Chou Wen-chung

Leadership Conference on Conservancy and Development: Introductory Remarks

Given at Kunming, Yunnan, China; September 1999. By the Director of the Center for United States - China Arts Exchange at Columbia University.

The Center for United States - China Arts Exchange at Columbia University was established through a formal agreement with China before the normalization of relations between the two countries and has been carrying out major projects since January 1979, with participants from throughout the Asian-Pacific region as well as the United States and China. Among its programs were a six-year project on arts education, which led to the establishment of the cabinet-level State Subcommission on Arts Education in China; a multi-year comparative study on "innovation and tradition" in urban planning and preservation for historic cities; and the first Pacific music festival and composers conference in Sapporo, Japan, with young musicians and composers from literally all of the countries around the Pacific Rim.

The main focus of the Center since 1990, however, has been a broadly defined cultural conservancy program for the indigenous peoples of Southwest China — known as the minority nationalities or simply the nationalities — designed to create a comprehensive strategy for the continuation of their cultural practices and for the development of their traditional arts. This program has involved hundreds of specialists from China, the United States, and Asia, and has mobilized thousands of local cultural workers.

With the collaboration of the Yunnan provincial government, primary funding from the Ford Foundation, and the partnership of major cultural and research institutions of Yunnan, the Center established the Joint Plan on Yunnan Nationalities Cultures in 1992, consisting of a number of large-scale projects that call for interaction among urban professionals, village community mentors, and rural master artists. One such project is a province-wide multi-disciplinary research network that draws input from local residents and community mentors, and promotes community-based cultural studies and education, as well as heritage-oriented conservancy and development. Another is an arts curriculum for nationalities students, which brings rural masters to teach in the ambience of an academic institution, and to send the students and faculty to work with rural mentors in the natural setting of their community's heritage. Recently, a province-wide survey of artists and artisans has been completed with the goals of collecting information of the nationalities artistic legacies, promoting these masters as cultural conveyors, rekindling interest in their own arts and crafts among the young and in the communities, and laying the groundwork for market research and heritage tourism.

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