Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Chinese government supports Electronic Arts

The Chinese government supports Electronic Arts

A Shanghai Eye exclusive:

Lisa Zhou, General Manager of Shanghai E Arts Festival, and a project
manager for Shanghai Cultural Development Foundation, talked about
the coming developments for the arts in China's commercial capital,
Shanghai, over this year and into 2010 as the city makes preparations
for the World Expo. E Arts is held in the Autumn in Shanghai, and has
had two editions to date. In the last two editions, hundreds of
artists from around the globe participated, in an innovative
programme held across the city in parks, shopping malls and other
public spaces. Visitors annually number in the hundreds of thousands.
A Chinese citizen, Lisa Zhou graduated with a masters degree from
Coventry University in Fine Arts.

Q: Could you give some background to the Shanghai Cultural
Development Foundation, E Arts and the Chinese government's backing
of these initiatives?

LZ: The Publicity Department of Shanghai (Propaganda Bureau) is our
biggest boss, to enhance cultural responsibility and echo cultural
developments in Beijing. Shanghai is a melting pot, with the
development of technology there is a good matchmaking role with
Shanghai, the city has a large population, with a good education, and
the city has many good public spaces. The Cultural Foundation, Pudong
area, all contributed funds (to the E Arts festival 2008). The
Cultural Foundation has a 20 year history, and funds hundreds of
projects a year. Over the last 5-6 years this has developed in all
kinds of directions, and have funded everything from Operas to fine
arts events. The Cultural Foundation has 2 seasons per year to
recruit proposals. Annually the Foundation has a RMB 150 million
budget (USD $25 million). The Foundation also now also assists on
setting up commercial events, such as the recent productions of the
Lion King and Mama Mia. It is very effective. This is a part of very
smart cultural policy by the government, it is a good mechanism that
is allowing new events to create a new face for Shanghai City.

Q: What are your long term plans for the E Arts festival in Shanghai?
And what other events or festivals have inspired you, or could you
draw comparisons with?

LZ: In the first year (2007) Shanghai E Arts Festival was held in 5
districts, the second year (2008) in 3 districts. This year (2009) we
will focus on one area around the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Bund.
In 2007 we estimated around 340,000 visitors, we are still
calculating for 2008. In 2009, we expect large numbers, the Oriental
Pearl Tower alone receives 3.6 million visitors a year, from all
walks of life, foreign and domestic. For 2010 we will enter into
discussions with the World Expo organizers. The World Expo expects
around 700,000 visitors a day for 6 months. Also, there will be about
20,000 events during this period. Who can curate all this? E Arts
role is under discussion, we are interested in the 'Young Expo' which
will be in the most technologically advanced part of the site. We may
even change the date for E Arts in 2010.
After 2010 we plan to have a quieter, more research based educational
event on 'odd' years, such as 2011, and then have major shows on
'even' years, such as 2012. In 2008, for E Arts, our budget was RMB
12 million (USD 2 million). This did not include site fees, and other
costs, such as building the 110 room dormitory plus the exhibition
and art center for artists in residence, which was funded by a
district government initiative. For 2009 so far we have only raised
about a third of this amount, due to government pressures following
the economic crisis, their funds must be more dedicated to
construction projects. But we have heard some museums have cut their
budgets, or even cancelled events, so after Chinese New Year we will
be approaching other sponsors, consulates, and people like airlines
for instance, to help cover the costs of flying in invited foreign
artists for instance.
As to our model for E Arts, we are very much inspired by the Austrian
event, Art Electronic held in Linz, Austria. We're not just curating
work, we are also the workers, dealing with every detail, from
talking to officials, artists, media…there are very different rules
for electronic art when compared to contemporary or traditional art.
It is difficult to make all contemporary art world circles accept new
media art. We decided on the older term Electronic Art, rather than
cyber art, new media art, etc, because we felt all these latest
developments were contained in the Electronic art category. As in
Linz, who have a very good system in place, we wish to develop
mechanisms like their futurelab and museum, and a better
communication system. Partly there is also a lack of (electronic)
artists in China, recently many universities have set up new media
departments, but their focus is computer games and animation. Firstly
we need a more open attitude, and Shanghai is a very open city. We
have had positive and negative feedback, so we need to communicate
better, ourselves and the artists, and build an academic system. We
keep our information transparent and we need to be brave to do new
things for a new future.
New technology arts also have use in applications, we want to use of
artists works to make prototypes for some kind of services that can
be used in the city.
In 2009 we will invite a host of foreign artists, including a large
Belgian new media artist contingent who will hold a show in Shanghai
talking about virtual reality. The show will create another, more
poetic reality, against the more obvious uses of visual reality for
entertainment. Local artists such as Aaajiao, Gu Chen and Feng Menbo
will also contribute, works such as large outdoor installations. The
work will range from entertaining to serious, even discussing
electronic art's heritage from the 1900s. Last year Zhang Peili's
students at the Central Academy of Fine Arts also showed their works
in a large scale setting. We hope they learned a lot from that
experience. We need to practice, and team work is key. In 2009 the
effect will be bigger but cost less, we are saving every penny, and
are exploring ways for new media artists to survive.

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