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Developing a sustainable ecosystem

Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law, at Patron of Heritage Awards 2020 Ceremony

  1. Good evening. 
  2. It is a real pleasure to be here this evening, in the presence of our heritage patrons – people who are not just interested and passionate about our heritage, but who really help us to power the preservation and the transmission of our heritage to the next generation. Your contributions help us to safeguard and promote our heritage, and as I said, to make sure that we leave this as our legacy for generations of Singaporeans to enjoy. 

    Continued importance of heritage in connecting communities, and as a source of pride, inspiration and strength

  3. All of you know that the world we live in has changed immeasurably, almost to a point that we can’t recognise parts of what we see and do sometimes. 

    a. Some say that the rate of change has increased markedly – due to globalisation, digitalisation, developments in geopolitics, and more recently of course, the impact of the pandemic which has continued to rear its unpredictable face each time.

    b. As a small and open society, Singapore feels the effects of such changes profoundly. We are a small country and if you just take the analogy of a small little boat in the ocean – we are buffeted by waves occasionally and we can’t always control the course that we set ourselves, and the impact of world events has a deep impact on where we end up.     

    c. As our children grow up in a very different time with gadgets and social media – and those of us who are parents out here, I think we can fully understand and get it. We end up with a very vibrant and cosmopolitan Singapore.

    d. Our generation had also grown up in a vastly different time compared to our parents, who may for instance have lived through the Japanese Occupation, which has coloured their world view of what Singapore is, what Singapore stands for, and also a sense of what history we have shared.  
  4. What binds these different generations of Singaporeans together, across different races, religions, and also importantly across different time generations would be our own shared memories, our own values system and our shared heritage.  We come from the same Singapore and I think that's a very important binding factor for us and that is why we are here this evening.

    a. Our heritage anchors us to Singapore, provides us with a sense of a social glue that brings our different and diverse communities together.
  5. Our nation may be relatively young, but we certainly take pride in what makes us uniquely Singaporean. I sense that very much and I'm sure all of you do as well. As we go around, we feel a sense of pride, a sense of belonging and a sense of camaraderie as fellow Singaporeans. Our tangible and intangible cultural heritage and our values help to foster that, helps to put that together, and binds us to each other.
  6. Our heritage is a source of pride, inspiration and strength, and we have collectively – through NHB, and in very close cooperation with the community – taken great effort to protect and celebrate this.  
      
    a. As you might already know, our Singapore Botanic Gardens, which was inscribed in 2015, is the first and (so far) only tropical botanical gardens on UNESCO’s World Heritage List – something we remain very proud of. 

    b. Last December, our well-loved Hawker Culture was successfully inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. MCCY and NHB remain committed to celebrate and promote our Hawker Culture, even in these difficult times, living through the pandemic.

    c. NHB has since begun focus group discussions with stakeholders to identify possible new nominations of our intangible cultural heritage on to the UNESCO List.  NHB will be continuing these public consultations in the coming months. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was in Paris at the UNESCO General Conference and had my first taste of what it is like to be in UNESCO, and what it takes for us, as a country, to put something else on the list.

    d. We reopened two World War Two interpretative centres which I’m sure you would either have visited or will make plans to visit – the Changi Chapel and Museum, and Reflections at Bukit Chandu – to provide visitors with a more nuanced and deeper understanding of the atrocities committed and the stories of heroism displayed by many as the war played out in Singapore.

    e. This year, we also mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Museum Roundtable, a network that has expanded so far, to over 60 public and private museums and heritage galleries.

    f. And just last month, we amended the Preservation of Monuments Act in Parliament, to provide legislative basis and foundation which will allow us to gazette the Padang as a National Monument and offer stronger protection for these physical spaces which are of special significance to Singapore and Singaporeans. This capped off our golden jubilee of Singapore’s journey in preserving National Monuments, which I’m sure you will agree, are important physical, tangible markers of our shared history and heritage.

    Diverse offerings, multiple touchpoints to encourage greater appreciation of heritage

  7. But our heritage is not just about our past; it’s not just something written in history books. It is also what we experience in our daily lives, our daily living, our daily experience, that has been shaped by our practices, our rituals, our shared celebrations, traditions that have evolved over time, which continue to be practised today, perhaps with some modification, enriched by the interactions of different ethnicities coming together as well, different races and religions coming together, and modifying it in a way which makes it even more special to Singapore.
  8. Everyone, young and old, plays a very important part in shaping and continuing this heritage. It’s not something that’s just for the older generation to pass on. As I said, each succeeding generation has a part in shaping it, changing it, moulding it, so that it’s a little bit different as we pass it down each time, but still our own and still very special. 

    a. And that is why it is important to make our heritage relevant and engaging to all.
  9. As part of Our SG Heritage Plan, NHB has been making heritage accessible to Singaporeans from all walks of life, and that has been happening even before COVID-19, before it became necessary to be on the digital stage. Let me just share a few of these initiatives with you:

    a. First, there is a revamped Roots.gov.sg, a rich online repository of resources for anyone curious about our heritage, powered by a new artificial intelligence system which makes it easier for users to discover the wealth of our cultural content.  It has also evolved to incorporate digital resources from across Singapore’s arts and culture sector, including our own national library system, and the Esplanade.  

    b. Digital editions of NHB’s museum exhibitions, making our museums accessible beyond the four walls of the museum itself, and beyond the duration of their physical counterparts, and available to international audiences. NHB has also made use of virtual and augmented reality technology to bring heritage to life, providing immersive experiences for users in their exploration.

    c. Street Corner Heritage Galleries, which were launched in Balestier and Kampong Gelam to showcase our historic precincts through the lives and experiences of local heritage shopkeepers. If you go by to visit these shopkeepers, each of them has a really interesting story to tell.
  10. The pandemic has also presented new opportunities for us to experiment with new digital platforms, not just to showcase our works, but also to reach out to a wider audience, and sometimes an audience that is not constrained by geographical boundaries. 

    a. During the Circuit Breaker last year, NHB invited local creatives to pitch ideas for engaging bite-size digital content on heritage. This not only produced fun and innovative digital offerings for Singaporeans, but also provided new opportunities for creatives and freelancers, people who can come on board and lend their creative talent, (who can) look at things in a different light, with a different (sense of) innovation and imagination.

    b. The Singapore HeritageFest moved online with programmes such as virtual guided tours of usually inaccessible areas and also gamification of cultural offerings, which allowed Singaporeans, both young and old, to experience heritage in a truly immersive way. You really get involved playing the games, and also have the experience of going behind the scenes and seeing secret and otherwise inaccessible places. The 2021 edition, I’m pleased to say, reached over 3.3 million in terms of audience size.
  11. Very importantly, NHB has also been working with MOE on the Museum-based Learning Programme, to incorporate visits to NHB’s museums and heritage institutions into the curriculum of primary and secondary school students. So when you come to the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) and the National Museum, you will see school children. We are always very heartened by that, because I think their curiosity overtakes them. I think once you seed that interest when they are young, we have a lot more opportunities to socialise this with them when they are older.

    a. These journeys have continued as virtual tours over the last few months as part of a pilot to sustain engagement with schools – to keep our students engaged, interested and to showcase new items to them each time. 

    b. It is our hope that every school-going child will have the opportunity to appreciate our rich and diverse culture. 

    A sustainable heritage ecosystem for the future

  12. Our heritage is a rich tapestry of personal memories coming together, interwoven, intertwining stories and narratives into one more grandiose tapestry that is called the Singapore story. It belongs to every Singaporean. All of us have a part to play in it. Each little weave is a little bit of us coming together, and we are greater than the sum of our parts. 
  13. I am happy to see Singaporeans stepping forward to share their own stories, their personal contributions, ideas which enrich our shared heritage. We will continue to create opportunities for greater community involvement going forward, because after all, heritage is a collaborative exercise, it is how we shape it together.

    a. Next year, for the development of the upcoming Founders’ Memorial, we will be inviting Singaporeans to share artefacts and stories related to milestones in Singapore’s independence history and founding values, through a public call. 

    b. These will not only go towards shaping the Memorial’s spaces and narrative but will also help build up our post-independence history collection for future generations.

    c. Apart from the Founders’ Memorial, the revamps of our institutions such as the Peranakan Museum will provide the public with an opportunity to contribute towards refreshing our museums’ content. 

    d. In addition, NHB is also in the process of developing the next iteration of Our SG Heritage Plan. We look forward to continuing the conversations, the sharing of ideas and perspectives, with our partners and Singaporeans as we develop these plans in tandem with you, to make this truly the next mile that we walk together. 
  14. Our heritage ecosystem comprises many important stakeholders who play critical roles. Just to name a few, our volunteers, partners, heritage stakeholders, visitors and of course, all of you, our supporters, our philanthropists, who have really made it possible for us to build such a robust heritage landscape. 

    Importance of cultural philanthropy

  15. Last but not least, our rich and thriving heritage ecosystem would really not have been possible without so many generous patrons stepping forward. 
  16. In 2020, 63 valued patrons contributed approximately $3.24 million to museums and heritage initiatives in Singapore, in cash and in kind. 

    a. While contributions have dropped expectedly from 2019, this no doubt reflects one impact of COVID-19, I must say that with each contribution, we’re a lot more appreciative. Not only because it has dropped, but because we see tremendous value in not just the contributions, but in the partnership and collaboration with each of you.

    b. You have contributed not just donations, whether in cash or in-kind, but also ideas and suggestions which help us to take our heritage ecosystem further forward.

    c. These donations include personal items belonging to Singapore pioneer Dr Lim Boon Keng and his wife Grace Pek Ha Yin, and a series of photographs in memory of Mr and Mrs Lee Kip Lee, which were donated to the Peranakan museum, broadening and also deepening our understanding of diverse Peranakan communities across the region. 

    d. These are invaluable additions because you can’t buy them; you can’t go out there and get them from somewhere else. They are invaluable additions to our National Collection and will greatly benefit our future generations. Our museums, such as the ACM and the National Museum of Singapore, have also received generous donations by various organisations which share in this vision and I thank all of you very much.


    Conclusion 

  17. Today, we celebrate those who have contributed generously to the safeguard and promotion of our heritage. 
     
    a. But as all of you know, our Singapore story remains far from complete, we continue to write it everyday, all of us together. It has yet to reach its fullness and its depth, and I’m not sure that this is a journey that will find an end. It’s a continued journey, being reshaped and improved each time.

    b. We hope that more can step forward to contribute – including volunteering at our heritage institutions, supporting the works of our cultural heritage practitioners, or contributing ideas which help us refresh the way we present museum content for example.

    c. I look forward to inviting even more Singaporeans to write new chapters of this Singapore story with us, to contribute to a rich tapestry that will become our legacy for succeeding generations of Singaporeans. 
  18. On that note, I thank all of you once again for your kind and generous contributions and donations and I wish you a pleasant evening ahead. Thank you very much.
Last updated on 06 December 2021