Interpretation is based on Archive Record Inventory of the programme, entitled: “ANAK ANAK KOTA, Arts-ED” as well as participants’ recollections. Download the Archive Record Inventory (PDF)



Influential factors leading to the creation and evolution of the Programme

From the 1800s until the 1940s the port of George Town thrived as an entrepôt, attracting a multicultural maritime and business population from Europe and Asia. George Town inherited a built and living heritage legacy from these early settlers, and thrived on its free port status and tourism up to the late 60s. In 1969 the loss of free port status led to closure of businesses and out-migration. Heritage buildings fell to disuse as the town centre hollowed out.

In 2000, as an incentive for building owners to repair their dilapidated properties, the government removed rent control which allowed building rentals to be increased. Many owners took this opportunity to evict their long-term low-income tenants and began to tear down or renovate iconic shophouses and warehouses. The Penang Heritage Trust (PHT), began a campaign pressing for the conservation and protection of these buildings and tenanted communities. Together with concerned citizens and professionals they began to initiate research, documentation, and education on heritage.

In the year 2001, Arts-Ed, a non-profit organisation providing arts education for young people, joined the cause to safeguard heritage through a heritage education programme named Anak Anak Kota (Children of the City).


Programme Instructor(s): Janet Pillai
Producing Organisation(s): Arts-ED, Penang
Partners: Penang Heritage Trust, Penang Education Consultative Council (PECC), Pusat Warisan Pulau Pinang



Arts-ED was set up informally in 1999 under the Penang Educational Consultative Council. After its inception, the organisation initiated its first programme entitled ‘Artists in Schools’ where artists led a variety of non-formal workshops for students and teachers in schools and community centres in the state of Penang. Anak-anak Kota (AAK) or Children of the City was the second programme initiated by Arts-ED. Launched in 2001, the objective of AAK was to provide a heritage education programme for young residents which would complement the conservation efforts being undertaken by the adult-run heritage groups.



In the first year of the AAK programme (2001) young residents aged 6-12 were recruited from among the diverse ethnic communities living within the historic inner-city of George Town. In this early period, participants were recruited through word of mouth or through door to door visits in the town.

In the later years of the AAK programme (2002-2004), as the residential population in the town depleted, students from peripheral schools were recruited with permission from the local education department. These schools catered to the local population as well as to the peripheral population outside the inner-city. Upon recruitment, students themselves or parents (rather than the schools) were directly responsible for the student’s continued attendance in the project.

On-site Learning

All projects were conducted on-site using the city as a classroom. Inner-city George Town provided a classic example of the perfect learning environment for heritage education because of its rich architectural heritage and its active living heritage where trades, crafts, cultural rituals, and practices proliferated. Tangible and intangible heritage were functionally interwoven and communities were willing and responsive transmitters of local knowledge.

Launch of Anak-anak Kota Programme (2001).

The AAK Programme widened the scope of Arts-ED’s programming into the environment and community (beyond the limits of the classroom). This immediately gave more meaning and function to art and learning as resources such as workspace, skilled craftsmen/artisans, tools, information resources, materials, design, and product began to expand.

Establishing Partnerships

The programme had to conceive of new relational structures to facilitate students’ access to these resources normally denied/unavailable in schools. With much effort, a network of people and organisations was established; institutions, artists, members of the community, experts, schools, non-governmental organisations, and the private sector. The organisation contacted the various stakeholders, explained the program, noted their potential contribution, and solicited their help when required.

For example, space support came from the state-run and the local Clan Houses. Workspace in the city was solicited from the state’s Pusat Warisan (Heritage Centre), clan associations, temples, or inner-city schools. Expertise was sourced from Penang Heritage Trust, local historians, and conservation architects. Artists were sourced from University Sains Malaysias School of Arts and local Arts Colleges. Art materials were sponsored by the Penang Educational Council or donated by inner-city stationary shops.

Strong partnerships were established particularly with heritage organisations that shared similar goals. As a result, Arts-ED became involved in several independent initiatives with these organisations, which aimed at safeguarding and promoting heritage.

Curriculum and Programming

AAK offered a wide variety of projects. Children could participate in half-day Interactive Walks, 5-10 day Artistic Workshops or month-long Research Projects. Short projects minimally aimed to raise student’s appreciation and awareness of heritage while longer projects focused on creative skills as well as involving students in efforts to promote or safeguard heritage.

Rather than being given information, children were taught basic skills and frameworks, which they applied in the field to discover things through observation, interviews, and apprenticeships. Each project had carefully built-in tasks and incentives to stimulate the child’s curiosity and interest. Students were encouraged to interact with the wider community through tasks such as observation, research, and documentation. The unprecedented expansion of boundaries stimulated innate instincts towards self-discovery and self-directed learning. Arts skills were taught as part of the project and students were encouraged to give creative presentations on their findings, or design new products based on traditional knowledge.

Group sharing, evaluation, and critique were practiced at each stage, with the intention to evaluate learning. Exchanges of stories depicting extraordinary experiences, new relationships forged with residents, or failures in missions were encouraged through self-evaluation and peer-evaluation.

Outcomes from Students Projects

Each project with young people terminated with a creative presentation, demonstration or exhibition charting both the processes and products of students’ learning. These presentations were usually located on the street or in public spaces which the community could easily access. The demonstrations and exhibitions were targeted to fellow participants as well as to residents of the inner-city, craftsmen, artisans, etc. They provided an opportunity for the participants to evaluate the process they had undergone, their learning experiences, and their contribution to safeguarding heritage.

For the residents who often took their heritage occupations and surroundings for granted, interactions with the young people in the programme and viewing their exhibitions/performances/products became an exercise in introspection. As much as the AAK programme culled from the city, it returned to the people, for them to reflect upon themselves and their legacies.

The single consistent aspect of the various programmes was that the participants were constantly in touch with the real world of objects, people, and spaces; which served as their basic models for learning instead of standard institutionally produced curriculum, restricted educational tools and materials, and simulated environments. Since moving out of schools into the real environment, Arts-ED has become aware that learning is not merely the result of instruction but more the result of participation in a meaningful setting.

Outcomes from Projects with Partner Organisations

From 2004-2006, Arts-ED produced a community newsletter entitled Kota Kita in collaboration with Penang Heritage Trust and Penang Heritage Consultancy with the support of State and Local Authority funds. Produced in 3 languages, the newsletter was distributed to every household in the heritage site. The content illustrated and described the elements of tangible and intangible heritage using vernacular visual language, as well as creative works by participants of the AAK projects, and was designed to raise residents’ knowledge about their legacies and how to safeguard them. Articles were contributed by heritage organisations, Arts-ED staff, and the by student participants.

Supporting Archival Records

Pillai, J. (2004). Non-Formal Arts Education – New Relational Structures to Facilitate Access to Resources

Paper for UNESCO Expert Symposium on Arts In Education Asia “Measuring the Impact of Arts in Education” Hong Kong 2004


Click HERE for summaries of all Anak-Anak Kota  projects


Endangered Trades and Traditional Foods Workshop (2001-2003)

Endangered Trades and Traditional Foods Workshop (2001-2003)

Stories on the Wall (2002)

Stories on the Wall (2002)

Signboard Making for Traditional Trades (2002)

Signboard Making for Traditional Trades (2002)


Anak-anak Kota Roundtable Discussion (Video)

Participants in the discussion: Bee Saik, See Tho, Sheau Fung, Hun Meng, and Pearly Lim