In 1978 Wynne Spiegel, Anne Tofield, Sally Houseman and Fran Hamlin offered to organize a volunteer organisation for the National Museum with many different programmes for its members. Their offer was accepted and FOM was launched. FOM's initial programmes focused on Study Groups and lectures, to build expertise of Singapore's and the region's history and culture. Eight to nine such study groups ran concurrently throughout the year. In 1980, the first docent training programme was established with the first graduates completing the course in 1981. The first docent tours were launched thereafter.
During the 1980s FOM’s docent training courses, study groups, public lecture series and study tours—both local and international—attracted a growing and international membership. Museum tours quickly increased to one per day and Japanese-language tours were added in 1981. With the establishment of the National Heritage Board (NHB) in 1993 and the expansion of the museum sector, FOM’s focus on docent training intensified and included the addition of a weekend training course to accommodate working professionals. This group became the Museum Volunteers in 2004.
Our close partnership with the NHB’s museums was evidenced by the growth in the FOM docent community, which occurred in tandem with the opening of new museums. Today, a team of 600 FOM docents guides in nine museums and other cultural institutions.
Diversity is one of FOM’s hallmarks, with over 50 nationalities among its nearly 2000 members. Singaporeans make up the largest nationality group among museum guides. Docents provide regularly scheduled tours in French, Japanese and Korean as well as in German, Italian, Mandarin and Chinese dialects when called upon.
To advance knowledge in heritage and the arts, FOM provides not only guiding services, but also a wide range of member and public programmes. For 34 years, the weekly Monday Morning Lecture series has provided the public with first-rate talks on Asian topics. As a platform for scholars, researchers, artists, peripatetic travellers and passionate collectors, this series regularly fills the Ngee Ann Auditorium at ACM to overflowing.
Since the first study tour to Malacca in 1979, FOM has successfully organised 124 study tours to overseas destinations as diverse as Northern Pakistan, Sarawak, Egypt, Japan and Inner Mongolia. Singapore itself continues to be the focus of various FOM study, discussion and tour groups. Current programmes include behind-the-scenes visits with Explore Singapore! and Field Studies, during which participants organise a half-day tour. Asian writers and films are subjects of discussion among the FOM book and film groups.
In 2008, FOM established the annual FOM-NHB Heritage Grant to help strengthen the competencies and knowledge of Singapore’s museum professionals and to foster partnerships through short-term placements with museum counterparts overseas. FOM’s funds are matched by the NHB. In 1998 the Ministry of Information and the Arts recognised FOM for its many services with an Award of Appreciation.
FOM has been a member of the World Federation of Friends of Museums (WFFM) since 1985. FOM was twice elected to represent associate members on the WFFM Council (1998-2005 and 2011-14) and, with the Islamic Arts Museum, Kuala Lumpur, jointly organised the first regional Friends’ meeting in 2000. In 2007, FOM hosted the WFFM’s annual council meeting in Singapore.
The cultural landscape of Singapore has grown rapidly during the last decade, in both depth and breadth with inroads being made in developing the arts and in the call for heritage ownership. FOM continues to grow by expanding its scope of services beyond guiding and collaborating with the NHB, to the newly formed Visual Arts Cluster and other partners such as the National Library Board and the Economic Development Board at Gillman Barracks.