Shouldering A Cultural And Creative Organisation Needs More Than A Pink Dream

The talk: Shouldering a cultural and creative organisation – Walking in a pink dream taking place on December 03 heated up the auditorium on a cold, rainy morning with valuable discussions that opened up numerous questions for dialogue. 

Guest speakers of the talk included Ariel Phạm – Art Collector, Founder and CEO of The Outpost Art Organisation, Dr Lê Xuân Kiêu – Director of the Centre for Cultural and Scientific Activities, Temple of Literature, Nguyễn Hoàng Phương – Director of TPD Centre for the Development of Movie Talents, Vũ Khánh Tùng – Director of Bat Trang Museum of Viet Soul Art, and the moderator was journalist Trương Uyên Ly – Director of Hanoigrapevine.

In the first half of the talk, the guest speakers took turns sharing the nature, goals and vision of the cultural and creative organisation they are steering. The diversity in their models – private and public, traditional and contemporary, physical and virtual… provided the audience with an overview of cultural organisations in Vietnam.

The second half of the conversation discussed changes and growth, and the question of how to “survive”? How to build a healthy ecosystem that is inclusive, taking into account and ensuring the needs of a diverse group, including vulnerable people, balancing benefits while growing and creating social impacts.

Dr Lê Xuân Kiêu said that when he first took over the managing position at the Temple of Literature in 2016, he had no prior experience in general management, especially heritage management. Facing him were obstacles in adapting and making a change in the perception and working procedures of an organisation that had been running for 30 years, with established working routines and a system of regulations. Not only so, he had to confront the challenge of preserving the long-standing values and spirit of the Temple of Literature, and at the same time, adapting to the development of society, matching its status. Values inherited from ancestors are precious, but the simple operation of an attraction is very different from rendering those values lively and generating new values in today’s society.

For art collector Ariel Phạm, the challenges come from the shift from the role of a personal, private collector to presenting collections to the public. She said that the mindset of a leader of public exhibition space is very different from that of a private collector, as she was before. Many decisions, which could have been made based on intuition in the past, now need more consideration and rationality. After one year of operations, when her hobby turned into work, she realised multiple challenges and downsides, which also changed her perspective once she immersed herself in them. Her commitment to The Outpost and the initial ideal demonstrates her maturity on the journey of shouldering the organisation.

Vũ Khánh Tùng, as the successor of his family’s legacy, admitted that it was a challenging mission, as up until that point, he had chosen a career path completely different from his father’s and his family’s. To do justice to the legacy his father left him, he invested a tremendous amount of time in learning about cultural management, art curation and more. The first thing he did when taking over was change the museum’s visual identity to align with its new mission. It was a shift from a museum rich in personal identity to one with community-focused activities. The identity redesign took 03 years and yielded positive impacts.

Journalist Trương Uyên Ly said that when she took charge of Hanoi Grapevine, she had no knowledge about human management. Her strength was her expertise in journalism. Hanoi Grapevine is a media platform, it needs journalistic expertise, but that is not the only thing. The platform also does not really fit the criteria of a cultural and creative organisation from an entrepreneurial viewpoint. She had to change her mindset and think through the lens of a business while balancing the ideal of a journalist, which is social development. When combining these two aspects, she struggled for around two to three years. During this time, she had to make a painful decision to let go of Hanoi Grapevine’s former staff, as changes had made their old working processes incompatible with the new context.

From years of experience in management, Nguyễn Hoàng Phương believed that for a leader of a cultural creative hub, the most important thing is revenue sources. Without money to sustain itself, it can contribute nothing to society. When the Ford Foundation and other funds left Vietnam due to economic downturns, TPD faced the challenge of finding a business model that could generate revenue. From an initial non-profit under the Cinema Department, TPD had to secure a stable stream of revenue. It was not enough to rely solely on sponsorships, greater stability and independence were required. Therefore, TPD had to seek ways to be self-reliant while maintaining the collaboration between the public and private sectors, and receiving funding from international organisations. Experimenting with various models: Company, social enterprise, cinema fund, TPD ultimately decided on the model of a business, which has legal status and commercial activities while still being able to receive sponsorships.

There is no universal formula that fits any cultural and creative organisation. Each leader learns and adjusts through experiences with their organisation. Behind every artistic “pink dream” are tremendous amounts of sweat, effort, and silent sacrifices of the leaders and their teams. Despite the challenges, they always keep their faith and bravely move forward with their love for the arts and an optimistic spirit.

The event came to an end with a Q&A session with the audience on the motivation and growth opportunities for cultural and creative organisations, as well as plans for the near future in alignment with global creative trends and tendencies.


Chii Nguyễn