The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Ping Heng
Ms. Ping Heng
Artistic Director, National Chiang Kai Shek Cultural Center R.O.C.
Taiwan’s National Chiang Kai Shek Cultural Center R.O.C
National Chiang Kai Shek Cultural Center
Presenter Interview
Taiwan's new cultural policy -- The Taiwan National Theater now semi-NPO 
In 2004, Taiwan’s National Chiang Kai Shek Cultural Center R.O.C, which combines the National Theater and National Opera House and has long been one of Taipei’s prominent sites, was re-launched as a third-sector organization that is now responsible for earning a third of its operating budget. The woman who now serves as artistic director is in charge of seeing that everything from programming to budgeting and personnel operations run smoothly. We spoke to artistic director Ping Heng about the job of creating a competitive performing arts facility.
(Interviewer: Yoko Shioya, Artistic Director of Japan Society, New York)

First, please give us a brief introduction about the National Chiang Kai-Shek Cultural Center of which you became the Artistic Director recently.
It was founded in 1987 and we will be celebrating our 20th anniversary next year. We have four theaters: two big ones and two small ones: the Concert Hall (2000 seats), a Recital Hall (350), the National Theater (1500) and our Experimental Theater (180). To run them, our yearly budget is US$30 million, including maintenance costs such as electricity for chandeliers and air conditioning. Our programming budget is somewhere between US$8-9 million. All together, we present about 350 performances of our own programs per year, and rentals for about 650 performances.
It used to be a government organization and the government owned the performing arts center. But in March 2004, a new system was adopted and we changed to a “Public Corporation” format. That is, Government provides only 2/3 of the budget and we need to make the remaining 1/3 by ourselves. In return, we have much more freedom for budgeting and personnel matters. For instance, when it was government-run, if someone wanted to apply for a fulltime position, he just had to go through a certain government exam. As a result, the organization got staffs who were good at the exam but not necessarily familiar with theaters and arts administration. And once they got employed, they could stay as long as they wanted. But under the new system, it is possible for us to hire anyone we need; both for part-time and full-time positions. We even have the liberty to hire someone on a contract basis at the beginning and later give them an opportunity to become a fulltime staff member. So, 17 years after the birth of the Center, we finally have the chance to get new blood coming in. In fact, 90 people have chosen early retirement or other alternatives and left this organization. I think it’s a very good change for the organization. However, two years after the new system was introduced we are still the only Public Corporation in Taiwan.

Why are you still the only one?
The government wants many organizations to change because they think the new system should enable the organizations to provide more and better services to the public. It’s good for competition. At the same time, I think there are a lot of universities or galleries and museums that actually want to change themselves because they would then be able to make their own decisions on their management and directions. But they also know that the change is a very difficult challenge. When you are a government organization, you just sit and wait for people to come to you. But for a Public Corporation, you have to go and reach out.

Could you tell us about your career?
I studied ballet when I was six, and I did a lot of performing when I was in college. Then I went to New York University’s graduate school, the Tisch School, to study dance for one year. Then the 2nd year I took dance classes as well as Labanotation (dance notation) and all kinds of related subjects. I was 23 – and that was when I realized that I was not meant to perform, not to be a professional dancer but an administrator.
After I returned to Taiwan, I started the Taipei Dance Workshop. That was a time when Taiwan did not yet have such terminology in Chinese. I started my own experimental theater: the black box theater “Crown Theater,” which was also very new at that time in Taiwan in 1984. I invited a lot of guest teachers, mainly from the U.S., to give workshops and then give a performance at the end of the year. That kind of structure was very much like DTW in New York at that time. I invited choreographers from New York, such as Jim May from Limon Company and Lisa Steinberg. Those days, since the Graham technique was the only modern dance technique in Taipei, I tried to introduce different kinds of technique.
I also started composition workshops because there was no way at the time for people who were interested in choreography to work with a living composer. Every summer I invited a teacher from Juilliard to provide workshops, through which young choreographers in Taipei could at least have an experience of working in composition or improvisation. After holding those kinds of workshops for 5 years, I started my own company, Dance Forum Taipei. So, before becoming the artistic director of this Center I had run my own dance company and an experimental theater for almost 10 years. I was the administrative director, so I hired a choreographer.

But running the gigantic National Cultural Center must be quite different from running those groups you used to run.
Dance Forum Taipei, together with its school, theater and dance company, had only 20 people. Here at the National Cultural Center there are 230 staff members (aside from the 300 people at the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), which operates on its own.). Yes, the size is very different. But before I came here, I was also a chairperson of the Performing Arts Alliance (PAA) which is the first not-for-profit performing arts organization in Taiwan for four years from 1996 to 1999. There I dealt with more than 200 members, mainly consisting of performing arts company members and individual performers, and also lobbied the government concerning the interests of the industry. The experience at PAA had given me some ideas about how to deal with cultural policy and how to deal with different organizations.
Another helpful thing for me was my experience of serving as a dance panel member for the Center for many years.

You said the Center is responsible for earning one-third of its entire budget. How do you do that?
Through the income from box office, retail stores, the parking lots, and theater rentals. Plus, a small amount of donations from corporations.
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