New ACM director plans fireside chats outside museum

Mr Kennie Ting is rolling out a number of initiatives to enliven the museum's waterfront space.
Mr Kennie Ting is rolling out a number of initiatives to enliven the museum's waterfront space.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Asian Civilisations Museum director Kennie Ting wants to bring the public to its front steps and through its doors

On a Friday evening earlier this month, passers-by could not resist taking pictures of what seemed to them a curious sight on the riverfront steps of the Asian Civilisations Museum.

A dozen people had made themselves comfortable on the ground, taking in the view of nightfall and chatting over glasses of wine, cups of coffee and slices of cake.

The gathering's mastermind was the museum's new director, Mr Kennie Ting, 38, who was joined by colleagues and friends.

"Passers-by might think it is a bit forbidding, but these steps belong to everybody. We have perhaps the equivalent of the Met steps and you can sit here looking at the sunset," he says, making reference to the New York Metropolitan Museum's iconic front steps.

He has been at the helm of the Asian Civilisations Museum since Sept 1 and he continues to be the National Heritage Board's group director of museums, an appointment he received last year to oversee the group of eight museums and heritage institutions as well as major festivals such as the Singapore Night Festival.

The gathering on the museum's front steps was a trial run of the monthly casual chats he will hold there starting from the last Friday of next month. He will share with the public about the museum, his work and the challenges he faces, as well as gather general feedback.

This move is among a number of initiatives he is rolling out to enliven the museum's waterfront space and make the museum more open, accessible and welcoming to the public.

As part of this push, a series of free programmes exploring forms of Asian intangible heritage, such as gamelan and Burmese puppet performances, will be held every fortnight from December and typically at the museum's riverfront forecourt.

Mr Ting, who holds a master's degree in world cities and urban life from the University of London's Goldsmiths college, plans to make the visitor experience in the museum's galleries more accessible too.

He says: "The visitor feedback has been that sometimes, there is so much in the galleries, it can be hard to decide which pieces to pay attention to."

As such, key artefacts will be emphasised through visual cues placed on the wall and display panels, which might show, for example, an enlarged detail of an important work.

The museum is also renovating its South-east Asia gallery, which is expected to reopen by 2018.

Being an avid traveller and the author of the coffee-table book, The Romance Of The Grand Tour - 100 Years Of Travel In South-east Asia, he is also keen to attract new museum visitors through talks that appeal to Singaporeans' love of travel.

The talks will link cities and travel to the museum's artefacts and exhibitions, and allow participants to experience "armchair time-travel", he says.

He is confident these talks will be well received, having held a similar series himself last year on historic port cities. At one session held at the museum, the audience numbered more than 100 people.

The Peranakan Museum, which is managed by the Asian Civilisations Museum, also comes under his direction and he says its permanent galleries will be refreshed in time.

With the renovation, he plans to broaden the museum's exploration of hybrid communities in the region and "reach out to other Peranakan-like communities" such as the Dutch Eurasians in Batavia (present-day Jakarta).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2016, with the headline 'Come chill at the museum'. Print Edition | Subscribe