Located across Dihua Street (迪化街) from Yongle Market (永樂市場) in Taipei, the A.S. Watson & Co (屈臣氏大藥房) building, named for the pharmacy once housed in the imposing corner structure, stood empty for nearly a decade after a fire gutted its interior. Now a collective of creative entrepreneurs plans to give the 92-year-old structure a second life as ArtYard (小藝埕), a cultural center that will preserve the area’s past while attracting a younger crowd to the historic neighborhood.
The three businesses that operate in ArtYard — independent textile brand In Blooom (印花樂, see the Taipei Times on March 9, page 13), ceramics studio Hakka Blue (台客藍) and Luguo Cafe (爐鍋咖啡) — comanage the center as the Sedai Group (世代文化創業群), which was founded by Jou Yi-cheng (周奕成). A performance space called Thinkers Theater (思劇場) will open at the end of this month.
Jou, a lifelong resident of the Minsheng Community (民生社區) who is best known as a political activist and cofounder of the Third Society Party (第三社會黨), frequently crosses Taipei City to explore the streets and alleyways of Dadaocheng (大稻埕). He had hoped to open an arts and culture center in the area for years before the A.S. Watson & Co building became available for rent.
“I felt like it had been waiting for me,” Jou says.
He felt a strong pull to Dadaocheng because “politically, culturally and historically, the area is extremely meaningful to this country.”
Dadaocheng was once an important trading port and the center of Taiwan’s textile industry. (Yongle Market is still known for its fabric stalls.) The place where agents of the Taiwan Provincial Monopoly Bureau’s Taipei branch (台灣省專賣局台北分局) beat a cigarette vendor on Feb. 27, 1947, triggering the 228 Incident and the beginning of the White Terror Era, is just a few blocks away from ArtYard on Nanjing West Road (南京西路). The neighborhood’s traditional snack shops, many housed in Japanese colonial era buildings, are still a popular destination, especially before Lunar New Year, but Luguo Cafe owner Lu Guo Chieh-he (盧郭杰和) says many visitors don’t take time to explore the area.
ADDRESS: 1, Ln 32, Dihua St Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市迪化街一段32巷1號)
OPEN: Stores are open Monday to Sunday, from noon to 6pm; Luguo Cafe operates Tuesdays to Sundays from 11am to 7pm.
TELEPHONE: (02) 2552-1338
ON THE NET: www.artyard.tw
“We want to convince people to linger a while, because they usually just stop to buy things before they take off again,” he says. “There weren’t a lot of places in the neighborhood to sit and relax.”
Lu Guo, who also runs a cafe near Guandu MRT Station (關渡捷運站), says he decided to work with the Sedai Group because its “plans are very far-reaching and focused on the long term.”
Jou says it is important for Taipei’s residents to create spaces that serve as incubators for arts and culture, preserving the past by allowing members of different generations to meet and exchange stories.
“Both the government and people who care about social issues often get one thing wrong, which is to assume that public spaces must be publicly owned,” he says. “I don’t feel that is true.”
Jou points to the salons and coffeehouses that were instrumental to the creation of public spheres in 18th and 19th century France, Germany and England.
“They were all privately operated, but by people who really care about creativity and culture, and who contributed toward creating very vibrant societies,” Jou says.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING
Jou and his ArtYard partners want to attract the young, intellectually curious people who usually gravitate toward university neighborhoods like Gongguan (公館) and the area around Shida Road (師大路).