November 2, 2016
China is in the midst of reinventing its performing arts sector. Looking to break free from reliance on government funding, China aspires to develop a more commercially sustainable model. To promote bilateral learning opportunities, the Office of China Affairs hosted a Chinese performing arts training group in October, organizing a 30-day series of intensive lectures and site visits in Washington, D.C. and New York City.
Major reform proposals under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Third Plenum, a meeting of top party decision-makers in 2013, called for the market to play a “decisive role.” That holds true for China’s performing arts sector, which has long been propped up by the government. Under President Xi’s new 13th five-year plan (2016-2020), the government also emphasized the importance of developing Chinese culture domestically and abroad.
However, China’s domestic theater companies, particularly involved in traditional Chinese culture productions, have experienced flagging interest especially among younger domestic audiences. How can China increase the appeal of its performing arts industry, restructure companies to be more financially sustainable and “market oriented,” while also developing international competitiveness?
A 21-member trainee group led by China’s Ministry of Culture, consisting of government arts agencies and theater companies across China, engaged with a range of U.S. for profit, non-profit, and government sponsored performing arts institutions to learn from best practices in the United States. Topics discussed included operation management of U.S. performing arts companies, business planning and asset management, as well as sources of funding.
While in D.C., the trainees met with Martin Wollesen, Executive Director of the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, who spoke about the industrialization of performing institutions in the United States. Further visits included a trip to the National Endowment for the Arts to discuss federal government support of performing arts and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
In New York, the trainees learned about profitability strategies for theater companies domestically and how to market internationally. The group visited a mixture of performing arts institutions, hearing from the Brooklyn Academy of Music on marketing planning, and viewing commercial success in action with Broadway’s Disney hit “Aladdin.”
As China looks to transform its performing arts industry to a more commercial rather than state-run operation, the trainees will return with new experiences, insights, and a taste of the performing arts in the United States.
- Michelle Winglee