From October this year, the National Museum is running a series of installations and activities to celebrate the Museum’s 130th birthday. The celebrations run for a 130 days and have the objective of sharing the museum’s rich history and of course, enticing visitors to the museum.
Coincidentally, I was doing some packing and came across some collaterals from the museum’s 115th anniversary in 2002. Fifteen years ago, the museum was known as the “Singapore History Museum” or SHM, for short. The celebrations in November 2002 were not only to commemorate the museum’s birthday but also to invite Singaporeans and visitors to have one last look at the museum before it shut for redevelopment.
I was working at the museum then. It was much smaller and rather run-down. Only the galleries and offices were air-conditioned, and whenever it rained we had to carry an umbrella to get to the nearest toilets, which was quite a trek away. The museum had neither lifts nor escalators. There was no eating outlets inside the museum. Our café was the S11 hawker centre near the red-bricked National Library. To work in the museum, one needed strong legs (to do all the walking and climbing) and a brave heart. There were so many stories circulating about the ghosts that were residing in the museum, and it certainly sent chills up the our spines whenever we had to work late. The museum, of course, drew on this rich source of stories and created a series of very successful ghost tours.
Although the building was old (and crumbling in parts), we had a fairly young and vibrant programming and curatorial team who put together many exciting programmes. I remember Prof Tommy Koh was Chairman of NHB around that time and he set a target for the NHB museums to attract a million visitors in a year. That really pushed us to organise events to get visitors through our doors.
The team spearheaded the programming which included open house days, cultural festivals, competitions, tours, performances. There were many ideas floating around and most of them entailed a huge amount of work to be done in a very short period of time. But looking back at the programmes and activities the museum team put up, like the comic book for the 115th anniversary celebrations, it was rather innovative by those times’ standards.
Although a museum is a repository of the past, it is heartening to see that museum people then and now continue to innovate in the ways we engage audiences to history, culture and art.
Happy birthday National Museum & the hardworking behind-the-scenes team that makes it all happen!