[FOUNTAIN]Art as an economic powerEchigo Tsumari is a secluded town in Niigata, a rural, northwest coastal province of Japan’s main island. But this remote little village attracts the world’s attention once every three years by transforming itself into a unique place for an artists’ event. This is the year.
The 764-square-kilometer (189,000-acre) region is now decorated with works of art from all over the world until Sept. 7. The event is called the Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale.
This year,157 artists and architects from 25 countries are exhibiting their works in many genres such as sculpture, buildings and installation art. Artists are creating their works in terraced rice paddies, hamlets, city parks and beside ponds and roads. The works are scattered among 50 areas all over the town.
Viewers have to exert some effort to journey there through winding mountain roads. It takes three or four days to see all the art- works on display, and on a hot summer day, it is not an easy trip. But the first event in 2000 attracted 163,000 people. The smell of the earth and the friendliness of the villagers added an attractive point to the event, making the exhibition interacting and accessible.
Echigo Tsumari was a poor place in weather and natural features. The village is under snow half the year. Terrace cultivation of rice requires hard work. Because the youngsters have gone to the big cities, only the elderly remain in the town.
Niigata prefecture studied ways to revitalize the town, but it could not even dream of a big project that needed a lot money because of its poor finances. It chose an idea of Fram Kitagawa, an art director, to host an international art festival.
The budget of the first event was only 380 million yen ($380,000), not enough to build a small bridge to the town.
But after the festival, the prefectural government estimated that the event brought 12.8 billion yen to the town. The first event added 5.5 percentage points to economic growth in the region. People gathered there even after the festival ended to see the sculptures and buildings donated to the town. Cast-off houses and closed schools were reborn as art galleries.
The festival is not as famous as the Venice Biennale or even the Gwangju Biennale. But the idea of revitalizing a regional economy using the power of art drew international attention. Art sometimes can be the locomotive to change a regional society.
by Nahm Yoon-ho
The wrier is a deputy business editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.