Celebration of culture

Two years on from George Town’s listing as a Unesco World Heritage Site, the newly established George Town World Heritage Office is planning a revamped and extended annual bash to celebrate the honour. Although acclaimed international festivals can brag about attracting tourists by the millions, the George Town Festival is set on winning the hearts and minds of Penangites first.

Buoyed by the 2009 celebrations, the George Town World Heritage Office (GTWHO) is planning a month-long series of events collectively known as the George Town Festival in close partnership with the public and private sectors, institutions and local chambers of commerce. As GTWHO’s general manager, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, observed, “There were just too many events to pack into a one-day celebration as in 2009. It makes much more sense to spread our celebrations over the month of July – the actual date of the inscription was July 7 – and to include existing festivals and events as part of the programme.

“It might seem very ambitious to jump from a one-day celebration to a month-long event but if we don’t start now, when will we start?” The ambitious programme centred on the theme “Community, Culture, Creativity” includes art exhibitions, concerts, theatre, dance, photography, public lectures, film screenings, fashion shows and, of course, food.

Maimunah is confident that the George Town Festival will add more vibrancy to the inner city, not just for the benefit of visitors to Penang but also for the inhabitants. “We could easily organise a one-day heritage festival at Padang Kota Lama (Fort Cornwallis) that attracts tens of thousands of people. But what are the lasting effects of this? I would like the planning for the festival to actively engage the people living in the World Heritage Site and to be a catalyst for creating a sustainable and livable city. My KPI for the George Town Festival is to improve the quality of life for the people who live there. The Unesco listing isn’t just for tourists. I believe that the more we connect with the inhabitants the more they will want to become involved and own the programme.

“Realistically speaking, it’s very hard to measure the impact of such a festival for George Town, although over time we may see trends such as increased hotel occupancy and airport visitor arrival figures for July. For now it is important that Penangites get involved in the celebrations whether they participate or visit, and talk about it with pride. Word of mouth is the most powerful way to publicise the festival. I want to hear Penangites getting excited about the festival and bringing their outstation friends!” Maimunah said.

The George Town Festival kicks off !

The George Town Festival running from July 1–31, 2010 includes an impressive line-up of over 50 programmes, featuring acclaimed local and international performers, artists, photographers, designers and writers.

Event venues will be scattered throughout historic George Town, immersing audiences in the city’s unique “living and breathing” heritage.

Some of the highlights include:
7th of July Heritage Zone Celebration
Heritage Trea-Shaw Hunt – organised by Penang Global Tourism.

Open House – heritage buildings including
traditional heritage shophouses and public buildings (town hall, city hall) will be opened to the public free of charge.

Heritage Street Festival
• Street performances such as Jazz @ the junction, various traditional craft and art stalls;
• Concert Night;
• Ghaffar Pourazar, an Iranian-born, British-raised former computer animator turned Chinese (Beijing) Opera performer. This art form is a mix of singing, acting, acrobatics, martial arts, and pageantry; and
• Indian Muslim Culture Celebration.

Theatre at the Town Hall
George Town’s iconic Town Hall becomes the venue for some exciting theatre. With Emily of Emerald Hill (directed by Saw Teong Hin), everybody’s favourite Nyonya is back, along with three actresses Leow Puay Tin, Pearly Chua and Neo Swee Lin putting on the famous beaded slippers!

Vision of Forever by Ramli Ibrahim, Sutra Dance
The sublime Ramli Ibrahim brings the beauty of Odissi to the stage.

George Town Ball
Time to dust off the handbags and the glad rags for the ball of the year at the historic E&O Hotel. Italian baritone Patrizio Franco Buanne promises to thrill audiences with his wide repetoire.

Screening of “The Red Kebaya” at The Blue Mansion
Just one of the many screenings of films shot in Penang.

Music concerts
Plenty of formal and open air concerts to keep music buffs happy, ranging from Jazz, opera and classical to Chinese orchestra music.

Art Exhibitions and installations
George Town’s many art galleries and various street settings will display the works of traditional and contemporary artists, including New York-based Leon Lim.

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