The arts are not always in a prominent place on the political agenda in Africa, Latin-America and Asia. Nevertheless, an increasing number of governments recognise the importance of culture in itself and in connection to social and economic development. Part fifteen in a series on cultural policy in non-Western countries.


April 2006 -

For a long time, communist ideology determined the limits of cultural expression in Vietnam. Even though culture still serves social development, artists have enjoyed more artistic freedom for a decade now.

Culture played an important role in Vietnam in the battle against French dominance during the forties and in the communist revolution that followed independence. Artistic expression must serve the socialistic objectives of the party state that fomented a mass movement for culture and set up for a national network of cultural centres. Artists were obliged to be members of one of the state art organisations, such as the writer’s union and the film association. This sort of membership is still required if one wants to get a position in the state ballet, a government subsidy, or be allowed to publish books or to make films.

At the end of the eighties the Vietnamese government introduced a market economy. A new cultural policy in 1997 resulted in the restructuring of the cultural sector, which had deteriorated due to the reduction in state subsidies. ‘Socialisation' - the communist version of ‘privatisation' – was the focal point of this policy. Artists must be more enterprising, must look for alternative financing sources and find a new public. The Vietnamese Ministry of Culture and Information continues to support about 130 artistic organisations and manages all theatres and museums.

Even though there is still censorship in Vietnam, this new openness has meant more possibilities for artists to participate in international exchanges and to experiment with multi-disciplinary art forms. The government has concluded a cultural agreement with 38 countries and is also an active member of Unesco and the Asian-Europe Foundation. Commercial galleries and alternative arts centres, such as the Salon Natasha, founded in 1990, have opened their doors In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.