Why It Matters

Timely plan for Istana museum

The Government is building a heritage gallery at Istana Park. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

President Tony Tan Keng Yam's initiative to build a museum that showcases the Istana's heritage is timely.

The growing crowds that flock to the President's official residence, during the five times each year that the ornate cast-iron gates are thrown open to the public, indicate a keen interest in the heritage of the highest office in the land.

Last Tuesday, about 21,000 people visited the Istana when the gates were opened in celebration of Chinese New Year. This is almost double the 11,000 the Istana hosted at the same open house in 1990.

The SG50 celebrations last year also show that Singaporeans are hungry for information about the history of modern Singapore. This includes the presidency, for which an election is due next year, and which was recently in the news after the Government's decision to review some aspects of it.

The gallery, a project by the President's Office, National Parks Board and the Preservation of Sites and Monuments division of the National Heritage Board, is slated to open by the year end.

It can play a useful role in satisfying this interest as well as creating greater awareness of the Istana.

Other institutions with storied pasts, such as Tan Tock Seng Hospital and the National University of Singapore's medical school, have found their heritage museums invaluable in educating visitors and capturing for posterity their evolution, milestones and place in history through narratives illustrated by their treasured objects.

For the Istana museum, the showcase of its art, artefacts and state gifts promises to expand the knowledge horizon even further.

The Istana's history spans almost 150 years. And one major draw is likely to be the gifts Singapore's leaders have received from foreign dignitaries over the years. Every country chooses these gifts with great care to display an element of its culture, celebrate bilateral ties, or both. These objects can play a vital role in educating people.

The museum will also open people's eyes to the imprint left by Singapore's various presidents.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2016, with the headline Timely plan for Istana museum. Subscribe