Trouble in Textile Town

Source:Global Times Published: 2010-10-19 23:30:00

An art center in Xi'an's Textile Town. Photo: Liu Yudong

By Wu Ziru

Much like 798 in Beijing and Moganshan in Shanghai, the ancient city of Xi'an in Shaanxi Province has its own art district, Textile Town, where local artists work, live and band together to fight against adversity in the hope that someday their home will be a paradise for all artists in the city.

Just as in the rise of other art districts in China, Textile Town is now facing a slew of problems. For artists there, the decision whether to leave or stay is constantly on their minds. Although 798 and Songzhuang in Beijing have set good examples, it is still hard to predict the future of Textile Town.

Rise of the district

With the booming market of Chinese contemporary art in recent years, artists and art graduates from Xi'an and neighborhood cities have made a home of Textile Town, struggling to make a living while pursuing their dreams.

The art district is situated in the eastern suburbs of Xi'an in an old industrial complex that in the 1950s housed textile factories.

Three years ago, teachers from several art schools in the area opened studios there due to the quiet environment and low rent. In 2007, contemporary art began to enjoy growing popularity and more and more teachers and young graduates moved in. Some organizations and galleries also began to display their wares. Today there are about 70 artists working and living in Textile Town with the old factories and plants transformed into art studios, sculpture centers and art institutions.

"It is really exciting to see contemporary art in the old city of Xi'an," a visitor from Shanghai told the Global Times after attending an exhibition there. "It makes the city more vigorous, not just about ancient walls and antiques."

However, as many are enjoying the town's success, others are being forced to leave, faced with rising rents and lack of governmental support.

Uncertain future

Once a cheap place to live and work, Textile Town's popularity has now brought increasing costs. Many of the artists have invested heavily in the district and have spent a lot of money developing and promoting the area. They are now worried that living in Textile Town is unsustainable.

Sculptor Liu Dong, whose studio is set up in Textile Town, told the Global Times that when he signed his lease contact three years ago, the rent was 6 yuan ($0.90) a month per square meter, but now, it has doubled.

"I cannot afford so much money, 12 yuan ($1.80) is too high for me, for all young artists like me," Liu said frankly. "But I hate to leave. I love this place."

Aside from rising rent, many artists who have enjoyed the success of Textile Town have left for the bigger cities of Beijing and Shanghai. The town once housed more than 100 artists, now there are only about 60 left, among which one third are young graduates.

Yue Luping made the decision to leave earlier this year. Once an active contributor to the town, curating many exhibitions and organizing artists, he has relocated to Beijing, saying that he was disappointed with the district in Xi'an. Now the general curator of Songzhuang Culture and Arts Festival, Yue said that the lack of government support and rising costs were behind his move.

Despite the exodus, others like artist Wang Haiyin think the environment of Textile Town is worth the struggle. After working in Songzhuang in Beijing and Moganshan in Shanghai, he has returned to Xi'an, where he studied as an art student more than 10 years ago.

"I don't like the commercialized art districts in cities like Beijing and Shanghai," Wang, who opened his small-sized gallery at Textile Town six months ago, told the Global Times. "Here you enjoy sincere friendships with artists. I believe it is what both artists and galley owners need."


Wang and Liu are refusing to pay the increased rent prices and have since had their electricity cut.

"It can be better someday, with the efforts of all here," Wang said. He added that most of the time his gallery is very quiet and he enjoys drinking tea and chatting with his friends, who are artists or gallery owners like him.

A path well traveled

The problems facing Textile Town are similar to those previously facing art districts across the country. During the emergence of the 798 Art District in Beijing, many artists faced rising rents and several who once helped build and develop the area were forced to move to more remote locations.

In 2004, the old factories in 798 were slated for demolition; the artists banded together and the area has since grown to a popular creative center and tourist destination.

In a similar vein, the landlord of Textile Town's previously-deserted factories, a State-run company, is threatening the area's longevity, refusing to negotiate with artists to help solve their problems.

The artists said that they don't want to be as successful and commercial as 798 and are not asking for much from the government, just the ability to keep the town running as a simple place for artists to work and live.

"I'm not sure whether we can win in the end, but we will work on this," Wang said.

The factories are scheduled to be handed over to the government of Xi'an's Baqiao district in the next six months. The artists are hoping the new owner will carefully consider the future of the art district and help them continue to create a quiet and peaceful place to work.

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