As an international metropolis with great cultural vibrancy, Shanghai is home to a slew of art spaces that host exhibitions and events every single day. Although it's exciting for local and foreign art lovers to catch some of these happenings on a single trip, it can also be a nightmare to explore such venues without a guide.
And that's how Eike Stratmann felt when she first came to Shanghai in early 2009 and started discovering the local art scene. "I found the variety of art establishments in Shanghai surprising. They're spread all over the city - big international galleries, exclusive collections, private museums, as well as independent exhibitions and small hidden art spaces," the Berlin native recalled.
"However, I couldn't find any comprehensive gallery guide that allows art lovers like myself to navigate the local art scene district by district and invites Shanghai tourists to discover new places. So I think why not make such an art map in Shanghai?"
After six months of restlessly exploring the galleries and museums and laboriously doing all the research work, Stratmann published her own art guide and city map, Shanghai Detour, in September 2009, accompanied by a grand launch party held at Glamour Bar on the Bund.
Shanghai Detour is a bilingual (English/Chinese) art guide that is published every two months. It has a detailed and precise city map and provides readers with up-to-date addresses and exhibition schedules for 50 or so art spaces in town.
Featuring a simple and clean layout, this handy pocket-sized map is targeted at art professionals, creative industry minds, visitors and tourists, as well as art enthusiasts living in Shanghai.
Shanghai Detour prints 20,000 copies for each edition and is distributed at every listed art space as well as at some of the city's five-star hotels, consulates, community centers, restaurants and bars.
Stratmann attributes the project's success to a bit of luck and her passion for art and meeting new people. "I wouldn't have done this map if I didn't know it would be an interesting project in the first place. It's the perfect project for me to get to know the city and its people. It also gives me networks and keeps me up to date," Stratmann told the Global Times.
Unlike those who are ambitious yet struggling to start up their own ventures in Shanghai, Stratmann found it relatively smooth sailing from when she arrived in the city with her French husband.
"I didn't know anyone at that time. So I had to do loads of research to find all the information and people I needed to know - where the galleries are and who the gallerists and visitors are. I also had to find the designer, the printer and the deliverymen. It's a big adventure, a bit risky but exciting."
Stratmann said it's even more encouraging to see how people she met in Shanghai have helped her with the launch of Shanghai Detour.
"I found that people in Shanghai are so helpful. When I first started doing research, some gallerists gave me the contacts of other galleries. And people are always happy to meet me and very open-minded - that's not something you'd imagine, nor is it easy to do in other international cities."
Stratmann's previous experience also helped bring the map to life. Before moving to Shanghai, she worked in Berlin for several programs including the art fair Art Forum Berlin and the gallery guide Index.
"Since I have the know-how, I had an idea about what I'd like to put in Shanghai Detour and how it could work. I calculated the cost and then I managed to make ends meet. I was very lucky not to have any hard time from the very first edition on."
Stratmann told the Global Times that the production cost of one edition is around 16,000 yuan ($2,610), which is easily covered if there are regular advertisers. Shanghai Detour has limited its sponsors to five each issue, among them some long-term advertising partners.
"The advertisers cover most of the production cost, and all the featured galleries pay a very small fee for each edition. We've all established a close relationship over the years."
Another money saver is that Stratmann does all the editing work on her own. A fluent speaker of German, French and English, Stratmann picked up some basic Chinese during her preparation for the map project. "I can understand, speak and read some Chinese so I don't need somebody else to edit the bilingual map. And so far it's working pretty well."
She even goes so far as to deliver the bulk of the maps herself. Along with a driver and a van, Stratmann goes to every art space in downtown Shanghai. It usually takes her an entire day to travel around the city. "It's a good way to keep in touch with people and keep me posted about what's going on in this constantly changing city."
While Shanghai Detour is getting more and more users, both Chinese and foreigners, Stratmann is quite careful when it comes to distribution. "I only distribute the maps to the people I've met. It doesn't make sense to me if I don't know who's going to take or use the map. I want to make sure that the maps will be taken good care of. So Shanghai Detour isn't everywhere, it's very focused."
Currently freelancing for a German publishing house and a German art magazine, Stratmann said she launched this art map more out of interest than to make a profit. "Not only does this art map allow me to meet lots of interesting people and see many new places in Shanghai, but also it gives me a sense of fulfillment," she said. "Whenever I go to an exhibition opening with the maps, I always get some positive feedback. There are people who say to me that the map is their little bible of art, or that it saved their life when they first came to Shanghai. It's really rewarding to hear these words."