$1.4million given to heritage projects so far

SINGAPORE - Over the past five months, nearly $1.4 million has been given out to fund 41 community projects celebrating Singapore's heritage.

The projects range from a month-long Peranakan festival to a documentary on xinyao, a type of Chinese folk song popular in the 1980s and 1990s.

The money is from the Heritage Grant Scheme, which was launched in August by the National Heritage Board (NHB). The initiative plans to disburse $5 million to deserving projects over four years till 2016. So far, applications have been pouring in - an encouraging sign that people here are keen to keep Singapore's past alive, said NHB chief executive officer Rosa Daniel.

The fact that the projects have come in all shapes and sizes - from documentaries to books and games - has also pleased Mrs Daniel. She said: "Their ingenuity and creativity speak of the interest and passion the applicants have for our history and heritage."

The scheme is split into two categories.

The Heritage Project Grant is for initiatives with the potential to plug gaps in the heritage scene and have a significant and lasting impact. Funding starts at $30,000 and is capped at $150,000 annually for each project.

This grant was awarded to 15 applicants in November, including the Singapore Red Cross Society, whose project involves a travelling interactive exhibition to showcase the stories of its volunteers for its 65th anniversary next year.

Some $150,000 has also gone into co-funding the development of a $30 million maritime heritage centre, expected to be located along the Kallang River.

For smaller projects by individuals or groups, the Heritage Participation Grant gives funding of between $1,000 and $30,000, or up to 50 per cent of a project's cost.

This was awarded to 26 different applicants, including the Singapore Film Society for a heritage film competition and the Dunearn Neighbourhood Committee for its Peranakan festival.

The Eurasian Association was also awarded $50,000 to help complete its 500-page hardcover biography of former Speaker of Parliament E. W. Barker, who as Minister of Law, drafted the document announcing Singapore's separation from Malaysia in 1965.

Production and publication of the book, which is expected to be completed by year-end, is estimated to cost $150,000. Eurasian Association president Benett Theseira said: "As a small community, it's not easy to raise money, especially when our first priority is helping the needy in terms of welfare and education."

The book is part of the association's efforts to spread awareness about Singapore's Eurasian heritage and the community's contributions to society.

Said Mr Theseira: "Mr Barker was a leading light of the Eurasian community and as Singapore nears its 50th birthday, it is important that we have the book ready to showcase what he has done for us and post-independence Singapore."

Applications under the smaller grant are assessed internally while those for the larger one go through a panel comprising members from the public and academic sectors, non-governmental organisations as well as private industry.

A proposal, among other things, is judged on its quality, impact on the heritage scene and the applicant's ability to execute the project. The money is disbursed after the project is completed.

The board said the scheme seeks to promote learning and appreciation of Singapore's heritage through research, documentation and other creative means of presentation.

The aim is to seed ground-up initiatives by interest groups and community networks, especially in the lead up to Singapore's 50th birthday.

Said Mrs Daniel: "We hope the grant will bring forward more community efforts and diverse projects to commemorate heritage in different ways."

Preserving the island's maritime past

Singapore's transformation from a humble fishing village in the early 1900s into a key international sea hub, and the people behind this, will form the centrepiece of a new maritime heritage centre.

The $30 million project, which is expected to set up port along the Kallang River, if all goes according to plan, will chronicle the history through interactive displays and artefacts, including photographs, telegraphs and fishing tools going as far back as the early 1900s.

The centre will also have on board artefacts such as bumboats, river taxis and sampans from Sentosa's now defunct Singapore Maritime Museum, said the project's head Frederick James Francis, who is a senior lecturer from Singapore Polytechnic's Singapore Maritime Academy and a former ship captain.

Captain Francis' initiative has already received $150,000 in funding from the Government in the form of the National Heritage Board's Heritage Project Grant.

He hopes to get more support from the Government, the maritime industry and the public for the centre, which is slated to be ready in about five years.

Capt Francis said the proposed centre, which will be led by members of the Youth Skipper Flotilla and Singapore Polytechnic's Singapore Maritime Academy, will be an "important scaffolding which can help build up the national identity".

The 52-year-old envisions it as a place where events such as forums, talks and chats can be held. It will serve as a meeting point for youth to learn about the industry from former seafarers.

There are also plans to roll out a thematic "Museum on Wheels" travelling show, which students from across the island will be roped in to help set up.

"We want the centre to be more vibrant than just a place to display artefacts," said Capt Francis, who served as a captain on merchant ships under container shipping and logistics company Neptune Orient Lines and has more than 15 years of experience sailing the seas.

"We want the public to be able to embrace Singapore's maritime past and (the centre to also) provide a sense of what the future holds."

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