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Global Times article on Do You Hutong?

Global Times by Huang Shaojie, Monday 19 July

A public art event to benefit preservation of the city’s threatened cultural heritage gained more international support than local sympathy despite strenuous publicity efforts, an organiz-er admitted Sunday.

The Do You Hutong? fundraiser attracted more than 100 guests to the Caochangdi art quarter of Chaoyang district Saturday.

The “innovative art event” was expected to help Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center (CHP) kick off a new preservation project for sites of cultural significance in Beijing and across China.

But the Center still needs more support and understanding – especially from locals – CHP founder He Shuzhong said Sunday.

Twenty artists from around the world had been invited to work on clay replicas of a courtyard gate, an architectural feature typical to the old city’s network of narrow alleys known as hutong.

The artworks were showcased for a silent auction at an event in the gallery of the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre at Caochangdi.

Despite its mission statement to “empower local communities to preserve their cultural heritage,” CHP did not attract too many local Beijingers: About 90 percent of guests and bidders were foreigners.

Do You Hutong? was publicized on “a dozen Chinese media outlets,” He said, including social network sites Kaixin001.com and Douban.com, but brought in only a few Chinese.

A fundraiser featuring an auction and cocktail party proved a problematic approach to grass-roots Beijingers.

“I would rather go see a real hutong,” wrote a Kaixin001 user Nie Zhenzhen. “And why are they charging a fee?”

“We think Do You Hutong? is a unique opportunity to inform the public, build consensus and raise funds for our grass-roots initiatives,” said CHP managing director Lily Wu.

The event raised about 20,000 yuan ($2,952), from the auction, drinks and 200-yuan ($29.52) entrance fee. Unfortunately there’s still a funding gap before CHP can implement its Cultural Action Network project to enhance its research and action capacity, He Shuzhong said.

A not-for-profit organization registered in Beijing, CHP responds to complaints about cultural heritage at risk, conducts field research and pursues preservation plans.

Its four full-time workers are falling behind on hundreds of daily tips from residents and activists according to He.

Hiring a full-time project manager for two years would cost 140,000 yuan ($20,664), he estimated.

“Two thirds of the actionable leads we get are not being followed up because we are understaffed,” He said.

CHP was among the first organizations to warn against the risks of a development plan unveiled in January for the Bell and Drum Towers area in Dongcheng district. Authorities have now indefinitely shelved the plan.

The impact of the city’s expanding network of underground subway lines on historic and cultural sites is also a growing CHP concern.

“There’s a lot to be done and we need more people and more money to do it,” He said.

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