It was the night before Charlie Wu
Financial planner-turned-cultural event organizer, Wu was recently listed by the Vancouver Sun as one of the top 100 Chinese-Canadians who are making a difference in British Columbia for building TCF into a significant cultural event in Canada.
Originally a music concert held in 1990, the Taiwanese festival expanded to an arts and cultural event, but was a low-key affair until 2001 when Wu stepped in and transformed the conventional event into a carnival-like big party that has seen attendance leap from a few thousand to tens of thousands.
Last year, Vancouver’s Plaza of Nations and Roundhouse Community Center were again packed with kaleidoscopic activities and performances by groups such as Taiwan’s pop/rock outfit Won Fu
This year’s three-day extravaganza, held in a new venue in Toronto, saw a record attendance of nearly 70,000 and won the Best Cultural Event Award from the Canadian Event Industry Award for the fifth straight year.
Working with a team, the members of which have an average age of under 30, the 36-year-old leader wants the event to demonstrate Taiwan’s forward-looking energy and creativity that young generations can identify with.
“The generation gap is a big issue … . It’s all too often that Taiwanese cultural events abroad are like educational programs. It’s like this thing for our fathers’ generation, so naturally young people distance themselves from such gatherings. My thinking is that we don’t need to educate people in three days, but to bring in Taiwanese culture to let visitors experience it and have fun so that young people can say ‘Ya, this is our show,’ and the old generation can say ‘hey, we can let the young people take over now,’” Wu said.
However, with solid academic training in marketing and finance, Wu understands too well that to showcase Taiwanese culture, unfamiliar to most members of the public in Canada, effective strategies are needed.
“Culture needs people’s involvement. You need to be able to move people and more will join … . The term culture should be loosely defined so that people of different interests can find inspiration from the multiple aspects of Taiwanese culture, not just limited to high arts,” Wu said.
A cultural researcher, Wu has returned to his homeland once a year for the past four years to search for topics to export to the Canadian festival.
Wu knows a good cultural export when he sees one.
Take the Barbie and Me exhibition for example, Wu stumbled upon the existence of the Barbie Museum in Taishan Township, Taipei County
The exhibition about how a small town in Taiwan produced half of the world’s Barbie dolls from the 1960s to the 1980s proved to be a sensational hit, earning huge mainstream media coverage and an invitation to this year’s Cultural National Exhibition, the world’s sixth biggest fair.
On discovering 10 broken dragon boats near Sun Moon Lake
From 2001’s outdoor temple fair to the dragon boat races began in 2003, Wu has been inspired by what he calls the “turning-off-the-light theory.”
“When you turn the light off, you can no longer see the limits that stop you from going forward. This way you can jump the existing frame, asking yourself ‘what else can I do, and look for new potential,” Wu said.
In the eyes of other leaders of overseas Taiwanese communities, TCF provides a successful model for similar events. Ten permanent members of staff are employed to work on the festival with an annual budget of NT$30 million.
“Mainstream organizations are unwilling to work with non-profit, voluntary-based groups because the risk factor is high. So we need to show them that we are a professional event-planning group and convince them there will be maximum profits … . We also take the initiative to exchange resources with other groups so that everybody involved can benefit from the whole thing without added expense. It’s a win-win situation,” Wu said.
Like a daring entrepreneur, Wu refuses to be limited by the funding resources at his disposal. “We don’t need cash to do everything. We just need to be creative,” Wu said.
The lantern festival Wu and his team helped to organize in the small village of Cumberland on Vancouver Island was extremely popular.
With a population of about 2,500, the town saw around 12,000 tourists flock to visit the festival last year and 25,000 this year.
“It’s rather moving to see a community that has nothing to do with Taiwan welcome its cultures and gain from it. I think it is multiculturalism at its best,” Wu said.
Now spending lots of time traveling around North American cities to share his experience with local communities, Wu believes culture is the best platform to bring people together. “Taiwan is a multicultural country and cultures are not dead things but constantly flowing,” said the Taiwanese Canadian who is not only proud of his Taiwanese roots but also wishes to make a contribution to his chosen homeland.
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