Penang aims to make George Town a centre of excellence for heritage

General Manager of George Town World Heritage Incorporated Ang Ming Chee speaks at the Bayview Hotel in George Town October 2, 2018. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
General Manager of George Town World Heritage Incorporated Ang Ming Chee speaks at the Bayview Hotel in George Town October 2, 2018. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

GEORGE TOWN, Oct 3 — George Town has the potential to be a centre of excellence in heritage that encompasses various disciplines, said George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) general manager Ang Ming Chee.

The George Town world heritage site manager has plans to make the city a centre for objects and collection conservation, living heritage, creative industry, disaster risk reduction and cultural heritage.

“We need to create this centre of excellence in these disciplines where experts from other countries can come here to share and exchange expertise,” she said in an interview yesterday.

She said experts can be brought in to train locals and residents in disciplines such as textile and paper conservation.

“We can have our people trained in these skills so that they too can do this, especially the many clan associations here that have a lot of old documents and objects that needed to be conserved,” she said.

GTWHI is already in the midst of rolling out a textile conservation programme next year.

“We hope to be able to introduce textile conservation training by next year so that we can train locals in this skill,” she said.

As for Unesco’s pilot project on industries involvement in heritage city, Ang said they are looking into working with local artisans and designers to come up with signature George Town products.

“We can develop new products, turn existing local products into our own signature products and packaged with our stories behind it. These can be sold to represent George Town,” she said.

She said the proceeds from the sale of these products can then be channelled back to GTWHI for the management of the heritage site.

“We don’t want to charge entrance fees like Vietnam. We want to look at other ways to generate income so that the heritage site is self-sustainable,” she said.

She said it is by engaging and involving the local communities — such as packaging and selling their own artisanal products — that the community will take ownership of the heritage site.

“We want them to take ownership of the heritage site because the site is not ours. It belonged to Penang, to the community,” she said.

Once the community feels that the Unesco heritage zone can be beneficial to their livelihood, such as earning an income, she said they will have a stronger sense of ownership.

Ang said GTWHI is aiming for a holistic management of the site in the next 10 years that does not only look at building conservation.

“We want to look at the people living and working in these buildings, the objects and relics in these buildings and the cultural heritage,” she said.

She said GTWHI currently has about 30 staff but the whole heritage zone covers over 5,013 premises.

“We need the community to take ownership because we can’t oversee everything,” she said.

She added that in recent months, more residents and even building contractors in the heritage zone are more aware of heritage issues.

“I’ve been getting calls from residents and even contractors to inform and consult us about development projects within the heritage zone, which is a good thing. We need the community to be involved so that they can be our eyes and ears,” she said.

She said the only way for the heritage zone to remain protected is for the community to take charge and be the guardians of their cultural heritage.

“This is the perfect solution as only the community would know best how to preserve their own culture and traditions that they’ve been practicing for generations,” she said.

George Town celebrated its 10th anniversary as a world heritage site this year.

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