CHIANGRAI – Chiang Rai is finding various clever ways to toss off perceptions of it as a northern backwater, not least by becoming a role model for art communities. Early this month ceramist Somluk Pantiboon led a hundred Chiang Rai-based artists in launching the Khua Silapa (Art Bridge) Project.
They’ll begin welcoming fellow artists and other interested folks, including tourists, to their “art hub” starting in February.
Khua means “bridge” in the northern dialect, and for this project it refers to connecting art to society as a whole. It had its origins in the Chiang Rai Artist Fund, established with the inspiring help of National Artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, who donated Bt500,000 to get it going. The fund supports those who toil for little pay and educates youth about art’s necessity in life.
Somluk realised a wholly sustainable community of friends helping friends was needed in the long term. The Khua Silapa Project will be housed in a pavilion with artwork on view for visitors. Non-artists will be able to just hang around in the friendly atmosphere and soak up the creative vibes.
For financing, apart from the sale of art and snacks, they’re offering shares in the project, priced at Bt1,000 to Bt10,000.
“Chiang Rai seems like a seed that’s growing, but it’s dependent on its surroundings,” says Somluk. “We have to build a sustainable community, and the Khua Silapa Project will give young artists a space to display their work.
“Art museums and galleries struggle to make ends meet, so we envision Khua Silapa as an easy-going hangout for local people and tourists, a perfect place to have a meal with friends and shop for creative goods.
“We believe it will also attract more artists, collectors and curators to move to Chiang Rai.”
“This is a social enterprise, but we’re hoping to compel the government to support an arts community here by starting it ourselves,” says artist Angkrit Ajchariyasophon, another co-founder. “We’re letting everyone join in by buying shares.
“Chiang Rai is growing, and we have information on all the artists working here, which we’ll use to further develop the art centre in the future.”
The 500-square-metre pavilion is in fact a two-storey former Chinese learning centre, refurbished by Somluk for Bt5 million. There’ll be a gallery, art school, restaurant, cafe, library and souvenir shop.
Somluk drew on the decor of his own Doi Din Daeng studio, outfitting the building in a modern style that still reflects rural life. Friendly to the environment and inexpensive to maintain, it has no air conditioners and is cooled instead by breezes. The furniture is old wood and a giant wooden entrance door is adorned with a mosaic made from floral tiles.
The ground floor has the gallery for temporary exhibitions of works by young and veteran artists around town. Native Chiang Rai artists will display bamboo sculptures in animal shapes and other forms that evoke nature.
And when the Asean Economic Community comes into being in 2015, display space will be available for work by artists from Vietnam, Laos, Burma and south China.
The souvenir shop will stock handicrafts such as textiles woven by artisans in Sob Moei district in Mae Hong Son, and herbal and handmade goods from publisher Suan Ngen Mee Ma.
“This should be an inspiration for improving the skills of local craftsmen,” says Angkrit. “They can learn about which products sell best and what the quality should be so they can sell at a higher price.”
The open-air restaurant promises to be a delight in the evenings, with delectable local dishes and beverages offered by veteran chefs and a beautiful river vista. Doi Chang will have its own cafe on the premises.
The art school on the second floor will train anyone who’s interested in the basics of watercolour painting and art history. Future plans also call for overnight accommodations for artists there.
“I did some research on artists’ homes in Chiang Rai and I noticed how hard it is for them to set up their own studios,” says Mae Fah Luang University instructor Pollavat Prapattong.
“The Khua Silapa Project will be another place for artists to show their work and another way to keep the town beautiful and pleasant. It will make people understand that being an artist is an honourable career.
“The artists in Chiang Rai have passed on their inspirations from generation to generation, and that explains why we had no trouble putting together a joint project like this.”
The Khua Silapa Project is expected to open its pavilion in February.
For further information, call (053) 706 128 or visit the “ArtBridgeChiangRai” page on Facebook.