Taipei neighborhood Treasure Hill finds new life as artist village

The small community of Treasure Hill overlooks the Xindian River in Taipei City. Located in Gongguan District but secluded from the area's bustling markets and streets, it was once home to more than 200 families. Today, it is a thriving artist village where the remaining long-term residents mix with creative talents from home and around the world.

First occupied by six households between 1945 and 1949, the village did not emerge in its present form until the 1970s, when military restrictions on construction at the site were lifted. During that decade, a large number of military dependents' families erected houses on the hill, many of them using stone taken from the nearby river.

As the structures were built without the approval of municipal authorities, they were later categorized as illegal and in 1980 Taipei City Government released a plan to turn the haphazardly arranged neighborhood into a park. This garnered significant outcry from residents and housing rights activists. Following long years of negotiation, the site was granted protected status in 2004 before being transformed into an artist village in 2010. A total of 19 households opted to remain after the revamp.

Overseen by the Taipei Culture Foundation under TCG's Department of Cultural Affairs, Treasure Hill Artist Village is responsible for the renovation and maintenance of community structures. It also manages a hostel, several studios and an artist-in-residence program.

In revitalizing the facilities, the THAV has worked to showcase their history. A prime example is the use of a former air raid shelter as an exhibition space. The artist-in-residence program has also proved popular. Hundreds of individuals and collectives from home and abroad submit proposals to the initiative each year. About 20 are approved annually, with overseas applicants and local artists eligible for stays of one to three months and three to six months, respectively.

Marcel Reyes-Cortez, a visual anthropologist and artist-in-residence at THAV since October, described it as an ideal place for talents to explore their imagination. The gallery in the artist village is the whole of Treasure Hill, every wall, every ally and space, said the Briton, whose project at the site centers on death and memories. The community can reshape how creators exhibit or interpret their art, he added.

The installation The Altar�I love you Abuelita by British artist Marcel Reyes-Cortez at THAV explores the process of commemoration. (Courtesy of THAV)

While artistic talents have helped popularize the hillside neighborhood, the remaining households are the focus in charting its future development. THAV Manager Lee I-hua said the permanent residents are the core of the site, with the artist village serving as a platform to promote community rejuvenation.

This is underscored by the Treasure Hill Light Festival, the leading annual event at THAV. Illuminated installation artworks featured in the show must revolve around the stories and perspectives of longtime inhabitants, Lee said. The 2019 edition, scheduled for March, is themed If the Good Times Lasted and will imagine how the site would have evolved if families had not faced the decadeslong threat of eviction, she addedPerformance artists entertain crowds at the hillside neighborhood. (Courtesy of THAV)

The relationship between full-time residents and the artist village has gone from strength to strength in recent years, especially since the two sides collaborated in opening a grocery store in 2015, Lee said. Run by the inhabitants with the support of THAV, the shop sells cultural and creative products, local delicacies and traditional snacks.

In an effort to showcase the community, permanent residents also offer free guided tours on weekends. These help provide visitors with a deeper understanding of the history and stories that shaped Treasure Hill. (E) (By Chiang Pei-ying)

An exhibition space next to the community's grocery store features a documentary and artworks outlining the history of the village. (Staff photo/Chiang Pei-ying)

Source: Taiwan Today