Art in the Rice Paddies:

Chishang Autumn Rice Harvest Arts Festival
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2019 / December

Tina Xie /photos courtesy of Lin Min-hsuan /tr. by Brandon Yen


The little town of Chishang in Taitung County has long been losing its population to the cities, but remarkably the township was featured on the website of Time magazine in 2009. In the photo­graph, a musician plays the piano amid billowing waves of golden rice. The melodies linger among the fields, as a gentle breeze caresses the rice paddies and resonates with the music through the vales and hills. 

Chishang’s Autumn Rice Harvest Arts Festival, which has been running for 11 years, is not merely a run-of-the-mill arts event, but a meaningful fête embedded in its locality. For local residents, the festival affords a wonderful opportunity to show visitors how much they love Chishang.


A sense of community

Volunteers are to be seen everywhere during the arts festival. From traffic control, through medical assistance, to selling souvenirs, the locals take every­thing upon themselves. In front of the railway station, a visibly excited man says: “These two days are a big event for Chishang!” The whole community springs into action. Local residents perform their respective duties to perfection, serving visitors with great enthusiasm. Any tourist who appears at a loss is instantly approached by these volunteers. 

In order to bring this festival to fruition, some 300 volun­teers in Chishang need to spend at least eight months each year acquiring professional skills in diverse areas, including event programming, advertising, public relations, facility management and ticketing. Farmers, moreover, have to harvest part of their rice early and leave the rest until after the festival to accommodate the stage. Not only do they not grumble about the inconvenience, they even hang up notices reminding each other that because of the arts festival, there should be no harvesting for three days.

“We Chishang people have a great sense of community. That makes it easier to get things done.” Liang Zhengxian, chairman of the local Culture and Art Association, traces this community spirit back to the 1990s, when Taiwan was applying to join the WTO. When the news reached the farmers, a pall of apprehension descended upon Chishang, and no one wanted to install their newly purchased agricultural machinery any more.

Confronted with this challenge, Liang thought that instead of sitting there doing nothing, the farmers should carve out a brighter future for themselves by raising the quality and value of Chishang rice. At the time there were many dishonest companies advertising their rice as coming from Chi­shang, thus taking away income from the real growers. Liang encouraged the local rice farmers to work together to establish an origin certification system and to adopt organic farming methods. The farmers agreed to give it a go and joined the collective effort. After four years’ hard work, they won the support of the township administration and the farmers’ association, and the certification system was created.

Thanks to their endeavors, only rice that has been grown in Chishang can display the officially accredited mark “Chi­shang Rice.” As the mark gained recognition, farmers in Chi­shang came to enjoy greater economic secur­ity and developed a tremendous sense of camaraderie, which reinforces their local attachments.

Chishang’s cultural vitality

Farmers in Chishang are committed not only to farmland preservation but also to art. During the slack periods of the farming year, they join in the activities of Chinese calligraphy, painting and book groups. Calligraphy is especially noteworthy, with its long history combining the emphasis on education in traditional Minnan and Hakka farming cultures and the leisure pursuits of veterans from postwar China. For example, the Kuroshio Calligraphy Society was founded by Xiao Chunsheng more than 20 years ago. It laid the foundation for the popularity of practicing calligraphy among the people of Chishang.

Chishang’s street signs and railway station display a rich array of calligraphic works by local residents, testi­fying to the town’s passion for calligraphy. Chishang’s potential to become a center of culture and art is evident here. That was why the Lovely Taiwan Foundation—which established a base there in 2008—swiftly found a way to collaborate with the locals.

Harvesting art

By tapping Taiwan’s rich veins of local culture, Lovely Taiwan wishes to help everyone appreciate the country’s beautiful landscape, benevolence and cultural vitality. Chief executive officer Lee Ying Ping says that as an organ­iza­tion coming in from the outside, their guiding principle is very simple: to respect local people’s lifestyle choices. “We would never begin by thinking about what to bring to an existing community. Only after acquainting ourselves with the locals and befriending them do we get to know, little by little, what they want and what we can offer.”

Lovely Taiwan decided that they should start small: hence the inauguration of the Chishang Picnic & Music Festival, which has been drawing local residents to the shores of Dapo Lake, where they can have their picnics while enjoying live performances. Owing to this beautifully created ambience, the landscape, which was once taken for granted, now gives the locals an entirely different feeling. Liang Zhengxian says admiringly: “The atmosphere is impressive, very poetic and picturesque.”

The Picnic & Music Festival is much loved by the locals, who have also come to subscribe to the vision that fuels it. Having strengthened their connections with the community, Lovely Taiwan found that local people felt more at ease when communicating with them and when expressing their wishes to them. A conversation between the two parties gave birth to Chishang’s Autumn Rice Harvest Arts Festival. During a dinner gathering, a local resident voiced this idea: “We have such beautiful rice paddies. It would be fabulous if someone could perform music there!” Ko Wen-chang, chairman of Lovely Taiwan, replied with delight: “If you provide the rice paddies, we’ll arrange the concert!”

Chishang’s Autumn Rice Harvest Arts Festival was inaugurated in 2009. A photograph showing the pianist Eric Chen performing in the middle of rice paddies appeared on the website of Time magazine, revealing the beauty of the place to the world at large.

Rooted in the locality

The enthusiastic responses, however, prompted Ko Wen-chang to wonder whether what Lovely Taiwan had achieved would eventually be rooted in the lives of local people and their offspring, or whether it was but a moment of glory, striking but transient. In order for Chishang to continue to develop in a sustainable way, Ko conveyed these thoughts to Lovely Taiwan and to the locals. He hoped that Chishang would set up its own culture and art association to host the arts festival, with Lovely Taiwan offering assistance behind the scenes.

At first, the locals did not believe they would succeed in organizing a festival on such a grand scale. But Lovely Taiwan encouraged them to cut the first turf by establishing their local association. Thus the Chishang Culture and Art Association was founded in 2016 to collaborate with Lovely Taiwan on the Autumn Rice Harvest Arts Festival scheduled for the following year. The association began with less complex tasks, then set about gradually mastering the core aspects of planning the event. Meanwhile Lovely Taiwan notified their sponsors that future festivals would be taken over by the newly founded local association.

By degrees, Lovely Taiwan introduced the Culture and Art Association to relevant resources, contacts and expertise, aiming to yield the limelight to the locals. Eventually, in 2018, the arts festival came to be hosted solely by the Culture and Art Association. Lovely Taiwan only assisted them with media relations, for which they were not yet fully prepared at that time.

Reminiscing about her time in Chishang, Lee Ying Ping says that in addition to the support of local residents and the influence of artists, time is a key factor in enabling culture to realize its fullest potential there. All of Lovely Taiwan’s projects have a ten-year span. They do not rush to effect changes within just a couple of years because they understand that for a place to experience any positive transformation, sustained efforts and patience are imperative.

Preserving Chishang’s memories

Apart from the annual arts festival, Chishang boasts an ever-increasing number of independent businesses which tourists find attractive. Many of these are in renovated old houses near the railway station, such as the café-cum-gallery Coffee Stay and the B&Bs ChingTing, HowHas and Good Harvest. There, visitors can acquire intimate glimpses of Chishang’s history, while basking in the owners’ love of the place. Some of these proprietors are youngsters who have recently returned to their hometown to live and work, and others are newcomers who are simply enamored of Chishang. Whatever their backgrounds and motivations, they have settled in Chishang because of what the place represents, and because they are committed to a shared vision: to preserve the story of Chishang.

Wei Wen Hsuan, owner of Good Harvest B&B, has been back in Chishang for 16 years. As one of the first young people to return, he is aware of the challenges faced by the younger generation, who enjoy few job opportunities and are not well connected with established local figures and businesses. Wei’s own initial enthusiasm was in fact mixed with a deep-seated sense of apprehension about the future.

As a result, Wei invited his close friends to form the Black Knights. They pedal around the town on old-­fashioned bikes, hoping to strike up conversations with local residents. In doing so, they aim to familiarize the youngsters who have recently returned to Chishang, as well as newcomers, with the way their town is being developed, and locals, in turn, have come to know these new faces and establish amicable relationships with them.

As more and more young people are returning or moving to Chishang, the local businesses have devised a “dispersed hotel” model, whereby each provides different services and they share each other’s customers through the website Amusing Chishang (chishang-travel.tw).

Through the recommendations on Amusing Chi­shang, tourists who have come to stay in the town are introduced to many characterful local shops and can then go dining or shopping in places that catch their eyes.

Through renovating old houses and sharing customers, young people in Chishang are more likely to be able to make a living. Only by retaining the younger generation can issues such as education and elderly care be properly dealt with. And only by this means can people in Chi­shang continue to write the next chapter of their story. 

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全鄉動員‧天地共籌

池上秋收稻穗藝術節

文‧謝宜婷 圖‧林旻萱

一個人口嚴重外移的小鎮,卻在2009年登上《時代》雜誌,照片裡的音樂家在金黃色的稻浪裡彈奏鋼琴,輕風拂過稻田,琴聲在山谷間悠揚迴響。

台東池上秋收稻穗藝術節,經歷11年的歲月,對當地鄉親而言,不只是藝術活動,更是家鄉的慶典,是池上人向外地旅客說:「我愛池上」的大好機會。


 

秋天的午後,陽光依然溫暖,尤其在一望無際的金黃稻田中,稻穗上的光芒,更顯耀眼。平時寬敞的田間道路,擠滿了來看表演的旅客與歡迎的隊伍。「歡迎來到池上!」池上國中的學生列隊歡呼,指引觀眾入席,旅客被孩子們可愛的模樣吸引,暫停了腳步,拿出相機捕捉他們燦爛的笑靨。

池上鄉民,團結應戰

藝術節當天,場地附近到處都是志工,交通指揮、醫療團隊、紀念品攤位都是由池上鄉親統籌負責。火車站前,一位大哥興奮地說:「這兩天是池上的大日子!」整個池上全鄉動員,鄉民在各自崗位熱情服務,在街上看到似乎迷路的遊客,就立刻向前指引。

每年為了籌備這個慶典,池上鄉親至少要花八個月的時間,投入300位志工,在企畫、宣傳、公關、場地、票務等不同組別學習專業能力。而農民必須配合舞台架設的需求,提早收割部分的稻米,其餘待藝術節落幕後再收割。面對這樣的要求,農民不但沒有怨言,還貼公文提醒大家,藝術節這三天暫停收割。

「池上人很團結,做什麼事都比較容易。」池上藝術協會理事長梁正賢回憶,居民這股團結的力量,也許是從1990年代,台灣要加入WTO開始。當時農民知道這則消息後,鄉裡一片愁雲慘澹,早已購入的新設備也無心安裝。

面對這波挑戰,梁正賢認為與其坐以待斃,不如開創一條新的活路,提升池上米的價值。當時市面上充斥仿冒池上米的廠商,影響池上農民的生意,於是梁正賢呼籲大家,推動池上米產地認證制度,並改採有機耕作。農民抱著姑且一試的態度,參與了改變的行動,經過四年努力,終於獲得公所及農會支持,推出產地認證標章系統。

從此,只有池上在地出產的稻米才有「池上米」的標章。品牌建立後,農民的生活獲得保障,也從中培養了革命情感及對社區意識。

回想起約20年前的那段日子,梁正賢某些記憶已經模糊,但對於農民的努力仍印象深刻,「農民參加教育訓練後的測驗,(因不識字)看不懂題目,我還一個一個選項用台語念給他們聽,他們照樣完成。」梁正賢訴說這段歷史時,眼神露出光芒,彷彿一位打了勝仗的戰士。

池上的文化底蘊

自從池上農民團結應戰,爭取建立產地認證標章後,對於家鄉這塊土地,也變得格外珍惜及呵護。2003年,台電原本要在農田旁邊蓋電線桿,但遭到農民以稻田整體形象及稻米生長習性為由反對。因為農民當時的堅持,留下了一片美麗的田地,日後「大地舞台」才得以成形。

池上農民不僅對維護土地敏銳,對藝術也是。農閒之餘,書法社、繪畫班、讀書會,都是農民生活的一種方式。尤其是書法,歷史源遠流長,來自客家閩南耕讀文化及戰後榮民生活休閒,例如蕭春生老師創立的「黑潮書法社」,已經有20多年歷史,奠定了池上人愛寫書法的底蘊。

鄉民的書法作品,充斥在街上路牌及火車站,池上對書法的熱愛,可見一斑。這樣的文化,開啟了池上成為文化藝術之都的契機,也讓2008年來到池上駐點的台灣好基金會,很快地找到與鄉民合作的方式。

尊重在地,共同規劃

台灣好基金會希望以鄉村文化為底蘊,讓每一個人,體會台灣美麗的風景、善良的人情與深層的文化。執行長李應平強調,身為外來團體,他們的理念很簡單──尊重鄉親對生活的選擇,「我們沒有想過要帶進什麼,而是到當地認識居民,成為朋友後,才慢慢知道他們要什麼,我們能給予什麼協助。」

李應平表示,池上鄉親對土地的自覺意識高,而且開始的早,所以他們面對外來團體非常謹慎,「包含梁大哥(梁正賢)也是,他會坐在旁邊聽,看我們要做什麼。」

台灣好決定先從小型活動──池上春耕野餐節開始,邀請鄉親到大波湖畔野餐、看表演。原本習以為常的風景,在氛圍的催化之下,帶給居民不同的感受,梁正賢也讚嘆:「那個意境真的不錯,很詩情畫意。」

野餐節受到民眾歡迎,背後的理念也獲得鄉民信任。台灣好與池上鄉親拉近關係之後,發現居民更自在地與台灣好溝通、表達需求,秋收藝術節就是在一次的對談中開始的。某次餐敘,鄉親想著「我們這片稻田這麼美,如果在上面有音樂表演,一定很棒!」台灣好基金會董事長柯文昌,當下爽快回應,「音樂會我們搞定,稻田你們搞定。」

第一屆的秋收藝術節在2009年拉開序幕,鋼琴家陳冠宇在稻田裡演奏的照片登上《時代》雜誌網站,讓世界看見池上的美。接下來幾年,優人神鼓、雲門舞集、歌手張惠妹及伍佰等,陸續站上池上的舞台,吸引了更多人來池上,聽池上的故事,過池上的生活。

專業傳承,在地扎根

面對熱烈的迴響,柯文昌卻開始反思,台灣好在池上所做的這些,是否有在當地生根,影響居民的生活及他們的下一代;抑或只是煙火般的美麗,徒留短暫感動。為了讓池上朝永續經營發展,柯文昌將這個反思傳達給基金會及池上鄉民,希望他們自行成立藝術協會主辦秋收藝術節,而基金會則退居幕後協助。

剛開始,池上鄉親沒有信心能辦理如此盛大的慶典,但台灣好不斷鼓勵居民,從建立在地組織開始,跨出第一步。於是,2016年池上藝術協會成立,跟著台灣好籌辦隔年的秋收藝術節,從複雜性較低的工作接手,漸漸掌握活動辦理的主要企劃。過程中,台灣好也向贊助單位表示,未來藝術節會交由池上藝術協會執行。

基金會一步步將資源、人脈、專業轉交給池上藝術協會,將舞台交還給在地人,最終在2018年,秋收藝術節由池上藝術協會主辦,台灣好只協助媒體接待,補足池上藝術協會當時較不足的地方。

李應平回想當初要交接時,鄉親的反應歷歷在目,她笑著說:「鄉親以為我們要走了!」但台灣好向大家解釋,他們的任務不是「放煙火」,而是落地扎根,除了將活動主辦權交還給在地,接著還要成立一個基地,一個能夠與當地產生連結的空間,於是2014年開始了池上藝術村計畫,2016年建立穀倉藝術館。

台灣好開始邀請藝術家駐村,透過工作坊與展覽,與居民展開雙向交流,並請他們在駐村期間以池上為主題創作,最後將作品留在池上。透過不同藝術家的視角,記錄池上不同的風貌,累積池上的故事。

藝術家也進入校園做藝術教育,讓學生接觸到不同創作型態與思想,以拓展眼界。雖然池上的孩子,跟城市的孩子相較之下,參觀美術館的機會較少,但是透過直接與藝術家互動,縮短了城鄉差距。

李應平回憶在池上駐點的時光,除了居民的包容與藝術家的影響力,讓這塊土地的文化有越來越豐富的呈現,時間也是關鍵。台灣好的計畫都是以十年為單位規劃,不急著在兩三年間看到改變,因為他們了解,一個鄉鎮要翻轉,需要長時間的努力與等待。

老屋改建,保存池上記憶

除了每年的秋收藝術節,池上越來越多有故事的店家,吸引旅客到訪。池上有許多老屋改建而成的店家: Coffee Stay賴老師的家、青庭民宿、好和民宿、莊稼熟了民宿、伴田公社等等,在這裡不僅可以聽見池上的歷史,還可以感受老闆與池上的感情。有的是返鄉青年,有的是單純喜歡池上的移居者,但都因為這塊土地而留下,為了共同的目標而努力──保存池上故事。

莊稼熟了老闆魏文軒,回到池上已經16年,算是返鄉青年第一代,因此看見許多返鄉青年及移居人面對的挑戰,不僅工作機會不多,也不熟悉當地產業與人脈網絡,起初的熱血其實參雜幾分對未來的擔憂。

於是他與好友共創黑色騎士,騎著老鐵馬車到處走,藉此與池上居民展開對話,讓返鄉青年與移居者了解當地發展脈絡,也讓在地人認識這些新面孔,彼此從中建立友善的關係。

隨著移居及返鄉的青年漸漸增多,池上的店家藉著「分散式旅館」的經營模式,在網站「厝味」上串連,彼此分享客群。來到池上民宿的旅客,透過網站上的行程導覽,會看到許多特色店家,然後再前往其有興趣的店家用餐及購買商品。

魏文軒回憶當初替其他人改建老屋時,許多人都不理解,總是問他「你開民宿,為什麼還要幫其他人改造民宿?」但魏文軒認為,現在的商業模式,不是靠激烈競爭求生存,而是把餅做大。透過這樣的行動,讓大家看見池上商業共榮的好處,吸引其他人延續這個模式,找志同道合的人一起努力。

魏文軒也相信「我們不需要再從土地蓋出新空間,而是保留這些由生活堆疊出來的老房子。」池上與鄰近鄉鎮相比,其優勢在於藝術氛圍的生活,而老屋中的故事正是創造氛圍的關鍵。

透過老屋改造與客群共享,池上青年的生計問題得以舒緩。當年輕一代留下來,當地老人安養與小孩教育的問題才有可能被解決,池上的故事也才能延續。                                                        

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