The University of Wisconsin has recently been gifted a Thai pavilion by the Thai government and the Thai chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association. This is this is one of very few Thai pavilions in the United States (another one having been given to the East-West Center by Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit in 1967), and is the only one surrounded by gardens outside of Thailand. However, the university did not have space so the pavilion will be placed in the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, a short 15 minute drive from the Madison campus. Olbrich’s encircling gardens and location near water makes it ideal for the pavilion as they symbolize good health and fortune in Thailand.
From August 29th to October 7th, Olbrich will host its nighttime GLEAM exhibit to increase attendance during the fall. The event showcases light-based local, national, and international art while illuminating the outdoor gardens with light. One of the instillations — “Lasing Nang Talung” by Mike Gould — created a different interpretation of traditional Thai shadow puppets by combining it with laser Neo-Op art and will be displayed in the Thai pavilion.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison has grown a strong relationship with the Thai government. The Royal Thai Embassy has sponsored the university’s Thai Studies program while the school also offers classes to learn Thai and boasts numerous study abroad programs to Thailand.
In the last decade, Wisconsin officials have also taken steps to promote educational exchanges between Thai and Wisconsin schools through the Thailand-Wisconsin Sunrise Program. In 2005, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction signed a cooperative agreement with the Thailand Ministry of Education to further relationships, and since 2007 they have facilitated a short exchange for Thai students to experience school in Wisconsin. The program was seen as a way for Thai students to be exposed to American culture but also for Americans to learn more about Thailand. In 2016 Wisconsin has hosted 118 Thai students, contributing $3.5 million dollars to the Wisconsin economy.
Celine Mahne is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a third-year undergraduate student at the George Washington University studying International Affairs, concentrating in Security Policy and minoring in Korean.