By Margaret SHIU TAN ,
Director, Bamboo Curtain Studio, Taipei

We are all aware of the fast economic structural changes that are going through many Asian Countries. There is greater and greater need of the arts and culture sector to help alleviate the social structural stress of the change, and Taiwan is even more so, with massive movement of the country side to the factory, then to the cites in the 80’s and now many industries moving to mainland China, leaving many public and private structures dormant as relics of the era passed, and the community in disarray, social and family fabric out of joint. Simultaneously, the demand of the further economic transformation of the society at large looms over the island.

There is now a better awareness that the arts are a healing force for this situation, and also a creative stimulus that can spark innovative solutions. With the implementation of codes for a more pluralistic society, and the relaxation on the establishment of civic organizations, many NGO/NPO were listed in the late 90’s. National and regional artists are more and more involved in setting up grass roots organizations to better serve their own immediate needs and also to be of contribution to their communities at large. There is now urgent need to face the hard question of packaging the hardware with the software needs of these cultural entities so as to ensure effective use of the resources.

The 90’s policy of island wide construction of culture venues is now being reviewed and questioned from many sides. There have been too many projects with ill planned match of the hardware to the software needs of the services intended. There is need of further understanding of the relationship between the supply and demand of these services, the goals of the institutions, the process of setting up, to its choice of management system, all these need to be examined. There is now much documented evidence in the reasons of using alternative spaces as the best economic and social choice for meeting the demands of a diverse spectrum of society.

Now listed in Taiwan by official estimate, there are about 100-150 government or quasi-government structure that are not being in full operation as was intended. These are now selectively programmed for reuse as alternative spaces. About 50 of these are in various state of reuse or renovation and about 20 more are now in the planning stage. We have been monitoring the pass inconsistencies of some of the projects, and many debates and conferences are now being executed to help coordinate the process. There is now underway three major research: One on the legal aspects of transformation, one on the guidelines of operations in these spaces and we are involved in the third one. Our Bamboo Curtain Studio is now involved in the study of international cases of reuse of underutilized space.

Our team of five arts practitioners is working for the Tamsui Culture Foundation, under contract with the Council for Cultural Affairs in Taiwan, to research on international examples of renovation of architectural space for creative new functions (other than that originally intended.)

This project aims to analyze the various aspects of transformation of spaces from historical/landmark buildings, public institutions, to residential, industrial and commercial sites, to new programs with more effective utilization, especially but not exclusively, on those with art and cultural contents. We would like to understand the following:

1. The historical and cultural background of the site in point

2. The original setting and function of the case

3. The legal and urban planning directives

4. The data of demand pressure for spaces by various sectors

5. The parameters in the decision for such a transformation in function

6. The architectural limitations of the conversion

7. The new functions and programs of the new space

8. The operational structure, (management and maintenance), of these new spaces, their inherent constraints and special benefits

9. The short term financial balances and long term stability of these projects

10. Finally, the impact of such new spaces on the social level for the local community, the dynamics of the city and / or national economy.

We are now earnestly collecting data on the web and by referral system, will be traveling to about 50 different sites internationally to have on site interviews from unique cases. Only when we can learn from some good examples of alternative use of space can we propose to our Council of Cultural Affairs for better national policies and to the arts communities at large for coordinating local actions that will meet the real needs of our society. We as artists cannot work in a vacuum of within the four walls of the studio, there should be a good system for channeling our creativity with eventual contribution towards our civic society.

This is now my sincere hope you can help our team by referring more samples that you know of to us, so as to compile as vast a database as possible and as comprehensive as possible in the understanding of the parameters of the transformation of space for alternative use.