Fram Kitagawa is a major producer of contemporary art festivals in Japan. His optimistic vision connects artists, farmers, rural residents, and researchers to redefine the notion of local identity and place. Doing so revitalizes rural Japanese communities by increasing awareness through the restorative process of satoyama, which allows for connections between the history of the landscape, aesthetics, and local socio-economic issues. Kitagawa’s active pursuit of dialogue within the multiple narratives of local and regional histories makes the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennali precursors to other expansive social art practices.
More importantly, the restorative efforts of Kitagawa and the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale endure despite the economic recession, the Chuetsu earthquake, polarization of the urban and rural, and the Tohoku devastation on 3/11. This persistence depends upon linking artistic practices with social development rooted in place-making and place-identity. Increased awareness by Western artists might set up Echigo-Tsumari as a model for transformative art elsewhere on the scale of Kitagawa’s vision. The model could inspire, for example, more work in the vein of Theaster Gates, the American ceramic and social practice installation artists, who argues that artists should do more than just make objects. Rather, we should “make the thing that makes the thing,” and as Gates asserts, we should transform culture.