Postcard from Beijing

by Cathy Barbash

I’m back in China for the first time since May, and once again caught in between the impulse to blog all the cultural gossip, or hold back because divulging the news would incur the wrath of the large organizations that are in play, limiting my future access. But after a day spent with old friends at the Ministry of Culture, the National Centre for the Performing Arts, and the U.S. Embassy, there was news aplenty.

I can say that the cultural industry reforms of the past Five Year Plan will continue and deepen into the next, with many formerly well-funded and evidently complacent arts organizations complaining bitterly that the withdrawal of government subsidies is too sudden and too deep. (Have they been asleep the past five years? Or smug enough to think they were too well-connected for it to happen to them?) And the Ministry of Culture, cognizant that some art forms and their relevant ensembles will need the support in order to survive in an ever more globalized China, continues to agonize over which organizations will be so annointed. And the sensational team at the U.S. Embassy is planning a fascinating, unusual and creative concoction of activities for next year.

The other noticeable change is that the Ministry and other large arts organizations have taken seriously the government’s insistence that they look abroad for both business and business advice. One of the biggest entities will send large delegations to intern with one of America’s biggest arts organizations later this month. Today, one of America’s top arts executives (but no, not a usual suspect), will address a group of cultural officials at the National Centre for the Performing Arts on “Leading a Cultural Organization in the 21st Century.” Delegations organized by the Ministry of Culture just returned from an extended American trip which included a week’s seminar on the Broadway business. Yet at the same time it is still necessary for performances in most venues to receive official Ministry of Culture approval. When that ceases, we’ll know that change has truly arrived

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