Squeezed between residential apartment blocks on either side in the back streets of Akihabara is a school building with a difference. Once a place for the community to gather and learn, it’s now a place for the community to gather and immerse themselves in art. The Chiyoda Rensei Junior High School was transformed into 3331 Arts Chiyoda in 2010, and has provided a workspace for artists and community members to come and share their passion ever since.
It is not your typical gallery where art is collected and displayed. There is a fluidity and vibrancy in the center. Children were playing, people in the cafe were talking, visitors were looking at art, and artist were creating. There is free entry to many of the areas and other exhibitions charge on varying, yet affordable rates. Visitors are encouraged to come and go as they please and interact with each other. A strong sense of community and making art social was the intention of Director Masato Nakamura who established the project 6 years ago. It was also his intention to create an art hub which could link various regions of Asia. Nakamura appears to be achieving his ambitions as the Mayor of Taipei, Ko Wen-je visited last weekend for that express purpose.
A spokesperson for the mayor said, “They were trying to emulate what they were achieving in here in Songshan Cultural and Creative Park”, while Ko Wen-je and Masato Nakamura posed for various TV crews and journalists. Nakamura’s vision of art is exerting a strong influence.
The sense of community is fundamental at the center. The main gallery is on the first floor behind an open area with a number of tables and chairs for people to talk and meet as well as a small art shop, cafe, and a children’s area featuring work from one of the original exhibitions by Hiroshi Fuji - a snarling blue T-Rex made from various toys including smiling Mickey Mouse figurines. Hiroshi Fuji’s Keru Station is a section at the center where children come and play and exchange old toys for points that they can then use to buy other toys. The ideas of exchange and sharing resonate through the building. In a room just off the main gallery a group of women and children are working with fabrics on sewing machines. Orchestra music drifts in from a room close by as musicians perform in yet another project.
The second floor has numerous galleries in former classrooms. The whole sense of school with fountains out front no longer used to drink from, but to clean brushes, and old classrooms which used to be filled with young students, now filled with art, gives visitors a sense of nostalgic familiarity. One can browse the galleries freely without that overlaying sense of propriety commonly felt in large established galleries.
The basement and 3rd floor provide a commercial space and additional galleries. The center encourages alternative art and like minded creatives to lease the rooms. It also provides spaces for people to work on projects together. One group was fiddling with electronics, and another was working on a collection of Pepper robots.
On the roof, on a former gym space, is a community horticultural space where participants can grow various vegetables and plants and work together. These non-art projects provide an eclectic dimension to the center and allows a greater variety of people with different interest to be involved.
The “3331” in the name comes from a tradition in the Edo period in which people clapped their hands in 3 sets of 3 hand claps to make 9, meaning stress or labor. A final clap is added to expel the stress and transform the kanji form of 9 to maru, meaning achievement. It is fair to say 3331 Arts Chiyoda has achieved its vision. The art on display at the center is interesting and new and showcases the work of numerous established artist as well as aspiring ones. Importantly, 3331 Chiyoda Arts provides visitors with a unique “social art” experience that goes beyond simply looking at art, and allows visitors to feel they are closer to the process of creating art.