Gordon Tsai is a Taipei visionary and real estate developer, a generous, glowing, happy man. He has created a complex of high-end condominiums in New Taipei City, which is across a river from the city proper. When he sells an apartment, half the money goes into a foundation, which supports the building in the complex devoted to the arts, the Dream Community.
Every year, the foundation offers residencies to 100 international artists. In the ground-floor work area, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows enabling the public to watch art being made, residents find every tool and material, or they can request what isn’t there. They make things, and many of the works remain, in the buildings or on the street, creating the sense you’re in a museum of modern art. Some artists devote their time to installing fantastic mosaic tile in bathrooms or terraces, or craft extraordinary lamps. There is sculpture everywhere, and people engrossed in a wide variety of creative work.
Gordon Tsai sent me a ticket to visit his place, to get ideas about how art houses could be created, and to discuss some practical ideas about how to make this happen in San Francisco. On a day of torrential rain and thunderstorms, we met in his office to talk things over. He told me that when he built this place, he decided how it would be: people buying condominiums would sign an agreement to attend one major art festival a year, like Burning Man, and understand that their purchase would fund the arts program.
It wasn’t an easy sell. Partners backed out, leaving Tsai to carry out his vision alone. As an ardent fan of pageantry, fine art, and the creative process, he continued to sell apartments, fund residencies, and provide a space for events, performances, and creative ingenuity. He also produces an annual parade for Taipei, The Dream Parade, in which Tsai himself will lead the phantasmagorical procession. This August, Tsai will take 70 members of the Dream Community to Burning Man, where their camp will present a tribute to the ancient Chinese diety, Matzu, goddess of the empty sea.
His days contain five hours of Qi Jong meditation and growing the fruits and vegetables that will feed the artists in residence twice a day. At 12 and 6 every day, Tsai’s “aunties” deliver multiple platters of excellent food to the communal dining room, including the best French fries I’ve ever had. The Dream Community takes wonderful care of its residents, but it also requires that they give workshops to the community and participate in festival performances like the Dream Parade.
Meeting Gordon Tsai reinforced my belief that the world is full of visionaries. He is the living embodiment of a good life that is both successful and providential, and a person who has shared his good fortune in life with artists and the city he lives in. Like me, he believes that artists should not be isolated in “artists’ villages,” but belong in the community, that arts should be a part of daily life.
I have seen many remarkable places in the world, but few have inspired me more. I left Taipei with remarkable advice, which I am currently putting into motion. Perhaps, very soon, the lessons learned in Taipei will bring Art Houses to San Francisco.