Budget debate: New Cultural Medallion gallery to be set up at Arts House

The idea for a gallery was mooted after the National Arts Council consulted more than 50 Cultural Medallion recipients. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A new gallery at the Arts House will be dedicated to Singapore's Cultural Medallion recipients and a comprehensive national digital repository will be set up to document their contributions.

Ms Low Yen Ling, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, announced this in Parliament on Monday (March 8) during the debate on her ministry's budget.

The Cultural Medallion is Singapore's highest artistic accolade and 128 arts practitioners have received the honour since it was established in 1979.

The idea for a gallery was mooted after the National Arts Council (NAC) consulted more than 50 recipients on what could be done to better support the arts and culture sector.

The NAC will work with the National Library Board to create the digital repository. Ms Low said: "This will give Singaporeans valuable insights into Singapore's cultural history."

Cultural Medallion recipients welcomed the move, though they added they hope it will be a collaborative effort that involves the artists.

Indian dance pioneer Santha Bhaskar, 81, who received the honour in 1990, welcomed these initiatives. "They will serve to give Cultural Medallion recipients the due recognition they deserve. They will also inspire recipients to create more works which will capture the essence of the Singapore identity."

Choral conductor Jennifer Tham, 59, said: "Both the Gallery and the NAC-NLB repository are wonderful ideas; yet their significance to recipients, both past and future, depends on whether it is a collaborative process between curator and curated, and whether our voices are heard, contextualised and unfiltered."

As a living practitioner, she said she still has music to make. "What I hope is that the work itself does not become a monument or the artist put on a pedestal and archived, because we are just planting seeds for generations of artists to come."

Actor and director Ivan Heng, 56, joked that he is not ready to be put in a museum yet.

He expressed, however, the hope that awardees be given support to archive their works. "A dedicated scholar or archivist should be attached to them to organise and index their collections - manuscripts, diaries, photographs, newspaper cuttings."

There should also be efforts to translate their works into the other official languages of Singapore, he added.

Mrs Bhaskar added that more could be done for the honorees, such as giving them some form of pension. "I would suggest some kind of financial aid for their old age as it is not easy making a living as an artiste."

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