'Taiwan deserves to be discovered': French promoter

Photo courtesy of infine-art.com

By Trista di Genova
Abridged version of this article published in The China Post Jan. 11, 2009

Cedric Alviani’s title is general director of the non-profit organization Infine Art & Exchange, but his actual role is far more visionary than that: he and his company Infine provide a critical service to talented, but under-represented artists in Taiwan.
“I wish to serve as a bridge between artists and their audience,” he said in an exclusive interview with The China Post on Friday evening.
Cedric is from Lyon, France, and graduated from journalism school (CUEJ) in Strasbourg ten years ago.
“I first worked as a reporter, then left France to do civil service for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs — an audiovisual officer for the French embassy in Thailand.” Next, he was asked to serve at the Institut Francais in Taiwan.
“It was a very interesting job,” he says, but after four years, he turned down the chance to continue his foreign service career in India. Although he can’t get used to people here putting pork floss in his croissants, he says the general quality of life in Taiwan is very good. “It’s also a free country, democratic, evolving very fast in a positive way, and people are open to arts, culture and things they don’t know. This is a very good platform for us to grow.”
“I chose to stay in Taiwan and start my own activities, and together with a former (embassy) co-worker, Yen Ya-ting, we decided to create this company.”
He was motivated, he says, by the feeling that “Taiwan deserves to be discovered.”
“You have a lot of artists and talent here, and often these talents don’t have the chance to be known or presented abroad. Plus, it’s hard for artists, because you can’t work full-time on artwork and promote it at the same time.”
“You’d be surprised at the level of budgets for artists,” he says. Art groups get government sponsorship that supports a few people, but they have no budget to deal with promotion, relying on friends and relatives. “It breaks your heart to see a great performance but 20 people are there to see it,” he argues. “In a way, it’s unacceptable. It’s not from the bad economy, or the culture; they are artists not promoters. So another motivation: I would really like to not to see these empty theaters anymore. To have a full audience is the least in respect and service we can provide.”
So, “through [Yen’s and my] connections, we thought we’d have a chance to build something like a bridge between Taiwan and the rest of the world,” he said. “We are completing the artists, by helping promote their work.”
He cited the example of Infine’s production and promotion of the Broadway revue “Smoky Joe’s Cafe,” debuting next weekend in Taipei. “In our meeting, we saw [Director Brooke Hall] was passionate and the project has potential. He wanted to produce it by himself, but didn’t have the opportunity to make it big.”
Initially, 800-seat Guling Theatre, one of Taipei’s smallest theaters, was slated as the venue. Infine took on the project, changing the site to the National Taiwan Arts Education Center, with seating capacity of 2,000. Ticketing is going pretty well, he says, with something around 50 to 60 percent of tickets already sold. And he’s confident they’ll get sponsors afterwards for a Taiwan tour.
Infine fills a great need in Taiwan for a professional fine arts consultancy. “You can compare us to a movie producer. A director/writer talks to a producer, and says ‘I’ve got a great idea for a production. The producer goes and put partners together, finds ways to finance the project. By himself, the director is unable to do it. On the other hand, he won’t accept just any script to turn into a movie. He must select ones that have potential, and put the conditions together.”
The firm operates with a twist, in terms of financing: “Most PR companies are waiting for the customer to come and say, ‘I’ve got a US$1 million budget,’ where the PR company takes a percentage and the rest is for the project. But artists even for their project they don’t have enough money,” he continued. “We can’t decently do that. So what we do is bring our promotion experience and create something bigger. Instead of expecting money to come right away, we upgrade the project, match the artist with the audience, and get paid afterwards. It seems to work very well, and most artists in Taiwan need this service.”
There are pitfalls to this approach, of course. “Since we’re privately funded, we have to be very careful and not take exaggerated risks. We bet on something and play big, but try to keep it in control.”
“So far it’s working fine,” he says, “and little by little, we’re finding our own space in PR in Taiwan’s artistic environment. I don’t think there’s another company that’s doing what we’re doing. We don’t have competitors in Taiwan. It’s hard to — we’re only ones crazy enough to try to make a living this way!”
Their first arts promotion: putting on the first European Film Festival in 2005. “We actually gathered 37 partners; most of them don’t pay money, but everybody brings a little something to the arrangement. Seventeen universities and cultural centers around Taiwan provided the performance space. Ten European representive and trade offices gave financial assistance… It’s like combining different partners and trying to use the best of each of them, putting to use their competencies as best we can,” he explains.
Then, for the International Open-Air Arts Festival, they put together an entire circus production on the big stage in Taipei, including flying acrobats.
In 2004, they even tried the seemingly impossible: selling Chinese opera to the Chinese, by staging Kun Chinese opera at the Poly Theatre in China. Amazingly, it was a cooperation between Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. Then again, Infine is not just a Taiwanese company that is run by a Frenchman, he stresses, but an international company.
The trick is building on their successes, he says — expanding the network, getting prestigious “structures” such as the National Palace Museum, National Theater, EETO or MOFA onboard — institutions that have an interest in helping Taiwan make new connections, and importing, exporting culture.
They put Taiwanese shows on the road, for example Dance Forum Taipei to the Bern festival in Switzerland in 2006.
“We have more and more projects we wish to develop with our artists, for example, “The Night of the Adeaters,” with the Alliance Francaise, an event that sold out 800 seats early last year so they had to stop promotion.
“We’ve been here three years, and this kind of event production company needs time to grow. We’ve learned a lot, and now we have all the tools to produce and promote a large event in Taiwan. On a daily basis, it’s very hard, as you never know what will be the next project. But I think there’s a future in this field. We can feel it already in the results. First, we are much more stable, and have more projects in the pipes. Then, too, sponsors come and stay; there’s now a level of trust, and you can start to do bigger and bigger things,” because partnering “brings a lot of mutual benefits.”
“By now, we’ve worked with the most prestigious [institutions] — National Theater and Concert Hall, the National Palace Museum, trade offices, Taipei European School.”
For future projects they’re coordinating the third “Night of the Adeaters in July,” and searching for a much bigger venue than last year, when they sold out 800 seats, and had to stop the promotion. Then they’re inviting the European Union Chamber Orchestra in December 2009 to National Concert Hall and hopefully other big cities. Or the French association AFT’s Bastille Day Gala Ball. Or cooperation with the Blues Society on Taiwan.
“These are all volunteers who are working very hard to promote an artistic event,” he says. “You can work as hard as you want and won’t have your efforts grow, it will just exist in a little corner. What we want to do is provide some management and growth potential to these events, help people put their strengths together for a collective bargaining strength. We need events, and they need hands to do them. It’s the perfect symbiotic relationship.”