At 100, Lim Tze Peng is still creating art. Singapore's oldest living pioneer artist is marking his centenary with a book and an exhibition at The Arts House. The performing arts venue will soon also showcase other national cultural treasures with a gallery dedicated to Cultural Medallion recipients. There are 128 artists who have received this national accolade, the highest award for the arts, since it was established in 1979 by then Minister for Culture Ong Teng Cheong. The new gallery is a good first step towards highlighting their contributions to the nation's cultural patrimony. Indeed, more can and ought to be done to support these ageing practitioners who have dedicated their lives to their craft. Three-quarters of the surviving 91 recipients are above the retirement age, and many are still active practitioners like Lim. They are a living legacy, and their wealth of knowledge can benefit not only young artists but also audiences.
There are a number of ways to encourage this. Suggestions from the arts community have ranged from underwriting the artists' living expenses, in the same way that Thailand's King supports mature artists, to reducing the conditions attached to the $80,000 Cultural Medallion grant. Another way to honour their legacy is to build archives for their works, and make these archives accessible to the public. There have been ad hoc attempts at doing this. The National Library Board has a digital repository of writers' manuscripts, and it has digitised Tamil literature, music and dance. The Esplanade's Offstage website offers artist interviews as well as programmes from the arts venue's archives. A more comprehensive archive, along with programmes to introduce Singapore's substantial body of performing arts to new audiences, will ensure that Singapore's cultural heritage will enrich the lives of future generations.