Originated in the ’70s in North America and Europe as part of a "counter-cultural" movement, "independent" or "alternative" art space is now a global phenomenon. These are the non-government and not-for-profit art organizations run by art community. The last decade has witnessed the rise of independent art spaces, notably in the Asian region, as the breeding ground of young creative talents and experimentation in contemporary arts.
At the same time, independent art space has established itself as an agent in the cultural spectrum, amid a more sophisticated cultural infrastructure. On the one hand is the complicated network of art and culture policies, town planning, economic situation and international cultural exchange mechanism. On the other hand, the operation mode of art space is shaped by their position within the cultural spectrum: the relations with public museum, commercial gallery, artists, education institutes and community. Different cities have generated different parameters which in turn create different cultural landscape. What and how can we learn from each other?
In Hong Kong, the phenomenon of independent art space has undergone a rapid development in the past 6 years, with the grant scheme from Hong Kong Arts Development Council. The scheme has become a catalyst to many visual art organizations and artist-run spaces. In the next Three-Year Plan, the Council announced a change from a funding agency to a developmental agency. It requires funding receivers to adopt a marketable direction.
The emergence of "Oil Street" in 1998 had aroused the keen discussion of issues concerning art space. The low-rental former government warehouse became home to more than 30 artists and art groups. The first community-initiated art village ended 16 months later, when the premises was retrieved by the Hong Kong government for commercial development.
At this moment, alternative spaces in Oil Street had just settled in Cattle Depot, an outcome of the negotiation with the government. In a new space and facing new set of parameters, 1aspace initiated IN-BETWEEN international conference-exhibit program to open the discussion on independent spaces with art workers and policy-makers from 15 cities worldwide.
The conference is in two parts. Day 1 (17 November) is a series of art organization presentations. How do the art spaces in different regions differ or share with each other in their operation? How do their artistic direction interact with the cultural environment and art development of their respective cities? The participating organizations are founded by art workers. Yet each is a different case.
The second day of the conference (18 November) attempts to look into the environment in which the art spaces exist. The first section takes Hong Kong and Taipei to overview their respective government policies on art space / art village. The second section is a presentation of cultural policy of Kobe City. Cultural programming in Kobe has been centralized in the government. The city is now focusing on art groups and art activities initiated by the community. Recently Hong Kong Culture and Heritage Commission put forward their ideal of future cultural scene as "community-driven". Will the Kobe case be something we can refer to? The third section investigates the position of art space in the cultural development, and among different agents in the cultural spectrum. And how this will affect the direction of art spaces. Art workers will cite the situation in Beijing, Seoul and New York case.