Running costs hit mega arts facilities

Shanghai cultural centre struggles to find 90,000 yuan needed each day for survival

A Shanghai arts centre manager has complained about the high daily cost of maintaining the extravagant project, sparking concern about other expensive infrastructure going to waste in mainland cities.

Lin Hongming , general manager of the Shanghai Oriental Art Centre, said he was struggling to find the 90,000 yuan needed each day to maintain the 1.14 billion yuan structure, the People's Daily reported yesterday. The Shanghai project is one of series of big-budget drama theatres on the mainland, headed by Beijing's 2.6 billion yuan plus National Theatre, which is expected to cost more than 330,000 yuan per day to maintain, according to mainland media reports.

Mr Lin also told the newspaper that the centre had a number of expensive facilities which were rarely used, including a 20 million yuan organ and an indoor ice stage.

'The ice stage has been used only once since the centre was put into use in mid-2005,' the People's Daily quoted Mr Lin as saying.

He expressed disappointment that those facilities were so rarely utilised, saying this was due to the high cost of using them.

Lilian Zhang, a Shanghai International Studies University student, said the centre's high ticket prices locked her out of the theatre.

'I live near the centre in Pudong district, but I never go inside to watch a performance. I can only afford prices lower than 50 yuan,' Ms Zhang said. The average price for tickets at the centre is 258 yuan, according to Mr Lin.

The building is wrapped in 4,700 pieces of glass arranged to resemble a moth orchid from the sky and is the work of the French architect Paul Andreu, who also designed the National Theatre, a project that has attracted no end of critics since it was first proposed.

In recent years, many mainland cities have been engaged in a headlong rush to construct their own big-budget theatres equipped with the most advanced facilities and patterned on a modern western style.

Chongqing spent 1.5 billion yuan building its grand theatre, Wuhan splashed out on a 1 billion yuan facility, and Zhengzhou and Hangzhou set aside more than 900 million yuan each for their own buildings, according to the Ministry of Culture.

Xie Dajing , an arts management professor at the China Conservatory of Music in Beijing, said it was not necessary for second-tier cities to 'compete' in building luxury art centres and the efforts would waste resources.

Shi Zulin , a public management specialist from Tsinghua University, said authorities should conduct a feasibility study before each massive investment was approved to determine whether the projects sanctioned were appropriate and how they would be able to make a profit.

'But unfortunately most big projects lack such studies. They are usually decided by administrators and opposed by many experts,' Professor Shi said.