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Mina Choi Tenison

Lin Hongmin

President, Shanghai Oriental Arts Center, Pudong, China

In July of 2005, the Shanghai Oriental Art Center (SHOAC) opened in Pudong with a huge splash and a purported price tag of RMB 1 billion. Lin Hongming who prior to his appointment as president of SHOAC headed up the Shanghai Opera House and the Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe, was chosen to nurture this delicate state-funded organization, bring it to financial independence, and of course, to cultivate cultural life in Pudong.

that's: SHOAC received a huge amount of financial support from the Pudong Government. Why?

Lin Hongming (LHM): SHOAC was actually a joint effort between the Shanghai Municipal Government and the Pudong Municipal Government. There were many reasons behind the huge push: [the two governments] felt that compared to other international cities, Shanghai had only a handful of performances at any given time and too few theaters. They wanted the cultural development to accompany the economic development [of Pudong].

that's: Has it been a difficult two years?

LHM: I actually started three-and-a-half years ago, when SHOAC was still under construction. I would have to say that so far, the results have been much better that we had anticipated. We have already hosted many world-class troupes, such as Berlin Philharmonic Symphony and Kremer Baltica. Last year, we initiated the public to vote for its favorite symphony, the first event of its kind. We then invited the winning ten symphonies to perform at SHOAC over the next five years. Four of the ten symphonies have performed here already. We are continuing to host top symphonies from around the world. This year, Czech Philharmonic and Cologne Philarmonic are coming as part of our 2007-2008 Season and so are the Kremlin Ballet and Yo-Yo Ma.

that's: What have been some of your biggest challenges?

LHM: One of the biggest problems is that in China, the market for culture and performance is not yet mature. We have to charge high prices to compensate the world-class performers, but the ticket price makes it prohibitive for many ordinary people. To address these issues, we have implemented several programs, including performances with affordable ticket prices ranging from RMB 30-80 on Saturday mornings. We also offer a free lecture series hosted by famous musicians to promote music appreciation. China's piano prodigy Lang Lang participated in one of these lectures. We also host a weekend jazz concert every two weeks and sponsor a Future Master Series to support young, promising artists.

that's: Do you still operate mostly on government subsidy?

LHM: Absolutely not. In the past, all cultural performance organizations used to be completely subsidized and managed by the government. This is no longer the case. Our contract stipulates that not only will our subsidy be reduced every year, but once SHOAC begins to generate a profit, the money has to be returned to the government.

that's: That sounds like a lot of pressure.

LHM: It is a huge amount of pressure. And the subsidy is only for the "world-class" performances and never covers more than 20 per cent of the cost. So it is a huge challenge to make SHOAC financially viable. But I’m proud to say that for the first time last year, we generated a profit and we hope to double that profit this year. We are also actively looking for corporate sponsors, to make the performances more accessible. We estimate that in Shanghai, six million performance tickets are sold every year. We want that number to be 18 million, at least one ticket for every resident of Shanghai. Until we can hit that number, our goal will not have been realized.

This month's events at the SHOAC, 425 Dingxiang Lu, by Shiji Dadao (5109 5091)include Gordin Piano Recital, Russia, December 5, 7:45pm RMB 60-300; Mona Lisa (Friday Night Jazz Series), December 2, 7:45pm, RMB 60-120; Suona Recital by Zhu Weilong December 22, 2pm, RMB 50-220; Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra, (conducted by Alexander Vakoulsky) December 28, 7:15pm , RMB 200-1600; Guzheng Recital by Luo Xiaoci December 29, 2:00, RMB 50-220.

That's Shanghai - Dec. 2007

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