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Cultural sustainability through community ownership

Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, at the 10th Asia Cultural Co-operation Forum in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
28 November 2017

Honourable Ministers,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

    A very warm good morning to all of you, and I am delighted to be here today to join you at the ACCF meeting. First, I would like to thank the Hong Kong Government for your warm hospitality and to express my congratulations on the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

2. This milestone occasion was commemorated in Singapore with a wide array of cultural activities, including the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra which premiered in Singapore, “Quintessence”, composed by Hong Kong composer Fung Lam. I also had the great pleasure to catch the theatrical production of The Golden Cangue (金锁记) by Perry Chiu Experimental Theatre (焦媛实验剧团), based on the novel of 20th century Chinese literature icon, Eileen Chang (张爱玲), one of my favourite writers who spent many years in Hong Kong.

3. Our local audiences were enthralled by the rich diversity of works that were presented by Hong Kong cultural groups. They opened our senses to the excellent productions, and struck us on the similarities and differences between us.

4. In a time of increasing geopolitical uncertainties and fast-paced technological developments, where societies are becoming increasingly complex and polarised, culture has the power to bring people together, as a universal language that transcends boundaries and fosters people-to-people affinity in the region and across cities.

5. We are privileged to have many extensive partnerships with our international counterparts, at the state and institutional level, to create opportunities for people of diverse background and creed to appreciate, produce and showcase excellent art. For instance, we established the Australia-Singapore Arts Group recently to drive an ongoing programme of cultural activities in both countries to, develop professional skills, cultivate audiences and enhance our cultural relations. We have a long-standing cultural relationship with the People’s Republic of China and are looking to renew our Executive Programme on Cultural Cooperation which has facilitated deep and sustained engagement between the cultural institutions of both countries. A new milestone was reached in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Singapore’s National Heritage Board and China’s Palace Museum, witnessed by China’s Minister of Culture, Mr Luo Shugang, and myself, this year.

Differences and Distinctiveness of Culture Can Spur Innovation and New Works

6. Singapore is home to diverse communities who, today, continue to have their own distinct beliefs, languages and practices. Our cultural diversity is reflected in many ways, such as in our built heritage, our intangible cultures, and in our way of life. An important node in the maritime silk road since centuries ago, Singapore has received the influence of many cultures, religions and languages of races and societies through the traders, missionaries and sailors that have visited our shores and some settled here. The discovery of the Tang Shipwreck, off the Belitung Island in the Java Sea, is an early proof of the thriving trade and commercial links between China, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and this reveals that the region Singapore is in, has been a confluence of many cultures even millennia ago. To illustrate, among the Shipwreck collection at our Asian Civilisation Museum is this large ewer, standing at over a meter in height, with designs steep in both Chinese and Iranian roots.

7. Through inter-cultural collaborations, we experience not only the commonalities but the differences and distinctiveness of each culture that inspire our artists in the creation of new works. These inter-ethnic collaborations encourage understanding between artists of different ethnic background, thus cementing people-to-people ties and friendships. As part Singapore Chinese Orchestra collaborated with traditional Wayang Kulit, or shadow puppet, artists from Malaysia, and artfully weaved traditional Chinese, Malay and Indian music, and even Jazz, to create unique sounds and sights that appealed to the Malaysian audience. The audiences were treated to something familiar, yet something new. It was a night of delightful moments with many surprises.

8. We are also benefitting from collaborations with Hong Kong. I visited the West Kowloon Cultural District yesterday and was pleased to learn that the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority and City Contemporary Dance Company have teamed up with a Singaporean screendance group called Cinemovement, on a five-year project to cultivate artistic talents in dance film making and promote co-production opportunities leveraging on the resources of both cities. These collaborations are so important in bringing countries and peoples closer together.

Sustainability of Culture through Community Ownership

9. Singapore’s distinctive cultural heritage is the anchor of our national identity. At the heart of it, community ownership and their active participation are key to its sustainability. We have embarked on extensive public consultations, involving local communities, academics and experts to draw up a comprehensive national blueprint for the heritage sector. We are in the process of ratifying the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, and will set up a repository of information to document and transmit our customs, food heritage, rituals and traditional crafts, safeguarding it for the future generations of Singaporeans.

10. To foster a shared sense of ownership, we have the Cultural Matching Fund that provides dollar-for-dollar matching grants for private donations to the arts and heritage groups. Close to S$170 million or about HK$1billion have been committed. Donations to our arts and heritage causes have more than doubled, as cultural groups engage stakeholders more, fostering a vibrant cultural ecosystem.

11. These initiatives testify that community ownership is core to Singapore’s sustainability with culture as its heart and soul. We will continue to deepen our efforts in raising capabilities and excellence in the arts, while increasing accessibility and community participation, and in so doing, we hope to nurture a confident nation with pride in our distinctive cultural heritage.

12. I look forward to sharing and learning from you over the next two days, and wish you all a fruitful time. I hope that our conversations will lead to new ideas for us to take home. Thank you very much.
Last Updated: 30 November 2017

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