Bangkok Art & Culture Centre cutting back hours after government funding cut off

Photo: Prae Sakaowan/ Coconuts Media
Photo: Prae Sakaowan/ Coconuts Media

Bangkok Art & Culture Centre (BACC), the capital’s main art space, will cut its operation hours and will decrease the numbers of exhibitions after the military government chose not to allocate funding to the organization for the next fiscal year.

BACC Director Pawit Mahasarinand said at a press conference this afternoon that the art center, which is run by its own foundation, will not receive its annual funding of THB40 million from Bangkok Metropolitan Administration for the first time in 10 years. The funds largely went towards covering the center’s utility bills.

“I received a notice that our water will be cut today. So if you need to go to the bathrooms, please hurry,” Asst. Prof. Pawit said, showing the reporters the water bill.

Photo: Prae Sakaowan/ Coconuts Media
Photo: Prae Sakaowan/ Coconuts Media

He said that the the art center won’t receive funding next year and because of a clause in the decade-old contract between BMA and the art center that suggests the BACC Foundation must be responsible for all management costs.

Still, no one seems to understand exactly why this has only become a problem for the government now.

“At this current rate of funding, the BACC can only remain open until the middle of next year,” Pawit said.

BMA’s funding accounts for 55 percent of its yearly budget. The other 45 percent, is covered by donations and income from renting out their space.

To stretch their meager remaining funds, the center will be cutting an hour off both ends of its opening and closing times, changing its hours to 11am to 8pm instead 10am to 9pm.

Photo: Prae Sakaowan/ Coconuts Media
Photo: Prae Sakaowan/ Coconuts Media

Pulling the Plug

The budget cut comes four months after Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang proposed taking over the operation of the BACC, which is currently run by a BACC Foundation committee largely composed of artists. The government takeover proposal was met with outrage by many.

Artists angered by the budget cut donned black and gathered at the art center this afternoon to to protest the move and boycott the governor, holding up signs reading things like: “We don’t want Aswin,” and “Aswin, hands off our art space!”

In fact, Director Pawit and the entire staff of BACC dressed in black as a symbol of their resistance. Asked what the black signifies, Manit Sriwanichpoom, a renowned photographer and a member on BACC’s managing committee, had a surprising answer.

Photo: Prae Sakaowan

“Because it’ll be dark. We’re about to lose the electricity. I think they’ve sent a final notice or so,” he told Coconuts in a phone interview prior the press conference.

Manit criticized Governor Aswin’s previous attempt to take over BACC and his idea to turn it into a co-working space.

“A co-working space is not an art center. He [Governor Asawin] doesn’t understand the differences. He doesn’t even understand what an art center is. He might have never walked into an art center in his life, not once, not anywhere in the world.”

Manit views BMA’s latest move as a sign that the military government doesn’t see art and culture as a priority for the country’s development.

“The question is, why an art center doesn’t deserve support? Anywhere in the world, art centers are given funding [from the government],” he said.

“BACC is an important center that educates people about art and culture. The government owns the National Gallery located near Pinklao Bridge, but people don’t even know it exists. It shows that an art center run by the government turned out a bureaucratic failure.”

So what’s next for BACC?

While it awaits an answer from the government, Director Pawit has asked citizens to make donations or stand in support of the venue by paying it a visit.

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