Boom in foreign institutional links in art, culture

The inauguration last week of the new Shanghai campus of the Sino-French Institute of Art and Design Management attended by top Communist Party officials and arts and museum representatives from around the country, marks another booming area for foreign institutional collaborations with China.

The new institution – housed in a building designed by French architects in the new Lingang quarter in Shanghai’s Pudong district, some 60km from the city centre – is being promoted by the local authority as an international creativity and innovation project.

Offering incentives such as free rent for research and educational bodies, the development has already attracted five university campuses, bringing in more than 75,000 students to a formerly empty area.

The Sino-French institute, inaugurated on 4 December, is the sixth and there are plans for more as Shanghai is making a serious bid to become China’s cultural and creative capital.

The first phase of the IFC campus, as the Sino-French institute is known, was funded by the Pudong district government to the tune of CNY171.36 million (US$25 million). A second phase to be completed by 2019 will be funded by the main private developer of the Lingang project, Shanghai Harbour City Development group.

The project has moved swiftly. China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, the country’s largest and most prestigious art, design and architecture school, approached France’s Kedge Business School in 2015 to help bring together a consortium of French institutions to set up the flagship venture.

Kedge is one of the largest business schools in France with campuses in four French cities as well as two branch campuses in China – in Shanghai in collaboration with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and in Suzhou in collaboration with Renmin University of China. It also has campuses in Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire and Dakar in Senegal.

“China wants to concentrate on design of local products in order to develop their local market,” said Thomas Froehlicher, director-general of Kedge Business School. “It wants its own brand names, not just imported goods. This has put creativity – in design, architecture, the visual arts and lifestyle – on the agenda of the Chinese authorities,” Froehlicher told University World News.

“As people are becoming richer in China they want to own a masterpiece. They want to know the contemporary arts. Artists are becoming very rich very quickly in China,” Froehlicher added.
“In the past, many of China’s best artists have had to go abroad. They need total freedom of expression. But now China wants creative people to work with them.”

New consortium

China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts or CAFA was already collaborating with France’s École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts – the distinguished National School of Fine Arts in Paris. It is now teaming up with a wider consortium that includes Kedge, Paris-Sorbonne University, which already teaches humanities courses in English at its branch campus at Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, and École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, a grande école well known in France as ‘Art Decos’, and now hoping to increase its visibility internationally.

A number of art galleries and museums including the Musée D’Orsay in Paris are also part of the arts management education project.

Also associated with the programme is HEC Montreal, a Canadian business school teaching mainly in French, which currently runs a degree in international arts management with the SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan, Italy, taught in English.

“HEC has professors that they are willing to share,” said Froehlicher. Altogether the consortium will bring together some 37 professors and 50 partnerships with organisations in the arts and culture world, important for internships, study trips and specialised courses, he says.

Tuition fees will be divided between the teaching institutions, which will also create professorial chairs that can be paid for in China.

Shanghai’s attractions

“We are creating a new model. A degree from the French side in management and then another degree from CAFA in art or design. It is a double major and a double degree. We created this model. There are very few [like this] globally,” said Yu Ding, dean of CAFA’s Institute of Arts Administration and Education, speaking to journalists before the inauguration.

The first students are expected in September 2017. Some 80 students are expected to enrol for the five-year programme – the first two years in China, the third in France, the fourth in China and the fifth in France leading to a double degree in art and design management both at the bachelor and masters level.

“It has been difficult [to set up] because we are creating the first curriculum for art and business together,” Yu said, adding that the education ministry, which oversees CAFA, has not had to do this before. “Most of [CAFA’s] exams are in the arts, rather than business,” said Yu.

It was the also the first time CAFA was setting up outside Beijing.

Apart from being a business centre, Shanghai is attracting more and more arts institutions, Yu said. “We can get good faculty from different institutions. This is easier than in Beijing.

“We will invite not just CAFA professors to teach in Shanghai, but also faculty from United States and other international universities.”

National importance

Arts and culture has been moving up the government’s agenda since it first released plans in 2010 to become an innovative nation by 2020 and published a new design policy to move from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Designed in China’.

Just days before the IFC inauguration, China’s president, Xi Jinping, called on the country’s artists to serve the people, and “create positive works”.

He was speaking on 30 November at a conference held every five years of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, which includes the country’s most influential artists, writers, musicians, and those in theatre and film. Xi said the country needed to be “culture confident”, adding: “artworks reflect a nation’s soft power and creativity”.

Official media has said Xi’s comments were a "call to arms" at the federation to push back foreign cultural influences.

But they still need outside help to develop the management skills to do so. CAFA’s Yu said China’s main need was for curators as well as managers of arts and cultural organisations, including museums, art galleries and cultural tourism sites.

Between 2010 and 2012, for example, 3,500 museums were built across the country, often with local government tax benefits and other incentives to property development companies to include them in their plans.

Li Xu, a CAFA alumnus and former deputy director of the Power Station of Art, China’s first state-owned contemporary art museum in Shanghai, has also twice been director of the Shanghai Biennale, the city’s most important international contemporary art exhibition.

With more and more galleries and museums, “we have the ‘hardware’ but not the ‘software’. I have seen a big lack of human resources,” Li told University World News.

China has some 31 art and design universities in the country. Around 900,000 take China’s national college entrance exam for art every year.

Most curators and arts administrators are fine arts graduates but that is not enough, said Li. “They need to deal with artists, galleries, the government and they must deal with the law and contracts – there is a lot of paper work.”

Cultural industries expand

Kedge has already been working with Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Institute of Cultural and Creative Industry, or ICCI, on courses and research in the management of the arts, set up just two years ago with funding from the Shanghai local government and local companies to respond to the huge demand for arts administration and management.

ICCI Dean Zhang Weimin told foreign journalists that cultural and creative industries had increased in recent years to an estimated contribution of some 3% to China’s gross domestic product or GDP.

China believes it can reach the levels of Europe and the United States where such industries contribute as much as 18% of GDP, Zhang said. That means 20%-30% growth every year in the sector. But he does not believe that is too ambitious. “The Chinese government has made it a priority and the Shanghai government has made it a priority,” he said.

ICCI, which also collaborates with the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the University of Southern California on film studies, currently has around 60 students studying subjects such as internet creativity, film, museums and antiquities, and cultural tourism – Shanghai has some 30 culture parks.

Research, which has to be interdisciplinary at ICCI, is sponsored by companies. It is all part of the push towards service industries and an innovation economy.

Wider purpose

But others have noted that the government has a much wider purpose as it prepares for a future in which the manufacturing industry and industrial jobs will decline. Above all, they want to avoid migrant workers being unemployed in the city.

Among the art projects being promoted are reconstructed heritage villages to attract tourism within China, providing jobs in rural areas.

“China’s economic structure is being changed and many factories will close,” said Fan Di’an, President of CAFA, speaking to journalists just after the 4 December inauguration.

“We have to think how to use these factories to contribute to the world of culture or bring in content to create culture sites and culture villages. It is also a challenge to adapt society as well.”

Much of the countryside’s cultural heritage is also endangered as villages are absorbed into growing cities, Fan said. “This will be a new subject brought into the new institute and there will be people who, as part of their studies and research, will find some solutions for these issues.”