture of what it means to be Singapore and Singaporeans.
  4. It is timely for us to consider how we can better safeguard and promote our ICH as a means to foster stronger social cohesion, and an anchor of our national identity. ICH can be a bridge between people from diverse backgrounds, help people forge deeper understanding among different communities, and open the door for inter-cultural dialogues and mutual respect and appreciation for different ways of life. For these reasons, “Our Cultures” – the traditions and ways of life which make us a multi-cultural Singapore – forms one of the four pillars in Our SG Heritage Plan. This is NHB’s first five-year master plan for Singapore’s heritage and museum sector, and reflects its commitment to safeguard our ICH in close partnership with our community stakeholders.
  5. Under Our SG Heritage Plan, NHB has already worked with the community to nominate hawker culture in Singapore for inscription on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. NHB has also established an ICH Inventory to serve as a repository of our diverse ICH elements, which will be regularly updated with input from heritage experts, practitioners and the public. In addition, NHB continues to promote greater appreciation of our ICH through exhibitions, festivals and public programmes.
  6. Today’s symposium on ICH is a part of these efforts, and the second time such a conference has been organised by NHB. At a time where the benefits of globalisation have been questioned, and we are seeing growing faultlines both between and within societies, I am glad that it will address the theme of “Intangible Cultural Heritage in Cities: Multiculturalism, Social Cohesion and Sustainability”. I hope that there will a robust sharing of best practices in documenting and safeguarding ICH, and cross-learning among our Singaporean and international partners in the ICH community.

    Recognising practitoners of intangible cultural heritage

  7. It would not be possible to speak about the safeguarding, promotion and transmission of ICH, without highlighting the key role played by ICH practitioners in these efforts. From traditional artists and craftsmen, to participants and scholars of our social practices, rituals and festivals, such practitioners are critical to keep our ICH vibrant and sustainable, and to ensure that they are passed down to future generations.
  8. I am therefore delighted to announce that NHB is launching our very own recognition scheme for ICH practitioners titled “Stewards of Singapore’s Intangible Cultural Heritage”. Arising from suggestions made at Our SG Heritage Plan consultation sessions, this will be an annual award that recognises and expresses our appreciation of practitioners who are dedicated to the promotion and transmission of ICH. Awardees will have to demonstrate mastery of their craft, a long-term commitment to the transmission of skills and knowledge, as well as how they have brought about greater awareness of ICH through regular outreach and engagement.
  9. ICH practitioners receiving the award will be eligible for grants to carry out projects that further transmit and promote knowledge and skills related to ICH. Examples of such efforts include organising public talks and seminars; internships or apprentice training programmes; or conducting additional research or documentation. Through this initiative, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and NHB hope to further promote public awareness of ICH, and encourage the longer-term sustainability of ICH elements by encouraging practitioners to transmit their skills and knowledge to the next generation. I encourage everyone to help identify potential Stewards of Singapore’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, and nominate them for the award at the NHB website.


  10. In conclusion, let me thank all the speakers and participants for joining us today at this symposium. In your own ways, you are all Stewards of ICH, and I wish you a fruitful and productive discussion.


Last updated on 04 November 2019