The focus of the presidential campaign turned to culture and arts funding on Thursday, and, while it was great that such a subject was thought worthy of presidential involvement, it also showed what has long been wrong with cultural administration in Taiwan.
The three candidates spent an hour offering their ideas and taking questions at an event sponsored by the Preparatory Institute of the Foundation of the Inaugural Year for Culture, and without getting into the specifics of what the candidates pledged, the name of the event’s sponsor sums up what is wrong with the cultural industry in this nation: It’s too bureaucratic — and too political.
It is great that the government supports the arts, but far too often the running of arts programs is left to politicians or others who have no background, and sometimes very little interest, in arts administration, theater, dance, music or the other forms of art.
For example, the government, over several administrations, has spent a lot of money building cultural centers and performance venues, but these centers are underutilized, because the funding has focused on the facilities, not what goes on in them.
Funding has also become very political, with little regard to long-term planning, which is the key to arts management. Former Council of Cultural Affairs minister Emile Sheng (盛治仁) lost his job because the amount of money spent on the rock musical Dreamers (夢想家) — NT$215 million (US$7.1 million) — was excessive for a show that ran for just two nights as part of the Double Ten National Day and Republic of China centennial celebrations.
However, one of Sheng’s predecessors, former council chairwoman Wong Chin-chu (翁金珠), came under attack in October 2007 from then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator Diane Lee (李慶安), who felt the council was being “daring, ridiculous and extravagant” for having the temerity to propose a four-year budget when Wong could not be sure the then-Democratic Progressive Party administration would be in office for those four years.
An arts and culture administrator having the nerve to think long-term — what a heresy, given the year-to-year funding that most government agencies live by. However, arts and cultural management needs to be long-term. One of the problems with the programming for the National Theater and Concert Hall is that there is so much staff turnover every time a new head is named. Foreign companies and orchestras plan their international tours three to five years in advance, not for next year.
Speaking of shortsighted planning, one of the council’s proposals that will hopefully be rethought now that Sheng has gone is the plan to offer post-show grants based on 75 percent of overall box-office take, not just pre-show grants. Sheng said the new scheme would give performers a stake in the financial success of their shows.
Obviously, Sheng had very little contact with the performers and creative people he was supposed to represent. They always have a financial stake in their shows, because the council’s grants rarely cover the entire budget for a show or pay for enough rehearsal time. This proposal would ensure that directors and producers play it safe with things they know will attract large audiences.
The dance collective Horse (驫舞劇場) would not have been able to mount its three-weekend-long production of Successor (繼承者) at Huashan 1914 Creative Park last month if it had not received a grant ahead of time, a grant that was less than it had asked for and that did not cover all its up-front costs.
Sheng’s “play it safe” thinking is why promoters invariably want foreign ballet troupes to perform Swan Lake instead of another classic or modern romantic ballet. Audiences in Taiwan are already drowning in a sea of swan feathers.
Audiences for all artistic genres lose out as a result of such shortsightedness and political stratagems, and the nation is poorer for it.
Having returned to the UK late last year and with a Taiwanese spouse remaining in Taiwan, I have been afforded the chance to compare and contrast the UK and Taiwanese governments’ responses to the COVID-19 crisis. My early conclusions are that Taiwan benefits from a rational, competent government, which quickly recognizes, adapts to and confronts large-scale disasters. It is led by a government that does more than just talk of respecting democracy and human rights, one that is scrutinized and responds to criticism, one that is concerned about public opinion, and one that is used to dealing with emergencies on
The “Wuhan pneumonia” outbreak has become a pandemic, but many countries have yet to come to grips with the worsening severity of this medical crisis. Historian Robert Peckham has studied how the ecology of deadly diseases has changed from the late 19th century until today and, in his 2016 book titled Epidemics in Modern Asia highlights the intrinsic link between global connectivity and emerging infections. The frequency of outbreaks — from SARS in 2003 to swine flu in 2009 and today’s COVID-19 — and their rapid rate of transmission owe much to globalization. Better and cheaper transportation and communications technology have empowered
Early last month, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) was elected party chairman, winning with a seven-to-three majority over pro-Beijing former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), a two-time KMT vice chairman. Chiang’s victory has been interpreted as a generational change and the beginning of major party reform. In his inauguration speech on March 9, Chiang did not mention the so-called “1992 consensus.” Analysts believe that his most urgent task is to attract more young people to the party and win voter trust, and that he does not care about Beijing’s reaction. After joining the party chairmanship by-election, Chiang made his