'Apply for grant to promote Johor's rich cultural heritage'

Raja Selan (left) and Arulmigu Rajamariamman Devasthanam temple trustee R. Sethupathi arranging showcased items at the Indian Heritage Centre.

JOHOREANS are excited about the overall improvement of the Sungai Segget area and now look forward to more fun and creative activities in the city centre.

One of them is 34-year-old public relations officer Dawson Yeang, who says the area could become a backdrop to more meaningful programmes and activities in the future.

He added that efforts to promote Johor Baru’s rich culture and heritage should not be solely the government's responsibility and that it also required the local community's participation and commitment.

The RM1mil Downtown Johor Baru Grants Programme, introduced by the Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA), he said, was a good initiative to promote heritage, arts and culture as well as empower the local communities, especially the younger generation.

“Non-governmental organisations (NGO) and activists should take the opportunity to apply for the grant to organise more arts, heritage and culture-related contents and signature events to attract locals and tourists to the area.

“Through various interesting programmes, they can then encourage people to appreciate and understand the historical and heritage values of Johor Baru such as the development of Johor Baru from the Sir Sultan Abu Bakar era and how Sungai Segget was an important spine in the city’s history,” he said.

Yeang added that public and private sectors could also forge smart partnerships with the local communities and NGO through their corporate social responsibility funds to hold programmes.

Postgraduate student Norafisyah Ahmad, 29, suggested that a common space or public area be set up to hold weekly creative events and activities for the public

“Johor is known for its traditional zapin and kuda kepang performances. Johor Baru is also the birthplace of the 24 Chinese festive drums.

“I think such Johor specialities can be showcased at the communicable area for the public to enjoy and participate,” she said, adding that the place could be turned into a tourist destination.

“Shopping malls have regular fun activities to attract visitors to the premises. Similar efforts can be done for the downtown area too,” she said.

Norafisyah, who is pursuing a master’s degree in architecture, also said she would share information on the grant programme with her coursemates who have been researching on ways to promote the downtown Johor Baru area.

Arulmigu Rajamariamman Devasthanam president V. Raja Selan said the grants programme was timely as the temple would be opening its Indian Heritage Centre in October.

The double-storey centre, located within the temple grounds in Jalan Ungku Puan, was aimed at promoting the Indian community’s rich culture and history.

“Construction of the centre which started in 2019, was completed in August last year but there was a delay in the opening due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are looking forward to applying for the grant to fund our opening ceremony and educational efforts once it is open to the public.," he said, adding that the RM1.5mil centre, and the temple, which is the oldest Hindu temple in Johor Baru, would complement the Sungai Segget project.

Raja Selan, who is also the heritage centre’s deputy chairman, said visitors from all races and background could look forward to exhibitions and displays such as a the golden chariot and important documents and artefacts at the heritage centre.

“There are many stories of the Indian community waiting to be discovered, such as how the ancestors travelled from India by sea to settle down in Malaya as well as the community’s contribution to the development of Johor Baru.

“Visitors and students can also discover unique practices that are lost in today’s world such as how fresh milk in glass bottles were delivered by men on bicycles back in the day,” he added.Tan says a city has to have life otherwise it will just be an empty shell. Tan says a city has to have life otherwise it will just be an empty shell.

Cultural activist Tan Chai Puan, who is also one of the two creators of the 24 Chinese festive drums in 1988, said the grant would help stimulate the local people’s involvement in preserving the arts and culture.

The Sungai Segget rejuvenation and the grant, he said, would make Johor Baru a more lively and vibrant destination comparable to Penang’s George Town.

“A city has to have life otherwise it will just be an empty shell.

“There used to be an annual JB Arts Festival to celebrate the arts, culture, heritage and music but it stopped with the passing of its founding couple Yap Siong Cheng and Suzie.

“We need more substantial content to attract people to the city, be it locals, tourists or even student groups,” he said.

Aside from public art such as murals and paintings, events such as workshops and festivals could draw in the crowds as well, he added.

Tan has planned for a festival to promote Johor Baru’s arts, heritage and culture and would be discussing with the relevant bodies about applying for the grant soon.

“Sungai Segget is a strategic setting for such events because along the strip, there are hotels, shopping malls, banks and eateries.

“I am also looking at involving the old Broadway Theatre and Jalan Tan Hiok Nee in my festival. In that way, we can link the old and new parts of Johor Baru together,” he said.

More activities such as the recent outdoor handicraft market at the Jalan Tan Hiok Nee heritage walk should be organised to motivate artists and craftsmen to continue pursuing their art, added Tan.

“In the past, such artists have felt unappreciated. It is time that we create more opportunities to bridge the gap,” he said.

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