myBALIKpulau – Arts-ED, PENANG (myBALIKpulau PROGRAMME)


This interpretation is based on the Archive Record Inventory of the “myBALIKpulau” Programme and participants’ recollections. Download the Archive Record Inventory. (PDF)


The programme was initiated by Arts-ED, a non-formal arts organisation for young people formed in 1999. In the year 2000, the organisation became a member of a Penang State-level working committee called the Penang Educational Consultative Council (PECC). The PECC was composed of representatives from formal and non-formal educational organisations with a mandate to tackle education issues which could not or may not be attended to by the Ministry of EducationArts-ED projects were initially funded by a small annual fund from PECCArts-ED subsequently became registered as a society in 2007, and positioned itself as a community-based heritage education programme providing innovative non-formal arts and heritage education for young people aged 12-23.

myBALIKpulau was one of two early ‘community-based’ programmes organised by Arts-ED. The first community-based programme entitled Anak-anak Kota was located in the urban innercity of George Town, Penang. myBALIKpulau was an attempt by Arts-ED to diversify its programming to a rural setting. Balik Pulau, an agrarian district in the south of Penang Island was selected as a work-site for the second community-based programme, which was carried out between the years 2005 and 2010. The 5-year programme involved approximately 100 young residents aged 10-16, who were recruited from several schools in the district of Balik Pulau.

The Balik Pulau district is composed of a historical town centre surrounded by several agrarian and coastal fishing villages. At the time of the programme, the natural environment, as well as the traditional economy of Balik Pulau was experiencing changes due to the rapid intrusion of modern housing development, and the opening of multinational factories in the nearby free-trade-zone.

As the Arts-ED team were not familiar with the town, much preliminary research was conducted and collated to understand the History of Balik Pulau (PDF). Discussions with older residents revealed that the district was beginning to face a problem of out-migration of young people. The young generation were attracted to career opportunities available in larger towns and cities and were not keen to continue with their traditional agrarian lifestyle. This issue was a catalyst to the programming of myBalikpulau projects. Arts-ED felt that some form of intervention was necessary to turn around young residents’ perceptions and to get them to appreciate the cultural heritage of Balik Pulau.

Supporting Archival Materials

Arts-ED. (2006) History of Balik Pulau


Producing Organisation(s): Arts-ED Penang (in cooperation with Pusat Internet Balik Pulau, Penang Heritage Trust [Persatuan Warisan Pulau Pinang] and Badan Warisan Malaysia [The Heritage of Malaysia Trust].

Programme Initiatior(s): Janet Pillai & Chen Yoke Pin

Instructor(s): Janet Pillai

Guest Instructor(s):  Liew Kung Yu, Sharon Chin, Gabrielle Bates, Yeoh Lai Heng, Aishah Baharuddin

Programme Lead: Janet Pillai & Chen Yoke Pin

Coordinator: Chen Yoke Pin

Funders: Penang Educational Consultative Council, UNESCO, DIGI

Partners: Local District Office, Rural Internet Centre, and the District Library.

Several non-governmental organisations such as Penang Heritage Trust (Persatuan Warisan Pulau Pinang) and the Malaysian Heritage Organisation (Badan Warisan Malaysia), were involved in specific projects.


Liew Kung Yu (Photography Project: mySELF, myFAMILY, myTOWN)

Sharon Chin and Gabrielle Bates (Drawing and Comic Animation Workshop)

Yeoh Lai Heng & Aishah Baharuddin (Interpretation Signage Project)

Kuah Li Feng (Community Newspaper Discover Balik Pulau)


The myBALIKpulau, programme was set up as a heritage education programme designed to help young people connect with their communal and environmental heritage. The programme involved 5 projects conducted in phases over 5 years and cumulatively resulted in is Mapping the cultural assets of Balik Pulau from 2005-2010 (PDF). These initiatives were conducted with several cohorts of young people in Balik Pulau who were taught creative ways to map, document and promote the history and cultural heritage of Balik Pulau; its heritage buildings, trades and local products such food, crafts, etc. Mapping and interpretation of the cultural heritage of Balik Pulau remained dominant goals throughout the programme.

The myBALIKpulau programme consisted of several varieties of projects. The structure and duration of each project was dependent on the commitment and experience of artists and participants. Structured longer term projects which involved careful planning between artists and facilitators were more impactful. These were possible only with smaller groups of participants (about 15-20), who were willing to commit for a duration of 3-4 months. There were also shorter artist-led workshops run by visiting artists which involved larger numbers of children over a 2 or 3-day period, and even shorter awareness building activities such as guided walks or site treasure hunts which lasted half a day.

Supporting Archival Materials for Programme History

Arts-ED. (2010). Mapping the Cultural Assets of Balik Pulau 2005-2010. 

Tan, Sin Chow and Ong, Yee Ting. (2006, February 9). Learning about heritage via art. The Star Metro

Arts-ED. (2006, March). Project Proposal: MyBALIKpulau – Phase 2, Balik Pulau Cultural Mapping Project

Arts-ED. (2008). Proposed Project for DiGi Amazing Malaysian Sustainable Fund 2007 – 2008 Cultural Heritage Promotional Items: A: myBalikpulau Cultural Heritage Treasure Map; B: myBALIKpulau Community Heritage Newsletter 

Arts-ED. (2008) Penang Heritage Trail Map 

Robinson, B., and Bishop, M. (2009). Discovering Balik Pulau. Heritage Asia, 5(4), 8-15. 

Chen, Y. P. (2009). Creating the Balik Pulau Trail. Heritage Asia, 5(4), 16-19. 

Arts-ED. (2010). myBALIKPULAU Discover Balik Pulau. 


“If heritage bodies like Badan Warisan Malaysia, Penang Heritage Trust and Arts-Ed (Arts in Heritage Education) had their way, everyone in the vicinity, from the youngest child drooling on his overalls to the toothy nenek stirring dodol in her kampong backyard, would be more acutely aware of the environment they live and work in.”

Mapping of Balik Pulau town. 
Tan, Emmeline. The Star Metro – 3rd March 2006. 

Familiarisation with Site and Community

Planning for a project in the unfamiliar site of Balik Pulau and with an unknown community was a challenge to the team. It required more than a month of exploration with Google Maps and tangible land maps (obtained from the land office), in order to understand and familiarise themselves with the people, the place, and the local economy. This was followed by daily visits to the town, to local schools, and to rural precincts to build a network of partners with school principals, local historians, and government officials. Facilities for workshops were also identified, the main ones being the Rural Internet Centre, the District Library and the old Land and District Office.

The myBALIKpulau programme underscored the strong involvement and inclusion of the larger community; families, local leaders, school teachers, government officials, etc. Being a rural community, social relations were strong and this provided a supportive environment for students conducting research, with the community displaying an eagerness to pass down information to the younger generation.

As this programme was focused on cultural heritage education, it was also important to have references to primary and secondary sources of knowledge of the area. Books, magazines, old pictures, and elderly members of the community were identified as resources. myBALIKpulau also required some level of expert human resource from the field of heritage, therefore the programme also involved Badan Warisan Malaysia and Penang Heritage Trust in some of the more complex projects. The team created and maintained a list of potential resources in Balik Pulau; including primary and secondary schools, resource persons, traders, venue sponsors, experts, etc.

Conceptualising the Projects:

The more successful projects were those that were conceptualised by the Arts-ED team in collaboration with guest experts or artists (e.g. Photography and Building Inventory projects). Another mark of a successful project were those which were formed on the foundations of the previous project,  by building upon the body of work, or the data obtained from a previous project, or by scaling up a project in order to obtain a greater body of data (e.g. Trail Map and the one-off Community Newspaper). Three elements were important for the success of a project; the organising team, facilitating artists, and experts have a contextual knowledge of the site and community; they are able to apply their knowledge and skills ‘in context’ when planning and programming; and activities are relevant and carry meaning for the particular age group.


Recruitment of participants for the projects was primarily done through the schools in Balik Pulau. After obtaining permission from the Department of Education, principals were briefed about the project objectives and a teacher was then assigned to attend to recruitment. Students from certain grades were called together by their teacher for a briefing by Arts-ED, after which they could choose to register for the project if they were interested. The process was repeated for each consecutive project in Balik Pulau, sometimes with different grades of success. Often, interested children from earlier cohorts stayed on as participants through several consecutive projects.

Exploration, skill-building and Art-making:

Almost all projects in this programme began with an introductory exploration of the site by participants. This exploration was conducted by participants walking the site or cycling through the site while making stops at interesting spots along the way. The explorations were sometimes led by the students themselves. For example, students who lived in far flung villages would lead students from town through their paddy fields and riverine territory; while participants living nearer or in town would lead a walk to places of significance to them, which was more likely to be shops and the built environment. Some projects began with (or were limited to) guided site tours led by the community or by facilitators.

Besides exploration of place, some of the more structured projects incorporated a skill training component. In the first photography project, skills such as basic visual vocabulary, technical skills in handling the camera, and printing and editing images on computer were incorporated as part of an introductory skill training workshop. Training also incorporated a workshop which taught the participants observation and interview techniques, before they went out to meet and document the community.

After acquiring some skills, participants were encouraged to move into the research phase. The main focus of research in each of the projects was the cultural assets of Balik Pulau; such as buildings, trades, food, crafts, lifestyle, people, family’s history, agricultural produce, history, etc. These assets were identified by the children or by members of the community. In the photography project children used mind maps to brainstorm what they perceived as assets, while in the science projects students were introduced to cottage industry by facilitators but made their choice on which of these they preferred to work on.

The next step was to observe and make inquiries as to the origins, history, evolution, function and users of the cultural assets. In simple terms, students were encouraged to inquire about and document the social, physical or livelihood aspects of people, places, and activities. During the data gathering process, students were encouraged from time to time to present their findings and observations to the group.


In most projects, the students were guided to synthesise (edit and recompose) the information they had gathered into a creative type interpretation using an artistic form. The output of each project varied depending on the medium which was introduced by the facilitator or artist; this ranged from photo essays to maps, newspapers, posters, and illustrations.

An exceptional aspect of the myBALIKpulau programme was the collaboration between children and adult artists and researchers. Students gathered and documented images and information on cultural assets, after which adult artists and researchers developed practical applications such as the map and community newspaper. These high quality interpretation materials became popular with visitors and have been reprinted by the local tourism office for the past 10 years.


Exhibitions were held at the project’s end to showcase the children’s findings, as well as to communicate knowledge and awareness of the cultural assets studied, to the community and visitors. Outreach exhibitions, presentations, and talks were held for the general community in public spaces such as the wet market, the District Land Office and in schools in Balik Pulau as well as in the ABN-AMRO gallery in George Town.

Supporting Archival Materials

Tan, Emmeline. (2006, March 3). Mapping of Balik Pulau town. The Star Metro.  

Robinson, B., and Bishop, M. (2009). Discovering Balik Pulau. Heritage Asia, 5(4), 8-15.

Chen, Y. P. (2009). Creating the Balik Pulau Trail. Heritage Asia, 5(4), 16-19. 


Click HERE for summaries of all myBALIKpulau projects


Photography- Myself, My Family, My Town, 2005 – 2006

Photography- Myself, My Family, My Town, 2005 – 2006

Heritage Building Inventory, 2006

Heritage Building Inventory, 2006

Interpretation Signage, 2009

Interpretation Signage, 2009