Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s most important maritime city. The Port of Kaohsiung is an international container port that accommodates vessels from around the globe. Kaohsiung is connected to every part of the world through its shipping routes. The city’s development began alongside the port, then spread inland as railway links to other parts of Taiwan were established. Throughout its history, Kaohsiung’s urban culture has always been closely connected to the harbor.
Just as Kaohsiung’s original growth stemmed from the success of its harbor, the port area’s recent transformation has created some fascinating results. One is Pier-2 Art Center; another is the city’s ongoing urban development program, Asia’s New Bay Area.
Kaohsiung’s cultural assets have expanded in recent years. Reading and art are becoming more accessible in all corners of the city thanks to book-reading and art-outreach activities, as well as the Cloud Gate 2 in Kaohsiung program. A multifunctional theater, the Wei-Wu-Ying Center for the Arts, due to be completed by the end of 2016, is already catching the world’s attention.
Pier-2 Art Center is the most popular hotspot of culture and creativity in Kaohsiung. In 2001, a group of artists lobbied for this abandoned warehouse complex beside the harbor to be turned into a cultural facility. The city government’s involvement since 2006 has given Pier-2 a new life through a series of exhibitions and events. The old and the new have been perfectly integrated; mottled warehouse buildings bring out the city’s artistic and cultural side, and the power of creativity shines strong.
Asia’s New Bay Area is an ambitious construction plan designed to maintain Kaohsiung’s prosperity through the next century. This harborside complex has four core buildings: Kaohsiung Main Public Library; Kaohsiung Exhibition Center; Kaohsiung Port Terminal; and the Kaohsiung Maritime Cultural and Popular Music Center. The first two have already been completed. Kaohsiung Main Public Library is certainly a new cultural landmark in the city. Incorporating architectural concepts such as “green canopy,” the building’s design integrates plants and grass. The library’s charm makes reading an enjoyable activity. The fact it was built so near the harbor is also significant. Just as the harbor stimulated Kaohsiung’s growth throughout the 20th century, the library is expected to cultivate the kind of soft power which will enhance Kaohsiung’s prosperity during the next century.
Based on that perspective, the city government has built or renovated libraries in various areas, aiming to better balance reading resources between urban and rural districts, and to develop the public’s reading habits.
The annual Jhuangtou Fringe Festival is also enlivening Kaohsiung’s countryside. Since 2010, this festival has brought top theater performers and teams to rural areas of the city. The goal of the festival is to provide in-person cultural experiences for children and adults in the countryside, in mountain villages and in fishing communities.
This year’s Jhuangtou Fringe Festival runs from August 8 to December 13, and features Taiwanese opera, Henan opera, children’s plays and concerts. Wu Cheng-ting, director of the Performing Arts Development Center, Kaohsiung City Government Bureau of Cultural Affairs, describes the Jhuangtou Fringe Festival as a government-run effort to bring artistic performances to various communities. Performances that usually require large stages are turned into small outdoor events; typical venues include temples and schools. Bigger stages are assembled for Taiwanese opera shows; these include screens for broadcasting images and subtitles. (The latter serve audience members who do not understand Taiwanese well.) The bureau even goes so far as to prepare chairs with backrests for audiences. For children, there are interactive activities associated with plays and orchestral concerts. After shows, children and adults gather around and thank the staff and performers for bringing wonderful events to them; the staff find these expressions of gratitude heartwarming. The effort put into these events is well worth it.
Cloud Gate 2 in Kaohsiung is another program which children in rural areas look forward to every year. The event is co-sponsored by Cloud Gate 2 and the city government. Special shuttle buses take children into the city to attend Cloud Gate 2 performances, and the troupe has designed special choreography for those youngsters. Salina Chia-Hui Yeh, Cloud Gate 2’s performance manager, explains that the choreography allows children and dancers to dance together, hand in hand. Dancers who have participated in previous programs say that dancing right in front of children reminds them of when they felt their very first enthusiasm for dancing. It is also a great way to promote Cloud Gate 2’s concept of learning with your body. Last year, Chen Pang-yu, a teacher at Jianshan Elementary School in Taoyuan Distict, one of the most remote and mountainous parts of Kaohsiung, took more than 70 students to a Cloud Gate 2 show in Kaohsiung. He speaks highly of the dancers’ efforts to encourage students to dance. The students’ impromptu dance moves made everyone burst out laughing, and shortened the distance between the professional dancers and the young kids.
Kaohsiung’s citizens are embracing a wide range of cultural activities, and architecture can be regarded as one of the city’s most astonishing achievements. Wei-Wu-Ying Center for the Arts, designed by Netherlands-based architect Francine Houben, looks like a white stingray swimming above the ground. The site’s old banyan trees inspired Houben and contributed to the design of the outdoor Fifth Theater’s abstract and modern banyan tree hall. The exterior of the main building is covered with 2,260 steel sheets, each of which differs in terms of angle or arching. This multifunctional theater incorporates maritime materials and technology. Symbolizing a sea creature’s smooth movements, it is a superb way to highlight Kaohsiung’s role and history as a harbor city.
Covering 3.3 hectares, Wei-Wu-Ying Center for the Arts includes a theater, a concert hall, a Chinese opera theater, and an orchestra hall as well as an outdoor theater. Its outstanding hardware will definitely provide the audience with incredible experiences.