Special open-air art exhibition ushers in new era of rural development for small village in E China

(People's Daily Online) 17:38, August 05, 2022

Children visit an open-air art exhibition named "Art at Fuliang" in Shiziyuan, an unincorporated village administered by Hanxi village of Zangwan township, Fuliang county, Jingdezhen city, in east China's Jiangxi Province.

Shiziyuan, a small unincorporated village in east China's Jiangxi Province, has been turned into a well-known "art gallery without a roof" and is now attracting a steady stream of tourists, thanks to an open-air art exhibition named "Art at Fuliang" held in the village in 2021 that integrated art creations into the village community.

The village, which is administered by Hanxi village of Zangwan township, Fuliang county, Jingdezhen city, is located along the border area between Jiangxi and east China's Anhui Province, with the rural community being inhabited by nearly 300 people from 110 families.

Before the exhibition was held, there were no restaurants or homestay hotels based in Shiziyuan, but now the villagers in the locality are not only running their own restaurants, homestay hotels, and grocery stores, but selling various kinds of art derivatives and local specialties ranging from black tea to rice wine under the brand name of "182" launched by a cultural travel company jointly established by Shiziyuan village and the team behind the art exhibition project.

Last year, more than 200 people in Hanxi Village found jobs, with the village meanwhile having received a cumulative 200,000 visitors, which has brought a total income of nearly 1 million yuan (about $148,163) to the village, according to Xie En'an, Party chief of the Hanxi village.

The integration of culture and tourism has injected fresh vitality into the village, he noted.

Photo shows products under the cultural and creative products brand name "182" launched by a cultural travel company in Shiziyuan. (Photo/Li Wenhai)

By using art as a medium of communication, the art exhibition project aims to tell stories about the rural village community and help visitors to learn about the life of local people from multiple angles, said Sun Qian, chief planner of the project.

By boosting understanding between urban residents and local villagers living in the countryside and forming a virtuous cycle of urban-rural exchanges, the project has enabled the village to thrive with new sense of vitality and vigor, Sun noted.

"By turning the whole village into an art gallery, we decorated the local buildings and the fields with artworks so that visitors can gain a better understanding of the village while enjoying the exhibits," Sun explained.

Sun was one of the 26 artists dispatched to rural areas of Fuliang County for the goal of boosting rural vitalization.

In the autumn of 2020, Fuliang county started to implement a system of sending professionals to rural areas to help with local development and to further drive rural vitalization. Sun was designated as a resident expert of Hanxi village, and has been leading a team in the promotion of artistic practices in Shiziyuan.

In 2021, the "Art at Fuliang" exhibition was held twice in the spring and autumn seasons. A total of 27 pieces of artworks created by 34 artists from five countries and regions were displayed at the exhibition, which attracted wide attention throughout the country.

Photo shows a huge "lamp" inside of a tea garden, which is one of the exhibits at an open-air art exhibition named "Art at Fuliang" held in Shiziyuan. (Photo/Tian Fangfang)

"Look, that's me," Huang Aiming, a villager of Shiziyuan, told People's Daily joyfully, pointing at a portrait of a bricklayer on the wall of a renovated house. The painting was carefully carved out using more than 10 layers of different colors of paint, while the plaster that was peeled off from the wall had been put into small bags and pasted onto the wall under the portrait.

"The wall itself is a carrier of memories full of traces of life. The work is titled 'Dust in Evolution - Memories of Shiziyuan village'," said Teng Huimin, a team member participating in the project.

There are many more works of art like the portraits painted in Shiziyuan. Both the forms and content of these artworks show the creators' ingenuity and understanding about the local culture and local realities.

Such works include a special mirror inspired by a traditional tool used to grind tea leaves, "containers of memories" made up of jars of pickled vegetables and grain buckets collected from local families, as well as a giant bird's nest, a "ladder to the sky," and a huge "lamp" inside a tea garden.

Since these artworks and associated facilities are accessible to visitors all year round, people touring the village will feel like they are walking through an open-air exhibition hall where nature and art blend together in an uncanny fashion.

In an effort to better present the village to visitors, officials from the village have encouraged local residents to volunteer their services as guides, having also provided training to volunteers on the knowledge needed to explain the meanings of the artworks as well as in service etiquette and skills for using computer and smartphones.

A team of nearly 60 volunteers from Shiziyuan and its surrounding villages has been set up to serve the art exhibition project during special exhibition periods in addition to its regular operations.

"I've understood the purposes of these artworks and felt the sincere intentions of the exhibition through the guide services provided by these local women," said a tourist.

Given that they are more deeply involved in the project, the villagers themselves have a better understanding of the place they call home and have since become more self-confident when engaging with incoming tourists.

In addition, many villagers have seen their businesses improve significantly and their incomes have likewise risen at a brisk pace since the exhibition was first launched.

Wang Quanyou, a local villager who has been selling homemade rice wine for more than 20 years, was surprised to find that his low-budget business brought him an income of over 70,000 yuan during the two months when the "Art at Fuliang" exhibition was held last year.

Sun Jinyu, another villager from Shiziyuan, has seized the opportunity provided by the art exhibition to open a grocery store selling agricultural products grown on his own land. "Check this out! Freshly plucked tea leaves. They are sold at 600 yuan per kilogram in our village. The quality is very good," Sun told People's Daily.

According to He Suihua, a member of the operations team for the project, Shiziyuan is planning to establish a public culture and art community so as to demonstrate the charm of the village to an even larger number of visitors.    

(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)


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