Pawit Mahasarinand, 46, has been director of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) for less than a year, yet he’s already got a lot on his plate. Back in May, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) announced their plans to take over BACC and commercialize its downstairs space, which angered many. Although that particular plan since seems to have dissipated, the problems are far from over. Here, he explains all.
Can you explain to us what has been happening?
Between 2011-2017, 55-percent of our funding came from the BMA. Last August, the city council requested that the BMA revise one point in our contract, as it made the funding seem illegitimate. Nothing has happened since. So, the B40 million we were supposed to get for 2018 went to the Office of Culture, Sports and Tourism instead, who have been paying the utility bills for us. The city council then said doing this is even dodgier, so at this rate we will have no funding at all next year. People ask why the government can’t fund BACC with taxes. It’s like free buses, trains and footpaths—it should be a service that the government provides and that everyone’s entitled to, so why do we have to ask for help from citizens? We have been having problems since October last year but we have kept it quiet until now. We have 13-percent more people visiting, too, compared to the same period last year.
How has BACC been handling it so far?
We can’t fix the contract but we can keep pushing them. Our long-term goal is to set a new board of directors for BACC, since the previous board’s contract ended in March—we only just held a meeting for this on Sep 25, which involved a lot of people, and it will take a few more months to complete the process. Short-term, we need to collect donations to help with the utility bills; watch our spending; and postpone any exhibitions that aren’t time-sensitive. We are trying to work with our private partners more, too, co-hosting events and expanding our network.
How much are your utility bills per month?
Our water bill is around B25,000 and electricity is B600,000. We are considering shortening the opening hours by two hours per day, which should save around B90,000 per month.
What do you think the future is for BACC?
Shortening the hours would definitely affect the Bangkok Art Biennale. We have people flying in just for the event and we are scheduled to have the most artists and art pieces out of anywhere. We are concerned that the electricity or water might get cut during the show.
How is art important to society?
Art and science are equally important—they both link to our daily lives—though the Thai education system tries to separate the two. In the future, I want to bring more science to BACC. I also want to make people understand that they don’t have to study art to enjoy an art gallery, just as you can enjoy movies or novels.
Do you think this is part of a political art censorship effort?
Answering as director of BACC, I’d say I hope not, but if I answered as a normal Thai citizen, then I would say probably. Contemporary art is very democratic, people are allowed to criticize and think of it however they want. Since the coup, I’ve haven’t seen so many people from two [political] colors unite as they did at our Sep 26 press conference, despite us having hosted radically political exhibitions like Vasan Sitthiket’s back in March.
Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, 939 Rama I Rd., 02-214-6630. Open Tue-Sun 10am-9pm