Ministry lacks central theme to bring culture to the people

Friday, June 15, 2012
The China Post news staff

The newly established Ministry of Culture has drawn wide attention from the public. Everyone — especially artists in Taiwan — is watching closely to see what Culture Minister Lung Ying-tai (龍應台), a renowned writer and critic, can provide.

While expectations are high, an article written by Lung about the future of the ministry prompted criticism that she lacked concrete policies.

Although the minister did set major goals for the ministry, it is clear that her thoughts are still not well-organized. Taking an economic perspective may help the minister to think more clearly about the role of her new ministry.

To promote Taiwanese culture, the minister should first think of the prosperity of related sectors, such as the movie industry. When related industries thrive, talented artists can make a living by focusing on their gifts, even without help from the government.

For every industry, there has to be enough infrastructures for business to thrive, and the government often provides this when society alone cannot.

This is the function the new ministry should aim to enable. Artists must have stages on which they can perform. In Taiwan, however, there are large stadiums for artists to hold extravagant concerts and shows, but there are no medium-sized theaters. Artists have to gather enough performers and funds to stage a show.

In addition, their shows have to be well publicized for them to turn a profit, which enables them to perform more. This is extremely difficult for young artists and small groups.

Furthermore, large performances can only last for a few days, which makes it difficult for a new group to establish an audience. Building more medium-sized theaters can allow artists and small groups a lower threshold to make their names known to the general public.

Lung said she would try to help young artists find sponsors and market their works. To ensure there is a platform for talented start-up artists to showcase their gifts would be a way to start.

Another issue to be tackled for related industries to thrive is to find a market that is large enough — the most daunting challenge faced by most industries in Taiwan. The minister acknowledges this and has made enhancing international recognition one of the ministry's goals. What the ministry should do is put more emphasis on the mainland. Past experience indicates that some movies, talk shows and soap operas produced in Taiwan can receive positive reviews from the mainland, where Taiwanese culture is more easily accepted and understood.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs is responsible for promoting the economy and it has maintained close relations with industries and companies. The Ministry of Culture should therefore keep close ties with artists and find ways for the government to assist them. Lung should lead the ministry to provide services that the private sector has not or cannot provide on its own.

The minister said that culture should not be a privilege for the middle class. Therefore, reducing cultural differences between urban and rural areas should be another goal for the minister. Lung wants to provide the same access to cultural displays for citizens in the countryside and big cities alike.

The minister could achieve this goal by providing incentives for artists to perform in the countryside, while still offering space for movie companies or performers to set the prices of their shows and stage performances in places they think they can turn a profit.

The minister has outlined many thoughts, but lacks a central theme to put all of these different thoughts together. Given a limited amount of time and money, it is impossible for her to accomplish everything to which she aspires.

Even if only some of her ideas can be implemented, there will be a great improvement in the conditions local artists work in. Thus, it might be more important for the ministry to quickly provide actual policies instead of contemplating them.

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