An interview with Pawit Mahasarinand,
Director of The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.
Words and interview by Robin Westley Martin
The story of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) began back in 1995, when the Governor of Bangkok, Bhichit Rattakul, proposed a project called ‘The Bangkok Contemporary Art Centre’, and that it should be located near to Siam Square, to best serve locals and visitors alike.
The project, however, came to a halt in 2001 when Samak Sundaravey became governor, as he envisaged a commercial retail space with private investors instead. Cultural organisations, artists, students, and the media then joined together to oppose the suspension, and in 2004, when Apirak Kosayodin became governor, the project was reinstated along with the original lines. On 29 July 2008, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre finally opened.
Recently, the BACC has been in the news again, as the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) is contemplating withdrawal of its 40 million baht annual grant. I met Pawit Mahasarinand, Director of the BACC, to discuss this and find out what the BACC’s programme of events has instore for the coming year.
What is the current situation regarding funding for the BACC?
Going back to mid-2017, some of the city councillors proposed a change to the city’s contract with the BACC, although this is still under discussion. One difference that has been made, however, is that instead of BACC receiving the 40 to 45 million baht grant to disburse ourselves, the money would be sent to the Ministry of Tourism, Sports, and Culture. We now have to submit our project proposals to their office and hope we are successful.
The BACC is a building and exhibition centre that Bangkok and Thailand can feel proud of, showcasing Thai art and culture to the world. Has this new system caused you problems?
Well, after the public outcry about the possibility of losing our funding, we found out that the vice governor of Bangkok—who is responsible for the BACC—is on our side, and is making representations on our behalf. He works closely with our board members, who consist of 12 people, half from the business sector and half from the arts community. This year we received bills from the BMA for our utilities, electricity and water, with a threat to withdraw their supply to us.This was resolved, and the city is presently taking care of these bills, which come to about a million baht per month.
These problems aside, you continue to keep a high profile on the Bangkok Arts scene, correct?
Yes, I am delighted to say we do, and the ongoing Bangkok Art Biennale, which we support, is an excellent case in point. From our early days, when we attracted 300,000 visitors per year, that figure rose to more than 1.7 million visitors in 2017, which also saw our biggest attendance for an exhibition—referring to the exhibition titled In Remembrance of the Great King—attracting 158,000 over four months. But the brightest news is that the Maria Abramovich exhibition A Possible Island last October drew 55,000 in only three weeks. Unbelievable.
We are continuing to show works from the Biennale until 3 February, and this month we are putting on several exhibitions, workshops, and interactive cultural shows for the children. I will be continuing throughout the year with programmes specifically targeting children, to nurture their interest in art and culture. They are the future of our country, and hopefully some of them will become great artists or performers. I feel privileged and happy to be Director of the BACC. This building holds everything I care for.