Behind Institutions are Real People

23 01 2009
Chia Ming Chien

Photo: Chia Ming Chien

I hope you are having a good start in 2009.  If not, Chinese New Year is just around the corner and there would be another opportunity make things better. In fact, you can always create an excuse to strive for better things each day.

I arrived in Berlin on Monday with a cold and have been in bed without internet at home. 

I started 2009 with a highly productive trip to New York for a congress fellowship with the International Society for the Performing Arts. I decided to arrive earlier to have a bit of time with some good old friends and in the end, my schedule was filled with activities such as participation in a festival and symposium.    So I spent the first 3-days laughing with some old friends and the next 15 days running around the city meeting people. And in the evenings, drank champagne courtesy of the endless receptions.

 It was very refreshing to look at my reality and myself from a distance and through other people’s perspective.  I had a bit of culture shock how warm the Americans were and how different their way of thinking from the Europeans.  

 To my surprise, many of the people I met seem to be sincerely encouraging me to continue with what I am doing in Berlin.  One of the potential funders where I have a grant application in line even arranged some meetings with a couple of artists and spaces in New York. Hopefully, this would be more evident when they confirm the funding in April.

For the congress, I’m happy to share the news that I sort of succeeded in delivering an informal closing remarks as one of the fellows.  Yes, I gave a spontaneous speech at the end of the whole thing – when the chairman requested some of the fellows on stage to say something.  Although I knew that the congress was an important meeting for the performing arts, I was pretty much comfortable being myself- surrounded by VIPs in my field with huge institutions behind them.  After all, behind every institution are real people.

Below is an excerpt of the speech from what I remember:

“I went through several steps before coming here.  I was just testing whether ISPA would respond to my fellowship application considering the fact that I cannot easily be ticked in a box being a Filipino citizen, Singapore permanent resident, living and working in Berlin.  And then I got accepted.  I said to myself,  they couldn’t be that serious since they are taking me in.

A friend whom I approached initially to support the trip (air-ticket) mentioned, that I do not belong to this network since I am a nobody — especially that everyone comes from huge institutions like Lincoln Art Center, Kennedy Art Center, Asia Society, etc. When I heard this, all I had in mind  were the words from my former director, Tony Mabesa, that “there are no small roles, only small actors.”

So I asked another friend who is businessman via Skype if he would be willing to support an arts initiative/artist.  He said – no but when I said it was for me – he responded by asking -“You want someone to pay for your ticket to New York?” I said yes – and he said give me an hour.  And now I am here with you.

It is quite amazing to meet people whose career I have been following for years.    .    . For the past 8 years, I have been corresponding with Benson Puah (Chairman of ISPA/CEO of Esplanade). I was excited to meet him. Not to mention the likes of Benjamin Barber who made me quit using Body Shop after reading his book “Jihad vs. Mc World.”

I hope that ISPA will keep supporting younger generation of producers and curators like myself – regardless of where they come from. Thank you ISPA for supporting and recognizing independent thinkers like myself.”