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Mar 30 2011

Thai Curator Apinan Poshyananda Heads New Culture Agency

by Brian Mertens

Leading Thai curator and arts administrator Dr. Apinan Poshyananda was recently appointed director-general of the new Department of Cultural Promotion at Thailand’s Ministry of Culture. The Department is responsible for programs, policies and infrastructure spanning traditional, modern and popular culture. Dr. Apinan, who served as the first director-general of the Ministry’s Office of Contemporary Art and Culture from 2003 to 2009, will now be involved in everything from public art installations and Thai country music to village crafts conservation and hilltribe oral histories.

“Bridging heritage and contemporary art is the main mission,” said Dr. Apinan, adding that one big difference from his old department is size. The agency has a budget of 700 million baht (USD 23 million) and 300 staff at its Bangkok headquarters, working through some 2,000 Culture Ministry personnel in local offices nationwide. (The OCAC has about 50 employees and funding of 140 million baht [$4.6 million].)

The Department is not entirely new, having been formed from a restructuring of the Ministry’s Office of the National Culture Commission, founded in 1979. The change is part of efforts by the administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva to reshape agencies to develop Thailand’s “creative economy,” or knowledge industries, including arts, entertainment and design.

Yet despite the Department’s link to economic policy, and its “promotion” moniker, Dr. Apinan aims to handle culture with care. “It is not going to follow some readymade theory that every potential of creativity must be used to create GDP, which I think is wrong. Some other government departments do that. If you do everything to create money, you destroy the beauty of culture, the essence of locality. It has to be done with sensitivity.”

As for infrastructure, the Department is starting construction this year on a long-awaited national museum of contemporary art, to be built on a large mid-city site that will also host other cultural facilities as well as the new headquarters building of the Ministry of Culture. The site encompasses more than nine hectares (22 acres), adjacent to another plot of equal size owned by a government TV network that will also have cultural facilities. During the construction period, the Department will transform empty space at the site into a plaza for activities such as art exhibitions, concerts and festivals. “The most important thing is to train people. It’s a lab where you allow mistakes. We should organize big shows, small shows. See how to work with artists, how to curate.”

Dr. Apinan’s recent career trajectory has traced the vicissitudes of Thailand’s politics. Following his three-year stint at the OCAC, he was appointed permanent secretary of culture in 2006, a move annulled a few months later when a coup unseated the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Under the military government the same year, Dr. Apinan became chairman and acting director of the Office of Knowledge, Management and Development, part of the Prime Minister’s Office. In 2009, he became deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Culture, responsible for film projects. 

Dr. Apinan’s agency looks to expand, proposing a 1 billion baht ($33 million) budget for the next fiscal year. Meanwhile general elections, slated for May, might spell change. “I don’t know what will happen,” Dr. Apinan said. “But I feel that at long last governments are paying serious attention to culture.”

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