Monday, 15 February 2016

Istana Heritage Gallery to open on Orchard Road

Gallery to offer year-round glimpse of Istana's treasures
Heritage gallery coming up opposite Istana's main gate will display selected artefacts and state gifts
By Lim Yan Liang and Toh Yong Chuan, The Sunday Times, 14 Feb 2016

Five times a year, thousands of people throng the Istana during open house for a look at what lies behind its cast-iron gates.

Soon, people can get a view of its treasures all year round.

The Government is building a heritage gallery at Istana Park, opposite the Istana's main gate in Orchard Road, to display selected artefacts and state gifts from the President's official residence.

It will also have a gift shop.

The museum is expected to draw 120,000 visitors each year.

It comes amid ongoing efforts to rejuvenate the Civic District and educate a younger generation about its historic landmarks such as the former City Hall and Supreme Court, which reopened as the National Gallery last November.

The President's Office said of the Istana Heritage Gallery yesterday: "The project was initiated by the President. It is part of the overall efforts to educate the public on the history and heritage of the Istana, which is a national monument."

The main three-storey Istana building was completed in 1869 and was the official residence of colonial governors, before being renamed when Singapore became self-governing and again on independence.

It is now open to the public on five public holidays, and gets 14,000 visitors at each open house.

In recent years, President Tony Tan Keng Yam also launched guided tours of the grounds and building for visitors on these occasions.

Heritage experts welcomed the gallery project, saying it can be designed to engage people while explaining the historical significance of the Istana and the presidency.

Architectural historian Lai Chee Kien said it also presents an opportunity to chronicle the storied Orchard Road area.

Its notable landmarks include the pre-World War II Japanese Consulate-General bungalow atop Mount Emily, the House of Tan Yeok Nee at the corner of Penang Road and first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's house in Oxley Road.

"There are so many gems, not just in architecture but also in our landscape history at the periphery of the Istana," he said. "This is an excellent opportunity to chronicle many different time periods in Singapore's history by connecting the Istana to its immediate neighbourhood."

The museum, the size of three four-room Housing Board flats, will stand on a space that has a water pump room and covered shelter. Renovations costing $900,000 are expected to be completed in the second half of the year.

The Istana is looking for an operator to run it for three years, sources said. It said in a letter to potential operators that they will not be charged a licence fee for three years. In return, the operator must have a social and public education element in running the museum. This includes "providing opportunities for volunteerism, or donating a percentage of the profits from the retail outlet to a charity".

The operator can choose to run the museum for another six years, but may be charged a fee for each three-year extension.

Experts stressed that the museum's contents and how they are organised and presented are key to its success.

Said Singapore Heritage Society executive committee member Yeo Kang Shua: "After 50 years of diplomatic ties with countries all over the world, there should be a sizeable collection of state gifts.The question is how you curate them to tell a compelling story."

Dr Kevin Tan, president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites Singapore, felt that outsourcing the museum's operations might compromise the dignity and prestige of the President's Office, and suggested it be run as a state- funded national education project.

Photographer Ahmad Iskandar, 29, said many Singaporeans will be keen to know the story behind the gifts leaders give one another.

"What will be really interesting is if the items marked important visits that helped shape our history," he said.

* President Tony Tan Keng Yam launches Istana Heritage Gallery
Gallery will evoke pride and give a sense of how far country has come in its journey towards nationhood, he says
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2016

In a rare and historic gathering, relatives of Singapore's past presidents gathered at Istana Park yesterday for the opening of the new Istana Heritage Gallery.

Among them was Puan Noor Aishah, 83, widow of Singapore's first president, the late Yusof Ishak.

She posed for photos with a resin bust of her husband, along with President Tony Tan Keng Yam, who had launched the gallery, and the artist behind the sculpture, Mr Lim Yew Kuan, 88.

Her husband had gone for at least six sittings for the bust, she recalled after touring the gallery. She said she hopes the work and other artefacts on display at the gallery "will help the public better understand the history of the country".

Launched yesterday, the gallery took about nine months to build and was initiated by Dr Tan as part of efforts to educate the public on the history and heritage of the Istana, a national monument.

The gallery, which sits opposite the Istana's main gate, had been transformed from an open-sided shelter into a glass pavilion.

The size of about three four-room Housing Board flats, it also houses dazzling state gifts from world leaders such as a striking blue ceramic plate from French President Francois Hollande.

In all, there are about 1,500 state gifts in the Istana's collection, and 18 will be on show at any one time at the gallery. The showcase on state gifts will be updated once a year.

Admission is free and the gallery is open from 10am to 6pm daily, except on Wednesdays.

There is currently no guided tour of the gallery. The public can start visiting from today.

Dr Tan said he wanted to make the Istana more accessible to Singaporeans, on top of the five times a year it opens to the public, as well as the existing heritage tours and nature walks.

He said he believes the gallery will evoke a sense of pride among Singaporeans, and give a sense of how far the country has come in its journey towards nationhood.

"The Istana is a vital part of our history," he said. Also, the display of the state gifts gives a reflection of the important role Singapore plays throughout the world and shows the esteem in which Singapore is held, said Dr Tan, who was at the event with his wife Mary.

The gallery was curated by the National Heritage Board's preservation of sites and monuments division.

There are six sections in the gallery. It starts off by covering the history of the Sri Temasek building on the Istana grounds which, together with the Istana, was preserved as a national monument in 1992.

It then discusses the Istana's construction in detail in the second section.

The third section covers the effects of World War II on the Istana and its occupants.

The fourth section chronicles the Istana's transformation from the Government House into the Istana and the replacement of the colonial symbols with the State Crest, Presidential Standard and Presidential Crest, after Singapore attained full internal self-government status in 1959.

The fifth section details the Istana's flora and fauna, while the last describes the functions of the Istana, which include hosting visits by foreign dignitaries.

The showcase, which is expected to draw 120,000 visitors each year, is a collaboration between the President's Office, the National Parks Board, National Library Board and the National Heritage Board.

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