Friday, April 18, 2008

Heritage centre seeks full govt funding to stay afloat

Heritage centre seeks full govt funding to stay afloat
Malay Heritage Centre struggling 2 years after striking out on its own
By Arlina Arshad
April 12, 2008

TWO years after the Malay Heritage Centre took a step towards becoming financially self-sustaining, it has made an appeal for long-term government funding to stay afloat.
It had at first thought it could make it on the formula of 'one-third government funding, one-third revenue from programmes and one-third income from fund-raising activities', Malay Heritage Foundation chairman Zainul Abidin Rasheed told The Straits Times on Wednesday.

But it did not work.

The Malay Heritage Centre, located in Sultan Gate in Kampong Glam, needs $1.5 million annually for operating expenses and to run programmes promoting Malay heritage, culture and history.

Its revenues now meet only half that.

The centre's finances were in the red in 2006. It did better last year - with 1,835 heritage and cultural events taking place then.

The centre earned more than $800,000 last year from events, rental and gate takings to its museum - an increase of more than 30percent from the year before.

Mr Zainul said full funding from the Government is needed to make the centre 'vibrant and active'.

After it closed its books for the financial year on March 31, it appealed to the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (Mica) for a review on its finances. A study is under way.

The Malay Heritage Centre, which occupies a 165-year-old palace built by Sultan Ali, the son of former Singapore ruler Sultan Hussein Shah, received $17 million from Mica to restore and develop its grounds in 2005, and $200,000 in 2006 to meet operating expenses.

Two years ago, responding to the Government's call for the centre to be self-sustaining, its management decided to strike out on its own, instead of being 'tied to government funding all the time', said MrZainul, who is also Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

The centre has since learnt that staying solvent is not easy - and this after what was considered a good year.

Mr Zainul said the centre would have been in the red if not for a $200,000 grant Mica provided to match its endowment fund donations last year and other support.

Revenue is still coming in, he noted, but it may not be enough if the centre is to grow.

The foundation's general manager, MrEddy Noor Hassan, told The Straits Times the centre has cut costs by shrinking its staff strength from 15 to 10 and cutting back on maintenance services like landscaping and cleaning.

'If this continues in the long run, we may have to compromise on quality and standards of upkeeping of the centre,' he said.

Takings from entry tickets to the centre's museum are nominal. And when Sars and the recession hit, demand for leases on the centre's space fell.

Mr Zainul's worries are shared by museums worldwide, which are also in a government-funding crunch.

Mr Kwa Chong Guan, former director of the National Museum, told The Straits Times museums cannot be expected to sustain themselves from gate takings, shops and public programmes.

He said: 'Many museums have to depend on the government for funding. Some, like the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, have huge endowments which enable them to be almost self-sufficient - but even these museums get some support from their city governments.'

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, a Mica spokesman said yesterday it is 'pleased' the centre's financial performance has improved over the years.

But the Government is reviewing the current framework to assess the feasibility of such heritage centres working with national museums to present Singapore's heritage more effectively.

The spokesman added that the review will take into account interest expressed last month by some members of the Indian community in an Indian Heritage Centre. Sources said the community also hopes for long-term Government funding for this.

Mica did not say when the review will be completed, but sources said it could be within two months.