Singapore’s Lian He Zao Bao (联合早报) ran an article about “face projects” (面子工程), the highly expensive public buildings that ostensibly make their home cities seem cultured, prosperous, and advanced, but which in reality are often huge wastes of resources.
Shanghai’s got more than a couple of those, but the Lian He piece talks about two face projects in particular: the painted green mountain in Yunnan and Shanghai’s own Oriental Arts Centre (东方艺术中心).
First consider some of the costs associated with running something this big. To clean the thing, you’d have to scrub at 158,000 tiles on an inside wall, the highest 14.8 meters above the ground, which means that it would take two months to do the whole thing. There’s also the 4700 pieces of glass on the outside, cleaning all of them costs 40,000 RMB each time. Electricity is 1/3 of total costs at 90,000 RMB per day on average.
This blog offers more details. The glass tiles mentioned above need to get some kind of temperature control, lest moisture condense on them and change their appearance (and hence the appearance of the entire place). Thus, in the main chamber you have air-con blowing at the glass, rather than on the people in the middle. It seems like it’s on all the time, even though experts say that in Shanghai, most of the condensation occurs at 3 or 4 in the morning and that all you need to do is install some kind of sensor that would just turn on the air-con system when necessary.
Another thing is the lights: because some rooms don’t get sunlight, you have to turn the lights on even in the middle of the day, thus adding more to the cost of electricity (plus the costs of the lighting equipment). Of course, all these costs are justifiable if the place gets a lot of use and makes enough money to at least defray those costs. However, that’s not necessarily the case: the ice rink, as of the time of the writing of the above blog/link, was only used once, by a Russian ice skating ballet/dance group—China doesn’t even seem to have such a group. The same with the organ, which has to be in a temperature and moisture controlled environment. The costs of maintenance seem to far outstrip whatever money it brings in.
Naturally, this means you have to jack up the ticket prices. A performance by a musical ensemble from Berlin in November 2005. The whole thing cost the center 12 million RMB, and yet ticket sales, despite a few 4000 RMB tickets, only amounted to 7 million RMB. So who put up the other 5 million for them to break even? The Pudong district government and some local businesses (sponsors?). No matter how you cut it, the money comes from taxpayers, most of whom cannot really afford to buy tickets (at least not often) for performances anyway.
Ironically, it seems that it was the People’s Daily that pointed out some of the problems. But we haven’t seen the original article, but if someone finds it, please let us know. In any case, they had some scholar quoted as saying that the point of the Oriental Arts Center is to spread high culture to the people, blah blah blah.
Contained in that article was a list of various art centers around China and how much they cost:
Hangzhou: 900 million RMB
Ningbo: 619 million RMB
Shaoxing: 310 million RMB
Dongguan: 600 million RMB
Henan: 900 million RMB
Hubei (Wuhan): 1 billion RMB
Shanghai Oriental Arts Center: 1.14 billion RMB
If you’re interested in learning more about the center, check out their official website, where you can learn about buying tickets. Naturally, they also have a blog that is mostly ticket/performance information. Check out some photos here.
Photo from zjknews.com