The Team Behind The Lion City’s Bicentennial Experience Story

Four officers from the Singapore Bicentennial Office share their favourite memories from being part of a team getting fellow citizens interested in reflecting on their country’s history.
Four officers of Singapore Bicentennial Office share their favourite memories.

PARTNERSHIPS 

Stephanie Foo
Senior Manager (Partnerships and Programmes)

The centrepiece of From Singapore to Singaporean: The Bicentennial Experience is a multimedia sensory show that takes visitors back in time to as far back as 1299 in Singapore’s known history.

Stephanie was a member of the Partnership team for the Singapore Bicentennial Office (SBO) who presented their plans to over 320 potential partners from various institutions. After more than a year of engaging the various sectors, the moment of finally seeing the visuals for the show was "unforgettable”.

But she first had to overcome a little hurdle. “In the beginning, I was totally caught off guard at how many people I engaged had difficulty understanding why the Singapore Bicentennial is positioned as a commemoration and not as a celebration,” she says.

“So, we explain to them that the Singapore Bicentennial is a prequel to SG50 and it offers an opportunity to look deeper into our rich 700-year history.” Her efforts quickly convinced many – in the private and public sectors, communities, associations, schools, and individuals – to get on board with the project.

From engaging big groups to meeting individuals, the experience of meeting people, Stephanie says, has helped her to become a better communicator and listener. 

Another key moment for her came at the official launch of the Singapore Bicentennial in January 2019, when more than 50 partner representatives lit up the steps of the River Terrace near the Asian Civilisation Museum. 

“I was amazed at how a group of 50 Singaporeans from different age groups, ethnicity, and backgrounds came together and endured hours of rehearsals,” she says. It created a bond among many of them, adds Stephanie, such as representatives from St. Andrew’s Cathedral and the Arab community who became good friends, especially those among the youths.

Needless to say, Stephanie treasures the relationships she has forged along the way with the Singapore Bicentennial partners and her colleagues. “Although most of us in the team came from various backgrounds and have different experiences, we have built a strong sense of identity and culture that is unique to the SBO,” she says.

Stephanie illuminated the River Terrace steps during the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial.
Stephanie poses with the light props that illuminated the River Terrace steps during the launch of the Singapore Bicentennial.
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Although most of us in the team came from various backgrounds and have different experiences, we have built a strong sense of identity and culture that is unique to the SBO.

CONTENT

Joshua Sim
Manager (Content & Exhibition) 

What if the key figures in Singapore’s history between the 13th and 20th centuries had Facebook or Twitter accounts?

This make-belief idea has been staged in the interactive online book, 700years.sg, fleshing out stories from over 700 years through the invented social media feeds of 25 major historical figures. It features luminaries from the first king of Singapore, Sang Nila Utama, and Stamford Raffles to early pioneers such as Lim Boon Keng, Naraina Pillai, and Syed Mohamed Alsagoff.

The interactive book is targeted at the masses, especially secondary school students, and delivers deeper insight into Singapore’s story across time. 

“In the era of social media, the intersection between the public and private lives of historical figures strikes a familiar chord to many people,” Joshua explains. “I found that piecing together different characters and events into an easily accessible format is key to getting young people interested in our history.”

As a researcher for the Singapore Bicentennial Office (SBO), Joshua curates SBO-led products, such as books, comics, videos, merchandise, websites, and exhibitions, in collaboration with several people.

The trained sociologist and researcher, who focuses on Singapore’s history, was drawn to the strong content that was planned for this commemorative project.

A key challenge, he says, was to extract information from thousands of pages of several publications for the climate exhibit at the atrium. “It tells the story of global forces and their impact on Singapore’s history. There are many elements including the rise and fall of empires, shifts in nature and population, and trade,” he explains. “It took much effort to compile their impact was on Singapore and piece them together chronologically.”

Sometimes innovative solutions were required to resolve certain conflicting accounts, like the fall of the Singapura Kingdom in the 14th century. As there is no consensus among historians, the team used masks to present both accounts without breaking the narrative arc.

Joshua holds up an iPad showing a shot from the interactive book 700years.sg
Joshua holds up an iPad showing a shot from the interactive book 700years.sg

PUBLICITY

Dawn Marie Quek
Senior Manager (Communications)

In the first week of January 2019 something extraordinary took place along the Singapore River – the statue of Stamford Raffles “vanishing” and its reappearance had statues of some of Singapore’s early pioneers alongside it.

Dawn is proud to be part of the team that staged the event. “It took quite a bit of effort to keep it under wraps before we owned up to the campaign,” she says. Dawn adds they had “nail-biting moments” that came during the year-end rainy season, which affected the timelines for painting and installing other statues.

“It was a rather bold move but we felt this campaign was important in setting the tone and framing the commemoration. It brings into question the ‘founder’ narrative and how it is not just about Sir Stamford Raffles, but of a wider cast of contributors,” she explains.

As part of the communications team, Dawn crafts the narrative and messaging behind the Singapore Bicentennial. They form the backbone of the overall media strategy, campaigns and publicity efforts to support the year-long commemoration.

She also manages creative projects and products that tell the Bicentennial story. These include the interactive book, 700years.sg, and three short films by local animation studio Robot Playground Media that are based on and titled after significant milestones: 1299, 1819, and the yet-to-be-released 2019

Being part of the SBO has given her a chance to handle project management from start to finish. This is a step up from her previous work in government communications, where she would typically be brought in “at the tail end” of a project to publicise the almost-finished product or policy.

She says a major challenge was to describe the Bicentennial Experience during media pitches because the event “is best experienced in person”. “But once we got the media down for the preview, the show spoke for itself.”

Dawn’s favourite moments is the installation of the statues of other contributors to Singapore by the Singapore River.
One of Dawn’s favourite moments is the installation of the statues of other contributors to Singapore by the Singapore River.
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It was a rather bold move but we felt this campaign was important in setting the tone and framing the commemoration.

VOLUNTEER MANAGEMENT

Nurulhuda Subahan
Volunteer Lead, Manager (Partnerships and Programmes)

The success of the Bicentennial Experience depends on a team of dedicated volunteers and Nurulhuda Subahan has been given the task of attracting more than 2,000 pairs of hands. She planned and developed the strategy to recruit and trained volunteers before deploying them to their respective assignments.

In short, she is the go-to person for volunteers of the Bicentennial Experience and attends to their welfare. But the road before Nurulhuda, though, was far from smooth and had a few bumps.

Among those she recalls is the training of the first batch of volunteers that was scheduled in early May, when most of the Pathfinder (outdoor pavilion) components for the multimedia sensory show were still under construction.

There were light-hearted moments too. “In one situation, the crowd broke into applause in encouragement of our storyteller after he finished because he had stage fright!”

Nurulhuda says she has gained much as a volunteer lead, from how to convince public agencies to pledge their staff as volunteers to honing her interpersonal skills in managing conflicts and the expectations of volunteers.

Her fondest memory from the Bicentennial Experience was when volunteers came forward to offer their gratitude after their training sessions and stints ended.

Some shared, she adds, that they had a meaningful experience and learnt a lot about Singapore in a short period of time. Many volunteers continue to keep in contact with her, and some even teared, telling Nurulhuda they would miss being part of the experience after the first run ended in October. “You know it was worth it when people tell you things like this,” she says.

Nurulhuda stands by the Volunteers Room where volunteers were briefed before they were deployed.
Nurulhuda stands by the Volunteers Room where volunteers were briefed before they were deployed.

The Bicentennial Experience continues till December 31, 2019, at Fort Canning. For more info: bicentennial.sg

  • POSTED ON
    Nov 29, 2019
  • TEXT BY
    Muneerah Bee
  • PHOTOS BY
    Kevin Yang
  • ART DIRECTION BY
    Yip Siew Fei
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