Opening Speech by Y.A.B. Tuan Lim Guan Eng Chief Minister of Penang
30 November 2015
Good morning to all of you, and welcome to George Town, Penang!
Let me begin by commending all of you who are participating in this international symposium. I am confident the symposium will provide a dynamic platform for fruitful discussions and constructive sharing on the innovative practices, sustainable strategies, and lessons learnt in the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage.
I would like to congratulate George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI), Penang Institute, and Penang Global Tourism, for successfully organising this event. It is indeed gratifying to have such a symposium in Penang, where we are hosting 11 eminent speakers from the Asia Pacific region.
We are especially honoured to have the participation of Dr. Park Seong-Yong from the International Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region under the auspices of UNESCO (ICHCAP), who will deliver the keynote presentation entitled “Intangible Cultural Heritage: Safeguarding, Communities, and Sustainable Development”.
ICHCAP is a UNESCO Category Two Centre working towards the safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia Pacific region. Having Dr. Park in this symposium marks a significant milestone for GTWHI and the efforts to safeguard our heritage in Penang. We hope to engage more bilateral collaboration and cooperation with ICHCAP to enhance our capacity in the management of the tangible and intangible heritage of Penang.
In addition to Dr Park, this symposium features a diverse speakers’ line up. We have representatives from the Malaysian Department of National Heritage, the Singapore National Heritage Board, the Macao Cultural Affairs Bureau, the Heritage City of Vigan in the Philippines, as well as scholars and researchers from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and Malaysia.
I am very glad to learn that participants will be making a site visit to the Core Area of the George Town World Heritage Site this afternoon. I hope you will all enjoy the first-hand experience in seeing and sensing the dynamic life and the diversity of cultural heritage of this city.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Since 2008 when George Town was inscribed with Melaka as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the State Government of Penang has introduced a series of initiatives, measures, and policies to preserve, protect, and promote the outstanding universal values and unique heritage legacy of Penang.
In fact, GTWHI was established in 2009 as the Penang state agency for heritage conservation throughout Penang. Over the past seven years, GTWHI has been working relentlessly in fulfilling its given mandate. Together with other government agencies and the private sector, projects such as George Town Festival, Heritage Celebrations, and Traditional Trades Discovery Walks have been introduced to increase public awareness on our heritage legacy, as well as the value and significance of our culture and heritage to Penang, Malaysia, and all humanity.
The “Vision of Penang”, for example, was launched in 2011 to collect and digitalize archival resources, such as maps, postcards, plans, and images. These materials are helping us to build up a knowledge bank of Penang’s past records and archives. By 2015, the Vision of Penang archive contains seven sets of collections, and a total of 2,333 records of digitalized materials, which is made available for free public access.
To complement the inventory of the State’s built tangible heritage, GTWHI has initiated two intangible cultural heritage inventories. The first one focuses on traditional traders and craftsmanship, while the other focuses on the festivals of George Town. There is also an on-going oral history project to document local life stories. There are also the regular monthly programmes of free walks for students and the general public, talks by cultural historians and scholars, as well as workshops for stakeholder capacity building.
We are gratified to witness increased participation and involvement of the local community in heritage management and conservation activities, in both categories of built heritage and intangible cultural heritage.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Penang has been touted by Forbes as “one of the seventh best places to retire around the world”. George Town was also recently ranked by Lonely Planet as “the world’s fourth most charismatic and best to travel city in 2016”. For the well-being of our residents, and for improved visitors’ experience, we seek the equilibrium on balance of urban development and preservation of heritage. After all, heritage, including intangible cultural heritage, is the soul of the city.
Do observe during your site visit this afternoon of the languages we speak, the food we eat, the rites and rituals we practice, the way of life we live. Intangible cultural heritage of George Town is diverse, dynamic, and organic. Through our various research projects and inventories, we have sketched the cultural map and built a database on the diversity of our cultural heritage.
Nonetheless, we recognise that we still have much work to do. The five domains of intangible cultural heritage as defined by UNESCO in 2003 are broad and sophisticated. The five domains are:
1. Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage
2. Performing arts
3. Social practices, rituals and festive events
4. Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe
5. Traditional craftsmanship
These domains encompass almost every aspect of daily lives. It will require tremendous human capital, time, resource, and strong political will to safeguard these elements of our heritage. We can only succeed by keeping it alive within the communities.
Intangible cultural heritage is created, maintained, and transmitted within communities. Therefore, the Government of Penang is committed in empowering the people of George Town and in Penang, to recognise the importance of cultural heritage.
However, just as Rome was not built in a day, such public awareness, education and engagement process will take time and a lot of resources. While the officers in GTWHI are collecting material, conducting research projects, and engaging in community education, the State Government of Penang is supporting them by demonstrating strong political commitment through various approaches.
In the 2016 State Budget, my government has allocated a total of RM31.93 million to ensure the continuity of tourism and heritage related projects and programmes. We hope that by pumping-in such resources, we are able to cultivate Art, Culture and Heritage as the new economic catalyst for the state of Penang. The 100 million Heritage and Art Square is a case in point. Using art as a center of our future is a bold statement of making Penang an art and cultural city.
The State Government of Penang has signed the Management Collaboration Agreement with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Think City to expand the scope of an existing partnership for the protection, development and enhancement of George Town for another three years. The agreement follows a Memorandum of Understanding signed in November 2013, under which Aga Khan Trust for Culture provided technical assistance to the city. As Aga Khan Trust is one of the most renowned institutions for culture and heritage conservation, this recognition testifies to George Town’s world-class potential.
The first phase of the collaboration is aimed at the development of a Strategic Master Plan and identification of significant conservation and development projects within and around the designated heritage area. Under the second phase of the collaboration, the George Town Conservation and Development Corporation will be established as a project implementation vehicle, and more training opportunities will be created for young professionals in the areas of conservation and sustainable development of the city’s heritage.
Preparatory technical work has already started in two key areas: Armenian Street Park and Fort Cornwallis. These activities are aimed at providing state-of-the-art solutions in the restoration and rehabilitation of historic structures and public spaces, promoting inward investment and spurring social, economic and cultural development.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I hope all of you will fully utilise the symposium platform in searching for innovative and sustainable approaches in safeguarding our invaluable cultural heritage. It is important for all of us to start thinking on what type of heritage is important and meaningful to use, and what is the heritage we want to pass on to the next generation.
We protect heritage best by doing as little as possible. That is why heritage restoration is so expensive. However this is worthwhile because we discover ourselves when we understand the past, then only can we overcome the challenges of the future together.
May you all many interesting, inspiring, and fruitful discussions.
I hereby now officially open the symposium.