1996 | Council for Cultural Affairs established
2012 | Council for Cultural Affairs upgraded to Ministry of Culture
A country’s arts policy often has a direct impact on the development of its visual arts scene. For art practitioners such as artists, critics, curators, and art administrators, the most significant support comes from a vibrant art market as well as a functional funding system. In the case of Taiwan, contemporary art has drawn a limited interest in private investment, making various channels of funding all the more important to sustain the field. Understanding Taiwan’s funding system, therefore, can provide an insight into the development of the arts in the country.
National Culture and Arts Foundation
The National Culture and Arts Foundation (NCAF) is one of the most important funding bodies in Taiwan. It was established in 1996 by the Council for Cultural Affairs (precedent of the current Ministry of Culture). Although the NCAF operates as a government mandated entity, it has the advantage of a private foundation to bypass rigid regulations imposed by the administration, and exercise financial independence to conduct fundraisers and solicit private sponsorships. The majority of artists and art collectives in Taiwan have sought funding support from the NCAF. With its 20 years of experience, NCAF has developed recurrent grants for artist expense, exhibitions, symposiums, research, and publications under the funding category of Visual Arts; recurrent funding under Arts and Cultural Environment and Development, as well as International Exchange are also available in high demand.
Since the year of 2000, the NCAF has incorporated several special funding projects responding to requests in the art field during specific times. A few examples of these projects include grants for research and presentation in new media art, art administrators’ educational advancement abroad, and documentaries and art films. In recent years, the NCAF has focused on facilitating curatorial talents, implementing funding categories such as Curator Training Program and Visual Arts Curatorial Program to help jumpstart emerging curators’ careers and to assist professional curators to launch international curatorial projects. These programs have had a considerable impact on the quality of exhibitions in Taiwan. In addition, a new funding program, Critiquing Visual Arts, is introduced this year.
Ministry of Culture
In 2012, the Council for Cultural Affairs was upgraded to the Ministry of Culture. Unlike the National Culture and Arts Foundation (NCAF), the Ministry of Culture does not offer individual artists or curators funding; instead, it provides monetary support strictly to registered artist organizations, institutions, companies, and educational facilities. While the NCAF and the local governments act as the primary sources for recurrent funding programs, the Ministry of Culture aims to facilitate the formulation of lasting cultural policies. Since visual arts practitioners constitute merely a portion of the overall arts and cultural community in Taiwan, they are considered with candidates in other disciplines for funding, with the exception of a few programs designated for the visual arts.
Taiwan’s unique colonial history and the ongoing struggle to perform independently on the world stage have contributed to a deep-seated public yearning for international recognition. This anxiety is reflected in the country’s funding policy for the arts. The Ministry of Culture has provided sponsorship for Taiwanese artists and curators to participate in prestigious overseas residency programs, such as Cité Internationale des Arts (Paris), in Europe and the United States since its era as the Council for Cultural Affairs. The NCAF is now in charge of the application process for such residency programs. To align with the administration’s recent foreign policy, the Ministry of Culture began to facilitate cultural exchanges with Southeast Asia, West Asia, and Latin America, diversifying its once Japan- and Euro-American-centric funding tendencies. In addition to supporting academic research in the arts through grants, the Ministry of Culture offers modest funding for art fair participation, encouraging galleries to represent Taiwanese artists at international art fairs.
Some believe, however, that the Ministry of Culture and the NCAF should develop separate funding agendas; and that the Ministry of Culture needs to pass its specialized and recurrent funding programs to the NCAF gradually. In reaction to this call, the Visual Arts Organization Operation Program, a Ministry of Culture-initiated program critical to help sustain Taiwan’s independent art spaces, was transferred to the care of the NCAF in 2018.
Local Governments, Museums, and Other Institutions
In addition to the NCAF and the Ministry of Culture, local governments are key funding bodies in Taiwan. Several local governments have developed funding mechanisms referencing the NCAF and the Ministry of Culture model, sponsoring the arts with available resources and budgets. One prominent funding program provided by many local governments is designed to support the operational spending and international exchange in various artist residency sites around the country. Examples of such sites include Taipei Art Village and Treasure Hill Artist Village in Taipei, Siao-Long Cultural Park in Tainan, and the Pier 2 Art Center in Kaohsiung. These sites host exchange programs that sponsor international artists’ visits to Taiwan, and also support Taiwanese artists’ residency programs abroad.
Open calls launched by national museums may also be a form of government sponsorship. An example is the Digital Art Curation Program organized by the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Art (NTMoFA). Additionally, NTMoFA’s Young Artist Collection Program supports emerging artists through its open-call acquisitions. Art Bank Taiwan, a contemporary art acquisition program introduced by the Ministry of Culture and the NTMoFA, has also benefited Taiwanese artists since 2013.
Public institutions such as central and local governments as well as public foundations serve as the main funding providers for contemporary art practitioners in Taiwan. When compared to other Asian countries, the public sector here places more emphasis on advancing the development of contemporary art. This sponsorship environment, however, can increase artists’ and organizations’ dependency on public funding, subjecting them to negative impacts hailed from potential policy change. With the comparative absence of private sponsorship, the budget for government funding and the ways in which funding is distributed have long been the center of attention within the arts and cultural community. Support from private patrons, foreign institutions, and the art market at large is needed to diversify the funding landscape in the field of contemporary art in Taiwan.
Nevertheless, kudos to public institutions and private organizations across the country for implementing policy improvements and initiating discussions. This ongoing effort has helped shape a somewhat comprehensive funding system we see today. Taiwan’s strive for international recognition is reflected in its sponsorship of international exchange programs. These programs, however, focus mainly on sending Taiwanese artists abroad. To become an active participant in the Asia-Pacific art scene and beyond, and to rise as a home hub for international artistic talents, Taiwan needs to continue upgrading its funding policies.