The Star Pitt St is fast becoming a familiar name within George Town’s arts and culture community.
VISITORS to George Town mill about on the ground floor at 9am, waiting for heritage walks to begin. On the first floor, apprentices tarry and chat, waiting for their masters to arrive and endow them with more know-how in the lore of antiquated arts. Up on the top floor, young musicians are taking out their instruments – violins, cellos, oboes, trombones, flutes, every musical apparatus conceivable – and ready for the day’s rehearsal.
This is going to be the everyday scene at the newly-refurbished The Star Pitt St, where arts, culture and heritage finds a home in the city’s Unesco-recognised heritage enclave.
The heritage walks will be conducted three times a week and tourists can sign up in advance, said Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) president Khoo Salma Nasution.
“We’ll get them to converge here and take them on walks throughout the heritage enclave.”
Through a collaboration agreement with PHT, The Star has granted the use of their old headquarters, now proudly called The Star Pitt St, as the hub of George Town’s arts and culture. What used to be The Star’s advertisement department and printing plant on the ground floor is now an expansive chamber stretching from Pitt Street to Queen Street at the back of the building.
Penang-based publisher Areca Books runs a gallery shop in the chamber and visitors will also be able to view the Penang Story display of exhibits and historical accounts of the city’s rise from a colloquial hubble to a thriving metropolis of historical gems. The exhibition display on the ground floor is a new modular setup developed by Sue Hodges Productions, which has completed over 100 museum and heritage-based projects worldwide in the last 14 years.
Hodges said the design is highly adaptable, featuring a flexible system of modules that can display a variety of content such as images, text and 3D objects.
“The system combines custom-designed aluminium extrusions and acrylic panels. They will be internally lit to create a vibrant and eye-catching display,” she said.
“Activities for the Penang Apprenticeship Programme for Artisans is upstairs. We have an exhibition space and incubators for apprentices to refine their skills,” said Khoo. The PHT has unearthed about 20 masters of traditional crafts still practising their arts in George Town and they will be invited to The Star Pitt St to share their skills with apprentices. These include makers, carvers, tailors, artists and specialists in wood signboard carving, rattan goods, silk lanterns, beaded Nyonya slippers, kebaya dresses, paper figurines, songkok, Islamic and Chinese calligraphy, gold and silversmithing, Chinese incense sticks, cheongsam, clogs, traditional perfumes and spice-grinding.
“They have been practising the traditional arts and crafts for generations. Their methods have not changed for decades. We are going to hold workshops and programmes for people to learn from them. What we are eager to see is how the younger generation will benefit from these lessons and what their young minds will innovate after grasping the traditional arts,” said Khoo.
She added that the first floor houses a Penang Reading Room and dedicated spaces for serious researchers and small seminar facilities for medium-sized workshops of 50 to 100 people. Meanwhile, the top floor of The Star Pitt St is already the talk of the town since last August.
The Penang Philharmonic (PP) received a 5+2-year rent-free lease to use it as their home and they have been actively holding a variety of concerts in the auditorium large enough for orchestras of up to 80 musicians.
“The orchestra is but the face of the city. We are so happy and grateful to The Star for offering the space to us. It’s a dream come true,” smiled PP chairman Datin Seri Irene Yeap. Yeap, an architect, said the roof of The Star Pitt St has rows of clerestory windows – Roman-style openings high overhead just beneath the roof – and she had them fitted with fused glass. “The high ceiling creates natural and excellent acoustics for our auditorium,” she enthused.
Besides orchestra and chorus, the society also groups jazz and percussion players. The PP’s facilities also include a large waiting room, musician’s lounge, dressing rooms and a violin vault backstage. The Star Pitt St is a collaborative effort between The Star, PP and Think City, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Khazanah Nasional to spearhead community based urban regeneration in Penang.
Visit fb.com/TheStarPittStreet for more details and event dates.