Engaging the Community to Safeguard Singapore’s ICH

The NHB’s traveling exhibition on Our SG Heritage Plan © National Heritage Board of Singapore

Intangible cultural heritage (ICH) as defined by the 2003 UNESCO Convention encompasses the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, and skills, which communities recognize as part of their cultural heritage. In the case of Singapore, ICH is important as it represents the diverse practices, knowledge, and living traditions of Singapore’s multicultural society.

In recent years, the National Heritage Board of Singapore (NHB) has embarked on a concerted drive to document and safeguard Singapore’s ICH elements as well as to work with public and private sector partners to facilitate the transmission of ICH elements.

Prior to these efforts, NHB studied the best ICH safeguarding practices in various countries, including Hong Kong, South Korea, France, Japan, and Malaysia (Penang). NHB noted that effective ICH safeguarding requires the community involvement and that ICH elements should be allowed to evolve or even disappear with time.

NHB also noted that effective ICH safeguarding involves measures such as research and documentation efforts, recognition schemes for ICH practitioners, the creation of a national inventory, education, and outreach programs, as well as financial grants.

In November 2016, NHB launched its first nationwide ICH survey to identify key elements of Singapore’s ICH. The survey will be completed by the end of 2018. It will document more than a hundred ICH elements through oral history interviews, research, photography, and videography.

More recently, NHB announced the development of Our SG Heritage Plan, which is the first masterplan for Singapore’s heritage and museum sector. The masterplan outlines the broad strategies and initiatives for the sector over the next five years (2018 to 2022) and beyond.

One of the key strategic pillars for Our SG Heritage Plan focuses on ICH and presents the following recommendations:

  • NHB will develop an ICH inventory to promote public awareness and facilitate public access to ICH information. The inventory will be updated with input from heritage experts and community groups.
  • NHB will introduce a new scheme to recognize ICH practitioners who are dedicated to promoting and transmitting different aspects of Singapore’s ICH.
  • NHB will step up efforts to research and document Singapore’s ICH and continue to promote research in ICH through research grants.
  • NHB will leverage on museum exhibitions, festivals, and programs such as talks, workshops, and showcases to create greater public awareness and appreciation of Singapore’s ICH and ICH practitioners.
  • NHB will work with the relevant agencies to ratify the 2003 UNESCO Convention in 2018 and explore possible ICH inscription onto the UNESCO Representative List.

In developing the ICH strategies and initiatives, NHB conducted eight engagement sessions involving close to 190 ICH practitioners between November 2016 and September 2017 to solicit views and seek feedback.

As part of NHB’s public engagement efforts for Our SG Heritage Plan,1. the institution is presently consulting the wider public about the ICH strategies and initiatives through a dedicated website (oursgheritage.sg) and traveling exhibitions.

From December 2017 to February 2018, close to 20,000 people have visited the exhibition, and the website has received more than 14,000 visitors. In addition, more than 5,500 people have submitted their views through onsite and online polls.

Through its efforts to document, safeguard, and facilitate the transmission of Singapore’s ICH, NHB hopes to strengthen the Singaporean identity because it believes that ICH provides links to Singapore’s past, facilitates community involvement, and fosters cultural understanding within and across ethnic communities.

Notes   [ + ]

1. NHB’s Our SG Heritage Plan will be launched on 7 April 2018.