Taiwan #2: Country of Artists

I’ve really been struck on this trip at how much art and culture there is in this country. And how art/culture seem to be going hand in hand with development.

Detail on tea shop door

In Dadaocheng, a very old market neighborhood that has been in steep decline since the mid-century, small entrepreneurs are moving in, taking over old spaces and creating ceramics workshops, cafes, boutiques, bars and bike shops. The patchiness of these shops is evidence of its newness: there are still ramshackle tiled buildings that are grimy and full of junk. But that only underscores the beauty and sheen of the newly done shops.

The city government assists in the renovations and cleaning up of these older buildings. And there are limitations as to what kinds of business are allowed to take advantage of these funds. No office buildings. No factories. Only things which are related to culture.

In other neighborhoods, too, there is an abundance of excellent graphic design, great little boutiques that sell lovely designs by local designers. Much of it is in neighborhoods that are being redeveloped.

Detail on garage door

Of course, this raises other issues such as what happens to the working class when they are priced out of their neighborhoods. In a very expensive city like Taipei, these are not inconsiderable things to keep in mind. And it’s a balance that cities throughout the world struggle with between encouraging development and artistic expression while limiting the open faced effects of capitalism on the real estate market.

Near Longshan temple, there is a preserved neighborhood that is intentionally kept empty. There must be enormous pressures on the city government to open the space up to rentals or leases for private companies but they keep the space free for art events and festivals. They manage to keep it looking pristine and beautiful, a preserved section of the past that underscores the importance of national pride in the uniqueness of this small country’s story.

Overall, culture seems to be flourishing and both government and business seem to be working hard to promote local art, literature and culture.

As we know and as we have seen in much of the world, art rarely can survive on a local scale without government intervention. And though the costs are not exorbinant, the payoffs are enormous: would there be a thriving Korean cinema scene without the money the Korean government spent 15 years ago to ensure that Korean cinema be made? And in Canada and Quebec, we can thank in part the government for being willing to promote our writers, artists, dancers and designers. Though only a few make it “international” each year, Canadians know their own writers. Quebecois know their own aritsts and musicians. That means a lot.

Renovated old mansion

Preserved area near Longshan Temple