Thai artists campaign against government takeover of art center with poetry

A file photo of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

A network of Thai artists who joined together a decade ago to push for the creation of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) are uniting once more to battle plans to put it under the government’s control. And they’re doing it with exactly the sort of weapon you might expect of a group of artists — poetry.

Tomorrow morning, about 15 artists will travel to Government House to submit a poem by national artist Naowarat Pongpaiboon to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha making the case for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) to drop their plans to take over the art center.

The short poem, obtained by Coconuts Bangkok, translates roughly as:

“Art Center is the national park of art where trees of morals grow.

“If you want the fruit, don’t collect the flowers.”

“Open the space for the flowers to flourish.”

A clear call for maintaining an artistic community unbound by government interference. Trust us, it’s much more lyrical in the original Thai.

The group’s protest follows Bangkok Governor Asawin Kwanmuang revealing last week that he planned to hand the venue’s operations over to the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Currently, the art center is run by the non-profit Bangkok Art and Culture Centre Foundation, with partial funding from the government.

Among those who will join the movement tomorrow are renowned film producer Manit Sriwanichpoom and performance artist Chumpon Apisuk. Along with the poem, the network will also hand over about a hundred signatures of artists and industry professionals who oppose the handover, according to the network’s representative Kullaya Kassakul.

“We want the BMA to stop the plan to take over BACC,” Kullaya told Coconuts.

“The BMA doesn’t have experts in the field to run it. BACC is not just a building.”

The network has created an online campaign that has been signed by more than 13,000 people since Saturday and is asking supporters speak out against the plan online with the hashtag #SaveBACC.  

A number of artists have already taken to social media to do just that.

Musician Surachai Chantimathorn, for instance, wrote his own poem to the Bangkok governor, asking that he leave the BACC alone and spend his time on urgent matters such as corruption, traffic, and flooding.

He made a point that the foundation is doing their best to raise funds to manage BACC with a relatively small budget, pointing out that they care more about art than profit.

“Don’t mess with us artists. If you wanna get rich, walk away,” one of the verses says.

National artist Suchart Sawatsi said simply: “You can’t even manage garbage, and you dare think about managing the arts?”

Given that Prime Minister Prayuth is known to dabble in songwriting himself, a poem might have more of an effect than we might think.

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