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Duong Bich Hanh

The findings from the survey and the case studies indicate four main factors that can enable some CCI organizations to be more successful and sustainable than others.

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Managing Culture and the Arts in South-East Asia (2)

by Duong Bich Hanh

Presentation Video



  • Government grants, subsidies, and incentive schemes

Compared to the other surveyed countries, Singapore has the most extensive system of government-funded support for CCI organizations. Such support includes grants, incentive schemes, and tax exemptions. As a result of sustained state support over the past twenty years, the sector has become professionalized, and a local audience has emerged for CCI organizations. Also, efforts are being made to promote Singapore’s arts and culture internationally.Government policies that support the CCI sector have had positive results in other countries, too, including in Thailand, where a policy to promote the craft sector has enhanced the country’s global reputation for high-quality traditional craft products. In Indonesia, the state agency Bekraf is implementing various schemes and initiatives and introducing a tax exemption system for CCI organizations.Funding for CCIs remains a challenge, however, in low and medium-economy countries, where other needs tend to be perceived to be more urgent.

  • Private patronage

The commitment of founders and patrons is essential to the running of many CCI organizations across the region, with these actors often acting as investors, managing directors, and advocates. This role can also include providing business contacts, facilitating special rates for office spaces, and corporate and private sponsorship of events. The founders of CCI organizations often subsidize the operational costs of their organizations by not paying themselves and relying on income earned from other activities to be able to pay staff and cover operational costs. In addition, they invest personal capital into the organization. While organizations have been able to survive in this way, long-term sustainability may not be possible as CCI founders and owners may suffer burnout and financial difficulties.

  • Funding from international organizations

International organizations and diplomatic agencies play a role in supporting CCI organizations by providing funding for vital activities, particularly in countries with less-developed economies.CCI organizations registered as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can raise funds from international donors. But in countries where registration processes are complicated, bureaucratic, or costly, many small and informal entities are excluded from international support networks.

  • Resilience, adaptability, and resourcefulness of creative and cultural workers

The study found evidence of entrepreneurial spirit and practice among the surveyed organizations. Those who are sustaining themselves often do so through a combination of their founders’ and members’ resourcefulness, resilience and rootedness in their respective cultural/creative communities and in broader society.

The social and cultural capital of founders and key personnel is a significant resource. In some cases, a community network is built through members of the collective contributing particular skill sets or areas of knowledge to keep the organization running.

With 31 percent of the surveyed organizations classified as collective or informal groups, this model appears to offer specific advantages for survival. Serrum in Indonesia and the Five Arts Centre in Malaysia are examples of this and also demonstrate a culture of constant learning and adaptation and the socio-cultural significance of the CCI organizations, which goes beyond market value.

  • Education

Epic Arts (Cambodia), The Sound Initiative (Cambodia),Montblanc Film Workshop (Indonesia), PPAL (Lao PDR),Inwa School of Performing Arts (Myanmar), and TPD Film School (Viet Nam).

For several years, independent organizations have been initiating their capacity-building activities to respond to the limited number of programs in the CCI. They include vocational education, short-term courses, and capacity-building workshops. Such programs often depend on grants, sponsorship, and international support. However, several organizations also generate their income by offering performances, services, or technical expertise.

  • Advocacy and human rights

SIRKAM Women’s Creative Circulation (Indonesia), Myanmar Deitta (Myanmar), Pineapple Lab (the Philippines), and Mayarith (Thailand).Human rights are commonly addressed within art projects in Southeast Asia, highlighting sensitive topics creatively. From women’s rights to LGBTQ, freedom of speech to a disability, artists and creative communities have been promoting human rights with funding support from local/national institutions or individuals as well as international bodies (i.e., cultural agencies, foreign embassies, foundations.)

  • Creative experiments

Sathe Collective (Singapore), Phare Performing Social Enterprise (Cambodia), Five Arts Center (Malaysia), Prakerti Collective Intelligence (Indonesia), Serrum Studio (Indonesia), and Heritage Space (Viet Nam).Cross-disciplinary and experimental approaches are gaining momentum in the region. Legally the possibilities are limited as a social enterprise is not always formally recognized, and NPO status can be difficult to obtain. Registering as a private company or not registering at all becomes a common choice in this context. While they do not benefit from tax exemption when registered, in some cases, they can generate income to finance their operations and activities.

  • Heritage and archives (Indonesia), Khao Niew Theater Company (Lao PDR), Siong Leong Musical Association (Singapore), and Penang House of Music (Malaysia).Heritage preservation and archiving require considerable resources to remain sustainable and relevant for the younger generations. From government-funded programs to self-financed archives and privately sponsored spaces, examples from the region show that the process of preserving culture is not necessarily led by governmental bodies but can be initiated by informal groups of passionate individuals.

  • Promotion and communication

TitikMerah Collective (Malaysia), Anonymous Publishing House (Myanmar), Matca (Viet Nam), Arts Equator (Singapore), BIPAM (Thailand), and Vientianale International Film Festival (Lao PDR).The understanding of arts and culture across diverse audiences is fundamental for the sustainability of artistic practices and intellectual development in the region. Self-financed projects and volunteer networks have played a vital role in arts promotion and dissemination in southeast Asia. Various models, including NPOs and commercial entities, often behave as support hubs for the arts communities.

In the case of festivals, dedicated leadership and well-coordinated efforts are necessary to deliver international exposure and accessibility to diverse artistic content. Festivals and events in southeast Asia strongly depend on informal networks and the development of a solid audience base, most often consolidated through private sponsorships and individual support.

  • Entrepreneurship

Shma & Shma SoEN (Thailand), La Lanta Fine Arts (Thailand), and Arena Multimedia.A few creative businesses from the private sector have managed to stay financially independent, generating enough income to carry out their activities, sometimes even making a profit. In some contexts, the generated income may be re-invested into social endeavors to benefit the local community, it can also be used to promote Southeast Asian artists overseas or focus on the development of creative capacity and professional skills.

  • Recommendations

Develop enabling strategies, action plans, policies and data collection mechanisms. As well as provision of funding, policy development and/or strengthening is needed in the following areas:Audience development aligned with arts education and skills development of artists and creative/culture workers.Provision of hard infrastructure – upgrading of national institutions, subsidized rent for CCI businesses, enabling access to facilities and equipment – combined with the soft infrastructure of a skilled and knowledgeable workforce as administrators, including those working in government cultural departments.Ease of doing business and regulatory frameworks.Sector-specific market analysis to understand production and distribution chains.

1) Strengthen local governance and community participation

Responsibility for CCI development needs to be enacted at all levels, from the municipal level through the state/province/district level to the national level. Situating policy-making and enactment at the municipal level and decentralizing government administration can be one way to alleviate the pressures at the federal/state level, while also allowing for greater access by people to their lawmakers. There is a need for increased advocacy for the facilitation of dialogue between government officials, civil society organizations and CCI practitioners and groups.

2) Implement new models of organization

This study found that many CCI organizations are operating in a hybrid manner, either registered as a for-profit but with a non-profit ideology, purpose and practice; or as for-profit with a strong social purpose. While some appear to be surviving adequately with such ambiguity, this situation has led to uncertainties about taxation and frustrations in identifying and accessing appropriate income streams. 

Recognizing that if a clear operational model is not defined and supported by the system, an organization will inevitably encounter new challenges as it grows, and in alignment with global trends of revising organizational structures in recognition of the changing needs in both the business and philanthropic sectors, it is recommended that governments of countries in the SEA region invest in exploring a broader range of models. These could include social enterprises, the community interest company model, and the various models identified as ‘for-benefit’ organizations in the fourth sector. Some countries, such as Thailand, VietNam, and Indonesia, are moving in this direction.

3) Strengthen collaboration across the South-East Asian region

In accordance with SDG Target 17.9:‘Enhance international support for implementing effective and targeted capacity-building in developing countries to support national plans to implement all the sustainable development goals, including through North-South, South-South, and triangular cooperation, it is recommended that governments take advantage of opportunities for intra-regional cooperation, such as through agencies such as UNESCO and ASEAN, for capacity building and knowledge exchange. 

Some of the systems of support and schemes that are currently in place in some countries are possible models for adaptation. Cooperation at the ASEAN level between cultural agencies and ministries could help address deficiencies in skills and knowledge within government departments in some countries with underdeveloped infrastructure.

4) Integrate culture into sustainable development frameworks

It is important for national governments to develop a holistic and comprehensive system to support the culture sector. Culture should be recognized for its contribution to social capital, environmental sustainability and community identity, beyond just economic benefits.

Viewing culture solely in economic terms, for its tourism income or its connection with the digital economy, can have adverse impacts on sustainability as it neglects the fundamental characteristics of the CCI sector.

It is recommended that municipal governments also integrate the culture sector, notably small and medium-sized CCIs, into their overall development policies, taking into account the specific characteristics of the sector. This will help to address the precarity of CCI workers and enable them to better withstand market forces and competition with fully commercial enterprises.I hope my presentation has provided you with some concrete ideas for collaboration among the various stakeholders, and I look forward to our collaboration in the future.



Dương Bích Hạnh is an anthropologist with a strong commitment to gender equality, cultural diversity, and human rights. She is currently leading the Culture Unit at the UNESCO Bangkok Office, covering the Mekong cluster countries and coordinating a number of regional projects in Asia and the Pacific. Her work involves supporting the countries in implementing UNESCO’s six cultural conventions and promoting the role of culture and creativity in sustainable development. Before joining UNESCO in 2009, she worked with NGOs and research institutes on projects on issues concerning ethnic minority groups in Viet Nam and Southeast Asia.

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