Our SG Heritage Plan 2.0 - A New Chapter of Singapore’s Heritage Development
Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law, at the Launch of Our SG Heritage Plan 2.0
19 May 2023
Building the future of Singapore's Heritage
As a diverse and multi-cultural society, we have always placed great emphasis and importance on our heritage. It is central to our national identity. It defines how we relate to one another, it reflects the ties that bind us together, and the collective experiences we share. It inspires and unites us, and strengthens our commitment to another and our country, building our shared future together.
And indeed, in these times as the world becomes a lot more complex, where fault-lines are increasingly drawn on things like identity, religion, and where you come from, these pressures come to bear in so many societies in the world today. Couple with that, the increasing international geopolitical tension and domestic socio-economic challenges that we and many other parts of the world face. It is particularly relevant in these turbulent times that our shared heritage will be a source of strength and unity, and help us to withstand these pressures.
It is in this context that I am very encouraged that Singaporeans have increasingly begun to appreciate the importance of heritage more than ever. In the recent Heritage Awareness Survey by the National Heritage Board (NHB), more than 90% of respondents agreed that our history and heritage are very important to us. More Singaporeans than before expressed interest to learn about, to know about, and be aware and experience what it means to have our unique heritage. This is testament to the good work NHB and our partners have done in raising awareness and interest in the heritage sector.
In fact, we are in the midst of the 20th edition of the Singapore HeritageFest, a month-long celebration of Singapore’s diverse heritage and culture. I am very heartened to see Singaporeans participating actively and enjoying the festival offerings, while also at the same time learning and bringing home something about Singapore’s heritage. Our SG Heritage Plan (2018-2022)
Our SG Heritage Plan (2018-2022)
Five years ago, at the 15th edition of the Singapore HeritageFest, we launched the first edition of Our SG Heritage Plan. The plan comprised four pillars, each representing a key area of Singapore’s heritage – our places, our cultures, our treasures, and of course, our communities.
With the strong support of Singaporeans, we have accomplished much under this inaugural plan.
We have celebrated and cared for our places and our built heritage. In some ways, our places remind us constantly of who we are and where we come from. Looking back helps us to look forward. For example, we gazetted the Padang as our 75th National Monument during national day last year.
We have expanded the scope of our culture and heritage efforts to embrace our crafts and daily practices. This included showcasing our intangible cultural heritage internationally with the inscription of Hawker Culture on to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Indeed, a very proud moment for Singapore and Singaporeans in the depths of the pandemic.
We have redefined how we experience our museums and national treasures through technology and fresh perspectives. The Asian Civilisations Museum’s recent Batik Kita: Dressing in Port Cities exhibition featured a virtual try-on station, where visitors could see how they looked in different bajus and batik clothing through augmented reality. We also revamped the Peranakan Museum with a new curatorial approach.
Finally, we have deepened our partnerships with our communities to ensure that more stories from the different parts of our community can be told, written and kept for posterity so that future generations will understand what it [the stories] meant to us and how they can then take it forward. For instance, we launched the Street Corner Heritage Galleries scheme in four historic precincts in close partnership with our community stakeholders, to celebrate heritage businesses in these neighbourhoods.
The inaugural edition of Our SG Heritage Plan was a milestone for our heritage sector and gave us a strong and solid foundation on which to build upon. And that’s why today we are launching the Our SG Heritage Plan 2.0.
Developing Our SG Heritage Plan 2.0
You’ve heard earlier – there were broad consultations: over 650 professionals, academics, youths, and different stakeholders from the area were consulted; NHB also had a public engagement and garnered more than 72,000 responses and suggestions. This is almost double the responses received when NHB put together the inaugural Our SG Heritage Plan.
This enthusiastic response of Singaporeans, I think, will continue on this trajectory for some time to come, for the reasons I outlined earlier. The responses and engagements told us what mattered to you, how you saw your role and the society’s role in heritage, and gave suggestions on how could we engage different communities, interest groups and age groups better. Our SG Heritage Plan 2.0 is a reflection of that shared collective ideas and suggestions.
Our SG Heritage Plan 2.0 Overview
I would like to spend some time outlining what those four blocks [in Our SG Heritage Plan 2.0] stand for. They are Identity, Industry, Innovation and Community.
Let me start first with Identity – as a critical building block of our future as a nation and our people.
This block is about strengthening our sense of “Singaporeaness”, and building bonds through our shared experiences, shared values, and shared cultural traditions and practices.
Under this building block, we will set up a new design collection covering a range of design disciplines, with a focus on the works of Singaporean designers and architects, and also those from around the region. Through this new collection, we will build greater recognition of iconic designs and prominent designers, foster collaborations with the design community and industry, and create a more layered understanding of the Singapore identity, as exemplified and portrayed through these designs, and our unique character.
Singaporeans can look forward to visiting exciting exhibitions about design in our national museums. For example, just next week, the Asian Civilisations Museum will be opening a blockbuster exhibition exploring the works of renowned Singaporean fashion designer Andrew Gn. We will also step-up efforts in promoting public awareness and appreciation for archaeology, to uncover more insights and treasures from our past.
Industry and Innovation
Next, let me say a little bit about Industry and Innovation. The two newer building blocks under Our SG Heritage Plan 2.0. Under these building blocks, we will cultivate a vibrant ecosystem to grow our heritage industry and create platforms for Singaporeans to practice heritage-related crafts, while also enhancing the relevance and appeal of heritage through innovation and creativity – a new way of connecting with Singaporeans.
We will work to strengthen capabilities in the sector and support the sustainability of heritage businesses and crafts. I encourage all heritage practitioners to actively participate in these initiatives. It gives you an additional platform to showcase your wares, and bring people’s awareness and attention to your craft.
We will seek to transform Armenian Street into a creative precinct.
We will bring Singapore’s collections and stories overseas to boost Singapore’s brand internationally.
We will also continue to take advantage of technology to enrich our heritage experiences.
Finally, the pillar that is constant from Our SG Heritage Plan through to Our SG Heritage Plan 2.0 – and that’s all of us – our Community. We have always kept Singaporeans and our community as the central focus of our efforts in safeguarding and promoting our heritage. After all, our heritage, our past, our treasures and our practices all revolve around Singaporeans and our community. The community was a key pillar in the inaugural plan, and remains a key building block in the new plan. We hope that Singaporeans will actively explore and celebrate of our heritage through our various programmes.
In addition, our youths – a big part of our community – will be an important aspect of this building block and will represent the generation that will lead the future stewardship of our heritage. The inaugural Our SG Heritage Plan established the NHB Youth Panel in 2021, which advises NHB on how we get youths to be more engaged and socialised with our heritage.
Building on these efforts, I am pleased to announce that NHB will develop a Youth Heritage Blueprint, led by its Youth Panel. The blueprint will provide guidance to NHB on how to strengthen and sustain youth involvement in the heritage sector. It is really important that we engage and cultivate their interest because they will carry [our] customs, [our] tradition and [our] heritage into the future. NHB will also be launching an online Youth Survey in the third quarter of this year, to further engage youths, garner more input for the blueprint.
Another initiative under the community building block will be the launch of new Heritage Activation Nodes from 2024. As part of the programme, NHB will work with community partners and build up each of these partners’ own capabilities to celebrate the heritage of precincts across the island. This initiative will provide opportunities for the community to be able to establish and plan their programmes, and to explore and celebrate the heritage of their own neighbourhoods. Each of our neighbourhoods – small as Singapore might be – represents a different unique part of our history and heritage.
The first of such will be in Katong-Joo Chiat. Many of us already know that this is precinct that has so much to offer – so rich and vibrant in its culture, heritage and unique flavour. We will enhance this with regular programmes such as street festivals and workshops. We will also train volunteers from and within the community to become Heritage Champions, empowering members of the community to take ownership and pride of their heritage.
More of such nodes are being planned across the island. These will be tailored to the needs and character of the areas. NHB will be making a call for collaboration later this year for the community to co-develop these spaces, so do keep a look out for it.
To conclude, I hope these four building blocks excite you as much as they excite me. They will become a fundamental feature of Our SG Heritage Plan 2.0. It is indeed a good platform from which to launch Singapore into the next phase of our heritage appreciation and awareness. I think what is also important is that we preserve, protect and ensure that it is transmitted from one generation to another.
We might be a young nation, but we have a rich history. It might not be very long, but it is certainly vibrant. A different, unique, diverse, multi-ethnic, and multicultural identity that I think is second to none. You will be hard pressed to find a community like ours in Singapore, anywhere else in the world.
Our SG Heritage Plan 2.0 is also designed to cherish what we have, to keep special, to protect and to ensure that this multicultural and vibrant society that we have is not threatened by external forces but continues to grow from within.
This plan also sets a direction for all Singaporeans to know how we can safeguard and promote this shared heritage. I would like to thank all Singaporeans, over the many years, who contributed your ideas to NHB in the making of the plan. I look forward to your and all Singaporeans’ continued participation. Join us on this endeavour as we embark on a new and exciting new chapter of Singapore’s heritage development.