Elevating art on the global stage
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Elevating art on the global stage

Creating an appropriate ecosystem is important to drive sustained soft power influence

Elevating art on the global stage

Compared to other industries in Thailand, the art industry is relatively small. Now under Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, art is now among the 11 industries which will be developed and supported by the Thailand Creative Content Agency (THACCA). The 11 industries are art, food, sports, lifestyle, tourism, music, literature, film, games, design, and fashion.

In addition to THACCA, another soft power initiative is One Family One Soft Power (OFOS) which aims to search, develop and nurture people with potential and talent, whether they are children, adults, or the elderly, totalling 20 million people from 20 million households. According to the National Soft Power Strategy Committee, the objective of the soft power policy is to contribute four trillion baht annually to the country’s economy and create 20 million new job opportunities.

The announcement of the soft power policy may excite many people, as it signifies that Thailand is gearing up to actively promote and export its culture. Prof Apinan Poshyananda, CEO and artistic director of Bangkok Art Biennale which is one of Thailand’s largest art events, commented that after the government set a target revenue of four trillion baht, it is paramount they look at the big picture since developing all the involved elements takes time and cannot be achieved in just four years.

"The Thai government established THACCA which was inspired by the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), but South Korea does not rely solely on KOCCA. They have Korea Film Council, The Fund for Korean Art Abroad and Arts Council Korea which are all essential elements in achieving their goals. I give this example to emphasise that the soft power policy requires the development of all its components," Prof Apinan said.

"Moreover, I believe that Thai massage should not be overlooked as a form of soft power readily available at our fingertips."

South Korea’s has been successful in promoting its entertainment, especially movies, TV dramas and music. As a result, some people may question whether art can be a form of soft power. Prof Apinan explained that while some people criticise contemporary art for being difficult to understand, young people can access art and international art festivals through their mobile phones.

"South Korea has been developing its museums and organising many art festivals for years, including the Gwangju Biennale, Busan Biennale and Jeju Biennale. These efforts aim to cultivate artistic appreciation and create art spaces for people in various locations. These kinds of festivals also provide opportunities for new generation artists," he said.  

"Not only does South Korea have a soft power policy, but Japan also employs a soft power strategy known as Japan Cool. Our neighbour, Singapore, has been investing in its art industry for decades. Singapore has a robust system for developing its art industry. Even though its government leaders have changed, the development has continued. China is another significant example of a country that supports art. The 798 Art Zone in Beijing, which showcases Chinese contemporary art, has been open for several decades. There are many museums and art festivals including Shanghai Biennale and Beijing International Art Biennale," Prof Apinan explained. 

To effectively implement a soft power policy, it is necessary to create an appropriate art ecosystem including art events, auctions, workshops, training and other activities. Among art patronage organisations in Thailand, UOB, a leading bank in Asia, plays a significant role in supporting the art industry. The UOB Painting of the Year (POY) is one of UOB’s several projects that provides opportunities for Thai artists. The UOB POY has helped to discover talented artists and promote them to international recognition, as the UOB POY is held in several countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Besides UOB POY, UOB has established various activities designed to enhance art appreciation such as BACC Volunteer Docent Training Programme and Exhibition Trail Kit. BACC Volunteer Docent Training Programme is a two-day workshop that trains participants to become exhibition guides in the art gallery. The Exhibition Trail Kit is an activity that encourages viewers to discover their inner artistic talents. Additionally, the UOB Art Soiree project provides knowledge about art investment which expands the number of art collectors in Thailand.   

In order to utilise art as a form of soft power, Prof Apinan proposes several crucial advancements. He suggests that the government should support and provide spaces to exhibit the works of emerging artists. Instead of using its space for a gym, the National Art Gallery on Ratchadapisek Road, which houses over 500 artworks, should put them on display. When artists are invited to showcase their work overseas, the government should sponsor their trips. Prof Apinan noted that Singaporean artists receive such support from their government.

Singapore and Hong Kong benefit from ‘freeport’ status which is a special customs designation that allows artworks to be stored without the obligation to pay import taxes. Prof Apinan recommended that Thailand should consider establishing a similar freeport status and offer tax deductions for investors.

"Many Thai artists build their reputation abroad independently. The Thai government should formally acknowledge their achievement and THACCA should create a database of these artists. The database can be used to identify potential candidates for prestigious awards such as the Silpathorn Award or the National Artist," he said. 

Since artists are one of the key factors in promoting soft power, Prof Apinan highlighted the importance of recognising that two Thai artists — Rirkrit Tiravanija and Pichet Klunchun.

"Rirkrit is best known for his performance involving pad Thai, which he has performed for over 30 years. At the beginning, people questioned whether his performances are art or not; Rirkrit’s performance art is synonymous with relational aesthetics and functions as a form of soft power. This month, he has a solo show at The Museum of Modern Art in New York which is a significant achievement. The government should award him with the National Artist Award this year," Prof Apinan said. 

"Pichet is an artist in the performing art category which is not included in the soft power policy. Pichet adapted Thai traditional dances to be more contemporary which are now performed all over the world," he added.

It took over a decade for South Korea culture and content to achieve global popularity. If the Thai government aims to make the country’s soft power sustainable, it must consistently maintain the policy.

"Soft power can become sustainable if implementation has been consistent maintained. THACCA should develop its workforce, have specific plans, and get young people involved, as they are the future of the country," concluded Prof Apinan.

This article is part of a 20-part series that explores what it takes to create and secure a sustainable future. In collaboration with UOB. You can view the whole series here.

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