Sun, Nov 28, 2004 - Page 17 News List

Huashan past, present and future

It's been a controversial mix of art, politics and economics for over a decade, and, once again, the future of Taipei's largest center for experimental arts is locked in rancorous debate

By Diana Freundl  /  STAFF REPORTER

Huashan now operates under the management of L'Orangerie International Art Consultants.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BEN ZULLO

The CO4 exhibition showcasing Taiwanese avant-garde arts opened Friday at the Huashan Cultural and Creative Industry Center. When it closes this January, so will Taipei's largest experimental art venue. The center will reopen next year, but how much of its original architecture will be preserved after NT$8 billion is spent on renovations has become a searing debate between local artists and government officials.

In theory, both sides have the same vision: an environment for artists to exhibit their work and attract a wider audience -- but their approaches are different and only complicated by rumors and limited dialogue.

In early November, the Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA) released a press statement indicating it would not renew its current management contract with L'Orangerie International Art Consultants so that it could establish its own foundation to run Huashan.

The news triggered a series of public demonstrations led by artist Tang Huang-chen (湯皇珍), who blocked plans to turn the former winery buildings of Huashan into a home for the Legislative Yuan in 1997.

Margaret Lai-Huang Shiu (蕭麗虹), chairperson of the Association of Cultural and Environmental Reform in Taiwan (ACERT, 藝術文化環境改造協會), a group composed mostly of artists that became the first to legally manage Huashan Arts District, is also a key figure in the protesting.

Minister Chen Chi-nan (陳其南) of the CCA said his main concern is the long-term preservation of the space. "The artists had a fantastic idea and because of them we now have this land. ... We must do something to secure this land so it will be used as a place for the arts in the future," he said.

The area currently in use occupies only 12 percent of the 7.21 hectares owned by the central government. According to Chiao Lin (林鍬), the executive vice president of the planning and design consultant firm that was hired by the city government in 2002 to inspect the area, Huashan occupies some of the most expensive land in Taipei.

Because it was declared a cultural site, however, it cannot be sold to a commercial developer. Although Lin could not give any exact figures, he said the land would be valued similar to that in the Zhongxiao East Road district, which is estimated at NT$1 million per ping (3.3m2).

In an attempt to prevent the site from going to waste, the CCA, under Chen, intends to "turn it into a landmark of contemporary culture in Taiwan," Lin said.

"We believe that providing a creative-industry center for artists to showcase their work will give birth to a new contemporary culture in Taiwan. We are desperately in need of a space to establish this culture and there is no need to congest it in the small space being used now," he added.

Chen defines a creative-industry center as "a special site for artists from many media including performance arts, visual communications, architecture, textiles and design to exchange ideas and work on joint projects."

The CCA's blueprint plan does not alter any of the three heritage sites, but instead proposes to build three additional buildings among the old ones. These will include an international hostel to house visiting artists, a performance hall to hold some 2,000 people, and a high-rise building with floors for studio and exhibition space, a coffee shop and bookstore and administration office space for the CCA.

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