While we often focus on organizations that help the disadvantaged, SVG also has great respect for those working to develop community through culture. Today’s post features an influential group that nurtures Kunming’s artist community, while encouraging them to value humanity.
For the past ten years, China’s cities have begun to see small but vibrant artist communities spring up in abandoned factory parks and leaky, rundown buildings. These enclaves have gained a following with Chinese and foreign visitors showing an interest in the growing art market, but the newness of the movement has brought with it some challenges.
Based in Kunming, Helen Wu and Anna Mellergård noticed that the city’s growing art scene was a group of individual artists in small, isolated groups rather than a thriving community. Additionally, while artists were making good art, many could not express themselves clearly and had few opportunities to interact with more established international artists. Helen, a Chinese businesswoman and self-described art appreciator, and Anna, a Scandinavian poet, decided to change that by opening TCG Nordica a multi-faceted art space in the heart of Kunming’s Chuang Ku/LOFT art district.
Helen and Anna named TCG Nordica after famed Swedish poet Thomas Bertrand Strom who has been very supportive of the space (C and G standing for culture and gallery, respectively). The space opened in 2000 with a vision to “[stimulate] reflection on human worth as expressed in various art forms.” While this might sound like a lofty goal, TCG Nordica has clearly made a mark on the community and become a hub for Kunming’s developing art scene.
The Art of Discussion
TCG Nordica’s doors are rarely closed with regular events at their gallery, stage, and café. Artists and the general public flock to the site for regular exhibits, live shows, and movie nights.
Helen explains, “we believe that art belongs to everybody, but Chinese artists only organize things for themselves or for small groups.” Additionally, Chinese artists tend to believe art is for the elites rather than the general public, says Helen. “They make their circles quite tight.”
In response, Helen says, “we tried to build a cultural center. Our idea is to create dialog and opportunity.” TCG facilitates discussion groups and English corners for artists where they are encouraged to engage in deeper conversations on their life purpose and art, rare topics to discuss openly in Chinese culture.
Many artists are young and Helen says, “we spend time talking with them, guiding them to expand their mind and extend their artwork.” But she points out, “we don’t interrupt their creativity; we try to help them find out why they created their work and what they want to say through it. After they finish their [work], we open the door for them to organize their exhibitions.”
TCG also regards collaboration as a key factor towards achieving their mission. Much of TCG’s programming aims to encourage partnerships between local and international artists while also creating a space where the public can interact with art and artists. TCG also facilitates international cultural exchanges between local and Scandinavian artists as well as activities to engage local children with modern and traditional Chinese art.
Ten Years A-growin’
“In the beginning we only dreamed that we could have 11 people,” says Helen, “but at [our first exhibit] we had 600. Afterwards every weekend hundreds of people came. So now I think we are very strong and our cultural center has a very big influence on society.”
Now ten years later, TCG’s consistent presence in the community has won it the trust of many artists, and slowly a tight-knit, inclusive art scene is being formed. Last year the team celebrated their tenth anniversary with a large exhibition. Around 20 artists and musicians presented a collaborative art show–something that would never have happened at Chuang Ku in 2000.
With their first major milestone completed, TCG has no plans of slowing down. In addition to two large events at the gallery each year, they recently established a young artist fellowship program and will further develop existing partnerships with Yunnan University and Yunnan Art Institute.