Should museums be funded by the state or by private sponsors? The question looms large with the current problems at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC), the largest publicly-funded art gallery in the country — and with the rise of many private galleries that seem to flourish with the burgeoning art scene.
The difficulties at BACC began two months ago, when the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), led by the coup-appointed governor Aswin Kwanmuang, floated the idea of taking over the management of BACC from the BACC Foundation, made up of artists, academics and businessmen. When artists and the public expressed displeasure and resisted — citing BMA’s inexperience in handling contemporary cultural bodies — the bureaucrats backed out, saying it would leave things as they were.
But as soon as the noise subsided, the BMA made a curious move. Through the Bangkok Metropolitan Council (BMC), the BMA last month set up an 11-person committee to investigate how the BACC Foundation uses its budget; the BACC is funded partly by BMA, and partly by private sponsorship and by renting out space and venues. The “investigation” of the public funding cited “a lack of clarity in BACC’s management”, and BMC members raised the possibility of cutting all funding to the gallery altogether.
The investigation will take 90 days, which will overlap with the BACC’s budget talks with the BMA. This means that the BACC, a premiere public contemporary arts centre, which hosts at least a hundred arts, music, theatre, design, cultural and educational events, may not receive half of its yearly 81 million baht for 2019.
The fate of state-funded art institutions in Thailand varies. The National Museum, for instance, has received a major facelift, though its lustre had declined many years before. The National Gallery, which houses many fine shows though is generally known as old-fashioned, is hardly a premier venue for artists. The Ratchadamnoen Contemporary Art Museum is at best ignored, and at worst irrelevant. These institutions operate under the Ministry of Culture.
On the contrary, Thailand has seen several private galleries and museums that are well-run and achieve international profiles. The Museum of Contemporary Art (Moca) on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road has a good collection of modern painters; it was built by former telecom tycoon Boonchai Benjarongkakul to showcase his private collection. In Chiang Mai, MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum has emerged as a prime art venue, with a succession of edgy, politically relevant exhibitions.
Read Apipar Norapoompipat’s full article on Bangkok Post.
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