Fri, Apr 17, 2015 - Page 11 News List

Live Wire: Fighting fake culture

By David Frazier  /  Contributing reporter

Ko Wen-je’s administration has criticized creative and cultural parks like Huashan 1914 and Songshan Creative Park for being too commercial.

Photo: Dana Ter, Taipei Times

Since Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) became Taipei mayor late last year, his administration has produced a regular stream of startlingly direct announcements. The latest was a harsh critique of creative and cultural industries, in which the commissioner of the Taipei Department of Urban Development, Lin Jou-min (林洲民), declared Huashan 1914 Creative Park, Songshan Creative Park and several others to be “fake cultural parks” in a Facebook post on Sunday.

“To you CEOs who have no intention of fostering real creative industries, please get back in your black sedans and get out of Taipei! As long as you are here, Taiwan’s artists will forever be second class citizens,” he wrote.

Lin is right. Taiwan set out to develop “cultural parks” in the late 1990s, and for the most part they have now turned into cultural shopping malls. Huashan now rents the front lawn for beverage advertisements and the exhibition spaces are mostly inhabited by plug-and-play events for candy manufacturers, exhibitions of Beatles memorabilia and, on a good weekend, perhaps a National Geographic photo exhibition. There is no artistic community and a very limited sense that local arts groups have any investment or meaningful participation in these cultural parks.

Money grab

To a large degree, the exhibitions and events are put on by a new breed of professional event and exhibition groups that formed over the last decade in order to gobble up the new government budgets created to promote “cultural and creative industries” — a government project which has now become a buzzword. The Honhai Group, one of Taiwan’s richest companies and the manufacturer of iPhones and other Apple products, invoked the banner of “cultural and creative industries” to build a new building between Huashan and the Guanghua Computer Market, the Sanchuang Digital Life Plaza (三創數位生活園區). By waving the culture flag, one of the richest companies in Taiwan got the land on which the building is constructed for free. When the plaza opens in the next few months, Taipei will see that it is nothing other than an upscale shopping mall.

One of the problems is the conception of cultural and creative industries. In the minds of government and industry, every venture is supposed to make money immediately and every event is supposed to result in direct sales. This mentality is essentially that of a nation that understands manufacturing but little else. There is no sense that creativity needs room and freedom to incubate and grow.

This is why Taiwan will continue to lag behind South Korea and Japan, and it is also falling behind China, when it comes to creating films, music and other salable cultural products. Taiwan’s films are mostly considered unwatchable by international audiences, despite the legacy of Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢) and Taiwan’s new wave cinema in the 1990s. The pop music industry is dying and has little idea on how to manufacture new stars. The ongoing decline of Taiwan’s actual money-making cultural industries is all the more reason to protect places where the arts can flourish.

Taiwan gained a reputation for indie culture in the 1990s and 2000s, including the indie music scene, auteur cinema, experimental theater groups and artist-run art galleries, as well as the loose agglomeration of coffee shops, live houses and other businesses where creative types liked to hang out. This could not be found in Singapore or Hong Kong, where rents were too expensive.

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