Between 2001 and 2003, a series of 3 workshop projects were conducted by Arts-ED in collaboration with Penang Heritage Trust, where students researched endangered trades and traditional foods in inner-city George Town via interviews, observations, and apprenticeships. Data was collected on the history of the traders, their processes and products, and was documented in the form of illustrated brochures. In 2003 and 2005, 2 trail maps were created which linked all 17 selected trades and foods on a walking tour.

Brochure 3

Brochure 2

Interpretation is based on archival records and memory recollection of participants.

Download the Archive Record Inventory (PDF)


1.1 Programme Name

Anak- Anak Kota, 2001-2005

1.2 Project Title

Endangered Trades and Traditional Foods, 2001-2003, 2005

1.3 Context and Objective

The lifting of the Rent Control Act in inner-city George Town in 2000 saw many long-time tenants evicted by building owners and the influx of modern businesses and products. The eviction of long-time communities and residents, as well as the increase in building rentals had a grave impact on intangible heritage in the inner-city. Many small traders and craftsmen experienced a drop in demand for their products, and many could hardly afford the rising rental prices. These factors were compounded by their advancing age, and influenced their decision to cease work and move to cheaper lodgings outside the city. Those that remained and were unable to innovate their craft or trade to modern use, continued working but discouraged their children from pursuing their occupation.

The exposure of students to Endangered Trades and Traditional Foods was to raise students’ awareness and appreciation of the local knowledge and skills of traditional craftsmen and artisans, as well as understand their trades in relation to cultural and historical contexts. The second objective was to document and promote the endangered trades and craftsmen in historic George Town to the general public.

1.4 Project Description

A series of 3 research projects on endangered trades and foods were carried out by Arts-ED over a 2-year duration. The research was done in collaboration with Penang Heritage Trust. Different batches of students researched endangered trades and traditional foods in inner-city George Town via interviews, observations, and apprenticeships. Data was collected on the history of the traders, their processes and products, and was documented in the form of illustrated brochures. Two trail maps were later created which illustrated a walking tour linking all 17 trades and foods (Living Heritage Trails of George Town in 2003 and Traditional Trades and Foods of George Town 2005).

1.5 Source Material

Participants relied heavily on primary sources of information, including observation of the craftsmen, and conducting interviews.

1.6 Producing Organisation

Anak-Anak Kota, Arts-ED
Penang Heritage Trust (PHT)

1.7 Project Initiators

Ho Sheau Fung (PHT) and Janet Pillai (Arts-ED)

1.8 Project Instructors

Endangered Trades Research (2001)
Facilitators: Janet Pillai & Katharine Chua

Traditional Foods Research (2002)
Facilitators: Ang Bee Saik, Liza Lee

Endangered Trade Brochures (2002)
Coordinator: Ho Sheau Fung
Facilitators: Tawfik Hidayat, Yeoh Ching Loon
Illustrator: Shari Chong

Traditional Trades Trail Map (2003)
Coordinator: Katharine Chua
Designer: William Chong

1.9 Participants

Endangered Trades 2001

SMK Lebuh Light 13-14 6 participants
St. Xavier’s 13-14 4 participants
SMK Methodist Girl School 13-14 1 participants

Traditional Foods – 2002

SMK St George 13-14 3 participants
SMK Convent Green Lane 13-14 5 participants
St Xavier’s 13-14 1 participant
Individual 13-14 1 participant

Endangered Trades Trail – 2002

SMK Convent Light Street 13 – 14 1 participant
SMK Chung Hwa 13 – 14 1 participant
SMK Convent Green Lane 13 – 14 6 participants
SMK Methodist Girl School 13 – 14 2 participants
SMK Methodist Boy School 13 – 14 1 participant

1.10 Events and Activities

Workshops Phase 1
1 Nov-1 Dec 2001 Cheah Kongsi, and around town George Town Participants research and document 6 endangered trades.
Design, Publication and Launch
May 2002 Participant Shari Chong designed hand-drawn brochures based on students raw documentation
2 June 2002 Launch at the traders’ shops George Town Launch of participants’ brochures on 6 Endangered Trades
13-23 November 2002 (Trades)

16-27 November 2002 (Food)

George Town George Town A new set of participants researched and documented an additional 5 trades and 7 traditional foods.
23 Mac 2003 Penang Caring Community Centre Demonstration and talk on traditional trades to Penang Association for Continuing Education (PACE)
15 April 2003 Cheah Kongsi George Town Demonstration on traditional trades in an event for UNESCO heritage experts.
Workshop Phase 2
Mac – Nov 2003 George Town Research and documentation of an additional 5 trades
Design and Publication
29 November 2003


Street launch- fronting Masjid Kapitan Keling George Town Launch of a hand-drawn trail map Living Heritage Trails of George Town  by Arts-ED  
Redesign and Publication
2005 Design & printing of Traditional  Trades and Food Trail Brochure (by PHT & Arts ED)
2008 and 2009 Updating of information and reprinting of  Traditional  Trades and Food Trail Brochure

1.11 Promotional Material/Catalogue/Programme


1.12 Final Script/Final Curriculum


1.13 Multimedia Documentation

Video documentation of Endangered Trades and Traditional Foods and Conservation Education Research in 2002, showing students being introduced to traders, conducting interviews and apprenticeships with the traders, producing documentation in the form of a hand-made brochures, as well as testing the prototype brochures on the public.

Title: One-Month Research Projects – Traditional Trades & Heritage Conservation
Artistic Director: Janet Pillai
Video by: Ambiga Devy, Ho Sheau Fung

1.14 Previews and Reviews


1.15 Publications

This research resulted in several printed brochures on 17 traditional traders and 2 trail maps on traditional trades and foods of George Town which can be viewed below.

1.16 Photographs

Soft copies of the photos are available in the AEAM repository.

1.17 Final report/Evaluation



Refer to Art Making Process.


Introduction to site and research skills

Initially participants were provided with a guided tour or talk, and audio visual resources which give them an overview of the local culture, history, geography, and livelihood of early migrants who settled in the locality. From this initial exposure students developed an understanding of the historical context of the various cultural communities and the types of trades practiced by these communities. Students were then taught research and documentation skills such as observation, interviewing, and notetaking. These skills were introduced into the process as and when necessary.

Data Collection & Documentation
In the second phase, participants (together with the facilitator) identified crafts and trades which were endangered and therefore needed to be documented and promoted. Participants worked in pairs, with each pair choosing to research one trader. They observed and interviewed traders, as well as apprenticed with the trader to learn some of the very basic trade skills, so that they could have a better grasp of the subject matter and materials.

Participants next went on to document the trader using various creative tools such as sketching, illustration, photography, and writing. All aspects of the craft or trade were documented using guidelines provided by the facilitator. This guideline included documenting the trader and trade history, processes, materials and tools, range of products, and uses of the products.


Students observe and apprentice with traders.

Creative Outputs
Using the information collected, each student pair designed a prototype brochure for their trader and presented their draft brochure to the trader for verification. Draft brochures were later redesigned and standardised by the more artistic participants. Brochures were specifically printed in the English language for visitors to understand and appreciate the trade, as the traditional traders spoke only local dialects and could not communicate with many visitors. The printed brochures were placed in the shops of each trader.

Brochures covers made for 3 trades

The inside of brochures depicting history of trader, tools and processes

To demonstrate the safeguarding and promotion of intangible heritage, participants gave demonstrations of the skills they learnt from the traders to a public audience which included visiting UNESCO representatives.

Public demonstration of basic skills learned from trader through apprenticeship

Several reiterations of this project was carried out in later years, which resulted in the final documental of 17 endangered trades and foods in the year 2005. Arts-ED commissioned a graphic artist to design a self-guided walking trail brochure entitled ‘Traditional Trades and Foods of George Town’ specifically for local/foreign visitors, based on the information researched by young participants over the programme’s 3 years. The walking trail and accompanying map directs visitors to all the 17 traders/craftsmen. In 2009, Arts-ED updated the maps to reflect current information on the trades and traders.


Traditional Trades and Foods of George Town” trail map designed by Goh Hun Meng (inside and outside)

The whole process allowed for intergenerational exchange to take place; with the young participants infusing new energy into the traders, while the older traders transmitted their knowledge and skills to the children. The project enhanced visitors’ knowledge and appreciation of local trades and craft. More surprisingly, the constant stream of visitors and publicity boosted the pride of traders and craftsmen, encouraging them to revitalise their craft or trade as seen from their increased productivity, repackaging, and increased interaction and communication with visitors to explain their craft or trade.


Shari Chong
Participant – Anak-anak Kota 

I was a participant but I remember being involved in all sorts of phases of the project. That included research, interviews, site visits, facilitator and interviewer training, documentation and ultimately visual translations in comic-style illustrations. Because ever since I was involved in Red & Gold Shoes I was hooked on integrated arts programmes and I came back every year – sometimes multiple times a year – to participate in Janet’s projects until I left for Singapore to pursue my university studies.

I remember specifically the trainings that I underwent for interviewing and facilitating skills. They were the most uncomfortable for me back then but I have benefited and honed those skills in so many ways until today. In terms of visual arts, I wasn’t trained specifically during the project but I was given the freedom and encouragement to explore and play with ideas and materials.

I wasn’t very sure what was going on when I first participated, but I was closely guided through the sessions by Janet and the other artists/facilitators. I think as a teenager, at the time, I wasn’t clear yet what devising was or how the art-making process would turn out in the end – I was very much into it because I admired the people I was working with and I was excited to be part of something where I could be free and creative. I liked that my ideas were considered and that I was, at many junctures, “forced” to think for myself. It was totally different from being in school and expecting to be told what I should do. Here, I was expected to think and present my ideas. It was terrifying but liberating at the same time and set me up to incorporate this into my own practice as an educator. 

My response was a balance of being pushed out of my comfort zone and having to do things that scared and frustrated me and being so happy and satisfied at the end because I stuck it out. I learnt visual translations of researched materials and I loved performing. That exhilaration you get at the end of every performance, the satisfaction of a job well done and being able to celebrate with like-minded quirky people who accepted you. It’s addictive and life-changing. 

It was the bedrock of who I am to day as a lifelong learner, an artist, a creator and an educator. It opened my eyes at a very young age to how education doesn’t just come from tuition and school. It taught me how being “creative” and “artistically talented” means nothing without hard work and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. I believe the projects helped to cultivate the Arts & Culture scene in Penang that lives and thrives up to today. I am very proud to have been part of the process.