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Regional revitalization through contemporary art

“SUZU 2017: Oku-Noto Triennale”: The Road to Regional Revitalization through Contemporary Art

Kotaro NAKAMURA, Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology / Soka University

Hideyuki SAKAMOTO, Kanazawa College of Art

Momoka KANO, Oku-Noto Triennale Executive Committee


“SUZU 2017: Oku-Noto Triennale” is an art festival aiming for regional revitalization and takes place in Suzu city on the Northern coast of Japan. Oku-Noto is the name of the Northern area of the Noto Peninsula. The organizers of the Triennale formulated an initial business plan (300 million Yen, 30,000 visitors) in 2015. Preparations for the festival have been in full swing since around 2016 and it was held for 50 days from September to October 2017. This is the same period of the conventional fall festival period. The Triennale was a success with 71,260 visitors, a total revenue (including donations) of about 80 million Yen, and an estimated economic effect of 520 million Yen. Additional success indicators are:1,610 volunteers from within and around the city, but also from abroad, participated. Even after the closing of the event, nine artworks were permanently installed and 171 group tours with a total of 5,500 tourists from urban areas visited as of February 2019. The impact on the region has been evaluated, and the festival was decided to be held a second time in Fall of 2020 aiming for 80,000 visitors. This case, as a representative example of tourism-type art events in a remote area, demonstrates that it is beneficial to attract art-mediated customers and to activate regional actors.

Description of the destination or original ​product

The region is geographically uniquely bounded by the outer harbor to the North and the inner bay to the South. It retains the original historic scenery along the coast and sources of old Japanese culture accumulated over generations. This can be seen in the region’s festivals and rituals, such as festival floats and big lanterns and inviting friends and neighbors to feasts as a social gathering. It also has other rich cultural resources like traditional cuisine, Suzu grilled work pottery and fried beach type of Yantian for salt production. The festival incorporates these resources through art and provides site-specific experience value.

Impetus of change

Suzu city has a rich history of several hundred years with maritime trade and active shipping. However, due to depopulation, it is regarded as one of the most isolated places in Japan. In the past 70 years, the population has halved and the city is faced with an aging society. Therefore, the common sense of wanting to stop the population decline and maintain the sustainability of the area became stronger. One potential avenue to do so is making the area attractive to young people and maintaining the resident. Attention was focused on an art festival to enhance the attractiveness of the area utilizing natural and cultural resources that are not found in sports events.

Process that facilitated change

By welcoming Fram KITAGAWA, who has more than 20 years of experience, as a general director for the festival, the organizers achieved a necessary first step for arts events in remote areas: That is, securing leadership of an artists that a rediscover the charm of the places, patterns of life and engages many area residents and supporters from elsewhere to participate in the art festival (from guidebook 'writing article). With the aim of "an art festival where traditional culture resonates with contemporary art", festival organizers aimed for the regional understanding of the art festival and the participation of regional actors.


The participating artists were 39 groups from eleven countries and regions (ten groups from abroad, 29 groups from Japan). Initially, the city office led the way by budgeting, prepared the infrastructure maintenance, organized the volunteer, and held explanatory meetings with local district leaders and residents. Through this cooperation of the local community, a regional cooperation system was gradually established through the development of the venue and the creative process of the artworks. As a result, the art installation at the shoreline, the display reusing the inland public hall and old school facilities, the old station building of the "Noto Railway Line" (disused since 2005), the railway track, the ruins of historic commercial houses in the town, unused movie theater etc. It was taken as the work venue.

Typical story

People in the area could hardly conceptualize "the image of how they relate", except the local district chief who has seen other art festivals after having decided to hold this one. From the time when permanent works and venues (a total of 37 locations) were created, the movement started in each district. There was a working display of deep relationships with life activities such as salt-making places and regional products and embroidery, etc.” “The greater the degree to which people in the area helped,” the more the place was active during the festival period. In addition, the senior generation was trained as guides in the style of talking about the area more than the work. In the last 12 to 18 months before the festival, it became clear that participants took ownership and made the projects they were responsible for ”their own thing".

Even after the end of the festival, nine artworks remained in place and are now permanent, aiming at the ripple effect such as sightseeing tours to attract more than 5,500 tourists in the first year after the event. In addition, the common sense of "It is necessary to create a scheme including sightseeing and eating and drinking business" is intensifying. The city plans collaboration with key people in marketing, entrepreneurs in the city and with service businesses to create a new organization for the 2020 festival. Transportation and accommodation capacity has also begun to improve and expand. For this purpose, it is necessary to "clarify the economic effect and raise an understanding of the festival among citizens".

The Triennale has succeeded in attracting contemporary art fans to the Suzu area and made local actors more receptive to events with the help of famous artists’ creative work. Participating local actors are beginning to share awareness and enjoyment of the existence of local resources through art production and appreciation. It is also widely recognized that the region's diverse resources have the potential to be aware of history and tradition and to deep mutual bonds. If the businesses reflect this in their own tours and brands, it will increase citizens’ acceptability to the city's’ financial investment as a trigger to create economic value.


The following results can be summarized:

1) More visitors - contemporary art fans.

2) Local people have had an opportunity to rediscover local natural and cultural resources through art events.

3) Local actors were able to raise awareness of future possibilities and potentials of this region.

Organizer info

Oku-Noto Triennale Executive Committee

13-120-1 Iida-machi, Suzu-city, Ishikawa #927-1214

TEL: +81(0)768-82-7720, Mail: info@oku-noto.jp

EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN: Masuhiro Izumiya (Mayor of Suzu)

DIRECTOR: Fram Kitagawa (Art Director)

CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Katsumi Asaba (Art Director)


Oku-Noto Triennale web (http://oku-noto.jp/en/about/ [Accessed: 01-March. 2019])

Kitagawa F. and Oku-Noto Triennale committee office (2017). Oku-Noto Triennale 2017 Formal report: SUZU2017 (http://www.jca.apc.org/gendai/onebook.php?ISBN=978-4-7738-1804-8 [Accessed: 01-March. 2019]).

Kitagawa, F., Breslin, L. & Fravell, A. (2015). Art place Japan: The Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale and the vision to reconnect art and nature. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.


This description is based on participant observation during the event, interview with the ONT office people and local collaborators and supporters, and the related publications and newspaper.

A chief collaborator Mr. Minami explaining salt production history
“In A Little While” using the train in disused platform
“Drifting Landscape” using old potteries presenting the influence of the Eurasian Continent
“The Boat Which Carries Time” reflecting hard work in salt production




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