Fri, Feb 29, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Increasing the budget is not enough

By Tseng Dau-hsiong 曾道雄

IN THE FIRST televised presidential debate on Feb. 24, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidates talked about allotting more money to arts and culture -- one candidate talked about raising the budget for arts and culture to 4 percent of the government budget, while the other wanted to raise it to 5 percent.

But some artist friends who I watched the debate with did not seem to get very excited about this. We know that these budget increases rarely trickle down to the individual artists. A couple of large-scale official events and self-produced plays and the increase in budget is used up.

A more immediate problem for independent artists and performance troupes is the recent announcement by the National Chang Kai-shek Cultural Center that the cost of renting space at the National Theater and Concert Hall is being increased for private organizations.

Increasing subsidies for arts and cultural events is, of course, necessary, but the irregularities in the system must first be fixed. For example, when the cultural center wants to increase income and cut costs, it just shifts the costs onto private troupes that want to rent performance space. Article 5, Clause 3 of the organizational rules for the two national halls clearly stipulates that the board of directors are duty bound to raise funds. Most directors, however, are just sitting back and enjoying their position and doing nothing about their fund raising task. More serious, the quality of the programs produced by the cultural center is inconsistent. Money is often spent like water and there is no mechanism for storing and reusing stage equipment, which results in massive waste.

The play August Snow (八月雪), by French playwright and Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian (高行健), required tens of millions of dollars to produce. Both the pan-blue and the pan-green camps criticized this, but the government was very pleased with the production while subsidies to outstanding independent troupes lacking funds falls far short of their needs. And now the management of the cultural center is considering exploiting them further by increasing their rent.

Ending this waste of cultural resources should also include eliminating superfluous institutions. The Chinese National Cultural Association was a relic of an era when the Three Principles of the People were expected to save China. When the DPP gained power, it removed the word "Chinese" from the association's name, but this was only a superficial change. The association continued its business under the name "National Cultural Association" and continues to use up the Council for Cultural Affairs' (CCA) budget.

The two presidential candidates should consider whether such superfluous institutions should be dissolved or merged with the CCA.

In order to revive cultural activities and revive the private cultural knowledge industry, budget increases should bypass government institutions and directly subsidize talented artists and independent troupes. The most substantive measure would be to give a big increase in funds to the National Culture and Arts Foundation so that the subsidies applied for by independent artists can be effectively used.

Lastly, the two presidential candidates must understand that before they increase cultural subsidies, they should change official attitudes, establish a "normal" system and eradicate malpractice to solve systemic problems, in particular by putting an end to issuing political rewards that corrupt the future of the arts and the cultural development of the nation.

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