Mao promised Chinese workers and peasants an “iron rice bowl” of a guaranteed job in exchange for a regimented life. Fifteen years ago, artists and their messy lives challenged that orthodoxy. But with the success of China’s arts abroad–and, increasingly, at home–the number of artists living and working in art districts is multiplying. More important, communities have gone from tolerating art colonies to encouraging them. The Sonzhuang Cultural and Arts Festival going on right now in China has even create a compound to house artists from ten different art zones in Nanjing, Chengdu, Xi’an, Wuhan and Changsha:
Yi Ling, a famous artist who once lived in the Yuanmingyuan artist village, has deep impressions of changing attitudes toward art colonies. He’s been named “head of the art villagers” for his enthusiasm in helping other artists to settle there.
“Fifteen years ago, artists in the Yuanmingyuan artist village drew attention from the police because of the artists’ uninhibited lifestyle,” he said. Even a small party with a few artists could trigger a full alert by the local police. A policeman on duty during the art festival’s opening ceremony said that nowadays, “We won’t interfere with the artists enjoying themselves. “We are here to protect the visitors in case of danger.” […]
In 2000, Li moved to Songzhuang, a town in Tongzhou District in east Beijing, where artists had settled in twos and threes since they were scattered from the Yuanmingyuan Artist Village. In addition to Songzhuang, several other art colonies in other parts of Beijing, such as 798 Factory, Feijiacun and Caochangdi, have become magnets for new artists, art collectors and tourists.
Nowadays, Songzhuang is widely referred to as “the biggest artistic district in China”, with more than 2,000 artists at work in their studios. Instead of battling with local police and government officials, Songzhuang artists now enjoy artistic freedom, Li said.
Art Colonies Bloom Nationwide (Global Times)