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A united society through arts and culture

Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law at Sembang Ilmu Plus+ launch

  1. Good morning.
  2. It is a real honour for me to be invited here to join you for the launch of Sembang Ilmu Plus+.
  3. This is being launched at a site of significant historical value.
    1. If you look around, you can almost feel the history and rich heritage. So much of Singapore was developed and conceived in this Chamber.
    2. The Chamber is where earlier generations of Parliamentarians debated on policies that made Singapore special and stand out in Asean and the world. And these have formed the foundations of who we are, and where we stand in the world.
    3. I am glad that in this chamber, our young people can debate and exchange ideas, and think about the issues that may confront us tomorrow.

    A united society through arts and culture

  4. The topic of today’s session is “Art in/for Society – Youth Perspectives”.
  5. This is a timely topic to discuss.
    1. We have been, as a country, largely successful in building our foundations:
    2. When you talk about our early days, policies debated in this chamber ranged from healthcare, home affairs, housing, to education.
    3. When you look at the challenges of tomorrow, I think it will be bread-and-butter issues. But the secret sauce ingredient for us to take the country forward will be in a common mindshare, in a shared heart, and building a strong, inclusive Singapore. Not just as a slogan, but one where we truly mean everyone has a place in Singapore.
    4. Today we are also facing divides from outside Singapore. Maybe also within our society. Our polarised world has many of these fault lines which people sometimes take pleasure in trying to divide and press on, to accentuate differences, rather than to focus on commonalities.
    5. Race and religion have sometimes become fertile ground for such activity – to focus on the ‘me’ instead of the ‘we’.
    6. Different stresses and pressures from trends such as social media have been a driving factor, powering these divides.
    7. These are challenges that we must overcome. And as Mdm Rahayu Buang said earlier, ‘we go far because we go together’, so we have to do it together.
    8. And to me, the key topic today must be centred around how we develop a common strength, a common identity. One that despite our race or religion or language, we can say we’re truly Singaporean.
  6. And in this regard, I believe that in strengthening our collective identity, the arts provide us with a strong common denominator. Arts can appeal to us, whatever background, whatever form, whatever language.
  7. Each of us might have very different perspectives on art – when you look at a piece of art, it might relate to some but not to all.
    1. By sharing our experiences in and through art, all of this can help us better understand one another.
    2. When I was at the Vatican half a year ago, I visited the Vatican Museum and thought that it would be a place housing predominantly Christian artefacts. I was totally wrong. The Vatican Museum had artefacts from so many different religions. And when I went through it, the one thing that struck me was the amount of commonality that you can see in these items of items of religious and historical significance.
    3. And because the world we live in today is a challenging place, and there are fault lines that tend to be accentuated, we have to be a lot more resilient and a lot more united in our country.
  8. Platforms like Sembang Ilmu Plus+ provide an important foundation for developing that common understanding.
    1. We had the Sembang Ilmu Seminar (SIS), which means to chill and chat, as a platform for youths to come together to discuss matters relating to arts, heritage and socio-cultural history of the Malay community.
    2. Now, Sembang Ilmu Plus+ aims to reach out to youths from various walks of life, regardless of ethnicity and background, over the next two years.
    3. Our discussions this morning will contextualise the discussions that you will have for the coming two years. These discussions will deal with intrinsic values that matter to us as Singaporeans.

    Empowering Our Youths to be Active Citizens

  9. I am confident that our young people today will grasp the future, hold that in your hands, and understand that what you do, how you do it, and the leadership that you young leaders show, will matter tremendously to the future of this country.
  10. The question for me today, as I reflected on the topics being discussed, is: how do we bring people together? How do we ensure that we create a space not just to talk and dialogue, but more importantly, to act on – to take these ideas and find ways we can advance them, not just by speaking but also through positive action?
    1. One of the things I would like to see in this series of dialogues is not just ideas, but how we can implement those ideas – working with government, working amongst ourselves in civil society, working in groups of young people through ground-up initiatives.
    2. In many ways, I think the sky is the limit. So think of it not just as an idea, but as a seed. How can we plant it, make it grow, fertilise it, and make it into a tree for tomorrow’s Singapore. 
  11. Today, we will be hearing from very distinguished speakers - Ms Shaza Ishak, Dr Amin Farid, Dr Marc Nair, and Dr Wong Chee Meng.
    1. I want to start by thanking all of you for spending your time with us today.
    2. Every society has been trying to chart their way forward. We need people who can inspire and mentor, and all four of you have put aside time this weekend to do precisely that; to share your experiences, to engage in intellectual dialogue, to share experiences, and to understand from your perspective how the arts, heritage and culture can be a common denominator that will take us forward.
    3. I believe all of you have interesting stories to share, not just about your successes but perhaps more importantly, also about the challenges you have faced. Stories about how you have overcome that challenge and come to where you are, successful in your own right, will be very inspiring and will tell young people as they chart their path that ‘where there is a will, there is a way’.


  12. Finally, I would like to turn to the Malay Heritage Foundation (MHF). Thank you for taking the effort to organise this platform. As we come out of Covid and get back into organised events, I think it’s even more important that we come in person for a platform like this.
  13. Thank you also to Temasek Foundation for your unwavering belief in what MHF does through these platforms, and supporting these platforms. I hope that there will be more organisations coming forward to support initiatives.
  14. With this, I declare Sembang Ilmu Plus+ officially launched, and I look forward to meaningful dialogues constructive ideas, and unique exchange of not just ideas but also friendship.
  15. Thank you.
Last updated on 06 July 2022