Backtrack on cultural centre is far from convincing
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Backtrack on cultural centre is far from convincing

Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang has only put his attempt to take control of the BACC on hold, 'for now'.
Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang has only put his attempt to take control of the BACC on hold, 'for now'.

Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang appeared to cave in to pressure from artists who demanded the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) halt plans to take back the administration of the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre (BACC). But judging from his statement, the maverick cop will not lay low for long.

"I told the Culture, Sports and Tourism Department during a meeting to put the plan on hold for now. We will discuss the issue later after 2021," Pol Gen Aswin told the media this week amid mounting resistance to his latest initiative to let City Hall take over the management of the BACC from a foundation that has run the place since 2011.

Since its opening in 2005, the cultural venue has become increasingly popular. The number of visitors has risen from 300,000 in the first year to 1.7 million last year.

Anchalee Kongrut writes about the environment in the Life section, Bangkok Post.

And if the military-appointed Bangkok governor remains in office long enough to discuss the issue in 2021 (which means he will have to be elected as a governor, something that is not impossible), I bet we would see cultural and modern learning centres surprisingly sprouting up in the midst of shopping complex areas of Bangkok.

As an optimist, I believe Pol Gen Aswin would not dare to lease the BACC space to shopping complex operators.

Instead, I think he would change the BACC from its current form into a cultural learning centre of his own vision, something which is no less appalling than leasing it to businesses.

According to a news report, Governor Aswin recently paid a visit to the BACC and wondered why there were few desks and chairs there. He reportedly told media that he saw students sitting on the floor, reading books or doing homework.

He might wonder why the popular BACC -- which cost more than 500 million baht to build and costs the BMA 40 million baht a year to finance (the sum is not sufficient anyway) -- does not have many rows of desks and chairs for school and university students to sit, read and do homework.

He must be puzzled as to how the BACC can serve as a learning centre if there are not enough desks and chairs to accommodate learners.

The BACC might be a learning centre administered differently than traditional learning facilities Pol Gen Aswin is familiar with.

Indeed, there are 150 seats for students and members of the public to use inside the venue. However, BACC director, Pawit Mahasarinand, told me that more than half of them are usually unoccupied.

According to Mr Pawit, the BMA recently requested that the BACC place more chairs in an open space on the underground floor, a space which has been reserved for art students' thesis presentations.

So our beloved governor would love to promote a conducive learning atmosphere by putting more and more desks and chairs on the BACC, as many as possible, so students no longer need to sit on the floor.

And the BACC has a lot of available space to accommodate lots and lots of chairs for students and the governor himself to sit on. There are vast open spaces on the 7th, 8th and 9th floors besides the underground space.

But the vast spaces -- with the high ceilings, are neither designed for mega-seating nor a typical classroom setting, nor as a co-working space. These areas are created for mega-size art installations and exhibitions.

I need to confess that I really like this place. I have been to the BACC from time to time, to enjoy exhibitions and for good cups of coffee. I also love visiting good book shops there.

There are many interesting exhibitions, film screenings, discussion events and interesting art and design thesis presentations, not to mention workshops for us to attend and learn.

So I wonder what would happen if the BMA decides to take over the management of the place or outsource a contractor to run it? Judging from the outcomes of the many projects the BMA has managed, the BACC will likely not be the same under City Hall's supervision.

I bet we will get more chairs. We will see more cultural events that showcase the conservative taste of the Thai bureaucracy.

The BACC will likely become a place for rigid art exhibitions that usually start with a typical ribbon cutting opening where the Bangkok governor will be seen beaming with pleasure in the middle of the event.

And if the BMA takes full control of its management, activists and members of the public will no longer use the BACC as a place to gather and protest.

For quite some time, these activists have gotten used to the convenience the BACC provides for their gatherings -- a connection to the BTS elevated train system and glitzy shopping complexes.

It is more likely that they will find it hard to return to more traditional protest venues, like the jaded Sanam Luang area, Ratchadamnoen Avenue or Ratchaprasong Intersection.

By the way, we might not have to wait until 2021. Did I tell you that Governor Aswin also hinted that the BMA might reconsider its annual funding for the BACC.

Indeed, the BMA skipped paying the 40 million baht subsidy last year.

So go visit the BACC and enjoy this wonderful place while you still can.

Anchalee Kongrut

Editorial pages editor

Anchalee Kongrut is Bangkok Post's editorial pages editor.

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