By Phatarawadee Phataranawik
Hong Kong artist Danny Yung has figures representing 10 of the political parties among his sculptures on view at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre until April 12. Begging for votes here are from left, Thai Local Power, Mahachon and The Commoner. Photo courtesy of BACC
Only 12 of the 81 political parties contesting this weekend’s election have found room for views on culture among their populist policies and promises to fix the economy and environment.
And of the dozen who have, the ideas being put forward are drawing yawns from the arts community. There, the hopes were for broad national strategies to foster a domestic creative industry that would be the envy of the world.
Yukti Mukdawijitra, an anthropologist at Thammasat University, and Thanom Chapakdee, an art lecturer at Srinakharinwirot Prasarnmitr University, are among those disappointed by the small scale of the proposals on offer.
“The policies based on ideology would be difficult to implement,” Thanom told The Nation. “Some parties propose to build a lot of local museums, but they don’t talk about their sustainable management, professional staffing or long-term funding.”
Parties including Future Forward, the Action Coalition for Thailand, Thai Local Power and Phungluang are advocating a “creative economy” and cultural tourism.
The Chart Pattana Party has suggested a “One Tambon – One Tourist Attraction” fund that would give every district Bt2 million to establish and promote something local that would be interesting to outsiders. It also wants to make Thailand the creative-economy hub of Asia.
The Phalang Pracharat Party pledges to promote innovation by having one million creative people dream up ideas within five years and thus hoist the capital to “Bangkok 5.0” stature, with nine innovation zones sharing 5G technology. The Democrat Party vows to establish a “hi-touch” economy, make Thailand a |hub for watching movies, bring in more |big-spender tourists and upgrade |Bangkok’s main tourist attractions.
The Pheu Thai Party wants to goose up the economy by upgrading street-food outlets and quality and waiving visa requirements for Chinese tourists. It says the target should be 50 million tourists a year from around the globe, generating Bt3 trillion annually. The party is also wooing first-time voters with a vow to make Thailand a hub for e-sports.
Gridthiya Gaweewong, director of the Jim Thompson Art Centre, lamented that none of the parties appears to be serious about arts and culture.
“We’ve seen many countries in this region try for creative economics and the like and they failed terribly,” she said. “We have to focus on supporting and developing the arts and gearing up for excellence rather than seeing the arts as only tools to boost economy. When you do that, art becomes propaganda. “If the candidates see culture as an integral part of the national development, they should make the Culture Ministry a Grade-A ministry with a bigger budget to support the arts and culture as forms of soft power.”
Gridthiya said state agencies should be taking care of existing heritage and local cultural infrastructure, promoting private and public museums and contemporary-art spaces, protecting freedom of expression and assisting projects through tax subsidies.
What’s needed, she said, are policies that take into account the past, present and future.
“That means they should recognise our cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, for preservation.”
The government should support the present by promoting traditional, modern and contemporary art at every level – local, regional and international, she said. “And they should look forward to the future and invest in incubating the younger generation and in research and development, encouraged through grants and funding.”
The Commoner and Mahachon parties are interested in tapping Thailand’s cultural diversity. The Future Forward Party promises to de-legalise all limits on freedom of expression and to build more local museums.
“I agree with using our cultural diversity,” Gridthiya said. “We should be proud of our multi-ethnic culture that has been part of Thailand for centuries. This country is extremely diverse and we should accentuate that.”
Pawit Mahasarinand, director of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, pointed out that culture relates directly to every other aspect of society – education, the economy, politics, tourism, foreign affairs and even science and technology.
“So the Culture Ministry needs to look for opportunities to work with other ministries to make better use of its limited budget and to make sure people can see the connections,” he said.
“And in a land where the post-modern lives happily alongside the traditional, inclusivity should be the keyword in cultural management, to make sure diversity is always promoted.”