In the third and final part of this series, we look at SHS activities during the presidencies of Karen Shepherd (2014-2016) and Dato Sri Robert Jacob Ridu (2016-2020).
The year 2014 marked a point of inflexion in SHS’s approaches to its mandate. The Exco team led by Karen Shepherd decided to engage in a proactive membership drive, which was launched with an exhibition of sketches of Heritage Buildings by Urban Sketchers Kuching in November 2014. This membership drive was aided by reduced membership fees and improved media outreach with the setting up of the SHS website and a more active Facebook page. In the ensuing years the membership base hovered around the 100 figure.
Over the period, core awareness activities were pursued with a variety of activities for the members and the community: heritage talks, with the launch of our “Heritage Speakers series, site visits, heritage walks, film screening,
In 2014 and 2015 SHS ran two government-funded training workshops for tour guides on heritage guiding and a SHS team attended a training in Penang on heritage guiding for the visually impaired, and followed up by engaging with a segment of the blind community in Kuching.
SHS engaged more in publicly voicing concerns expressed by its membership and the overall community over insensitive actions against heritage sites (for example the earthworks on the land immediately facing the Bongkissam archaeological site in Santubong for an extension of kampung Santubong; the Waterfront Hotel signage blocking the historic Round Tower; the demolition of 3 classic Padungan shophouses for the construction of a six-storey hotel) and to draw attention to the heritage value of assets such as the Kuching’s old Railway depot area close to Brooke Dockyard and the aqueduct and historic waterworks in Reservoir Park.
In the more recent years SHS supported the development of and was featured in several TV documentaries, including “Jate Man” and “Colors of Sarawak” which later aired on Astro. SHS further expanded its networking with sister organisations (notably Friends of Sarawak Museum, Penang Heritage Trust, Singapore Heritage Society, Perak HS and Taiping HS) and bodies such as Think City further to a study tour to Penang in late 2016. And SHS messaging was amplified with the creation of ‘SHS Community’, a chatgroup for SHS members and others interested in heritage and the launch of the ‘Heritage Quest’ campaign, which invited the public to nominate heritage items calling for protection. An e-newsletter ‘Misc. Heritage News’ was published between 2015 and 2018.
Importantly, in the 2016-2020 period President DS Robert Ridu and his team renewed engagement with the government to enhance the regulatory framework for heritage management. This was anchored in a SHS Position Paper presented to the Sarawak Government and made public in Nov. 2017. SHS advocated on institutional aspects, legislation, guidelines, budgets, enforcement and baseline documentation (baseline study/cultural mapping). The SHS ExCo had formal meetings with senior Sarawak Government leaders and participated in a number of forums with heritage management dimensions. This included active expression of a series of comments and concrete proposals in the period when the Government was redrafting the Sarawak Heritage Ordinance, in particular on the Sarawak Government institutional set-up for “out-of-museum” heritage management. These inputs (which can be consulted on the SHS website) were largely inspired by global good practices but their core dimensions were not picked up. The 2019 Sarawak Heritage Ordinance is largely moulded on the previous 1993 Sarawak Cultural Heritage Ordinance.
Some more focus was also put on intangible cultural heritage, such as the gradually diminishing art of Chinese Opera, the skills of tinsmiths and native knowledge of forest products.
The 2016-2020 focus on the ‘big picture’ issues, i.e. Sarawak Government’s system for the management of cultural heritage beyond museums, is somewhat reminiscent of the active advocacy that characterised the initial 2007-2010 years, although the two periods had leaders with different management styles. As President DS Ridu said at the end of his mandate, “We continue to see destruction of or damage to valuable heritage for the sake of economic development, or just “modernity” …. Awareness building activities is key (… but) to achieve its goals, SHS needs to look at ongoing engagement with the Government, through advocacy for stronger heritage management, in all its dimensions: policy, strategy, institutional, regulatory, budgetary and enforcement”.
The present ExCo, led by James S L Yong, who began their term in November 2020 will strive to build on the good work of previous teams, and pursue the 3 A’s representing the Society’s strategic focus areas: Awareness, Advocacy and Advisory.