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Where steel industry was once king, fine art will reign

By Zhang Kun in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2018-06-23 09:35
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A new art and education center will be built on the site of a former steel factory in the Baoshan district of suburban Shanghai.

The plans were unveiled by the factory's owner, Baowu Baosteel Stainless Co Ltd, at a two-day international forum on the revitalization of industrial heritage on May 11.

The Urban Regeneration through Art forum, held at the international conference center at Wisdom Bay, a creative center in Baoshan, Shanghai, was jointly hosted by Baowu Steel Group, the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, the International Committee for Conservation of Industrial Heritage and the League on Industrial Heritage in China.

The factory, now called Baowu Industrial Heritage, consists of a former steel furnace, cold rolling mill, gas holder and processing workshops covering 26 square kilometers in northern Shanghai, said Cai Cai, director of planning at Baosteel Stainless Co.

They lost their industrial functions as Baowu Steel cut overcapacity.

The new project, known as Shanghai International Art City, was conceived as Shanghai announced its plans to develop what it calls the four Shanghai brands, featuring service, manufacturing, shopping and culture. This will be a new initiative strengthening the brand of Shanghai culture, said Jin Jiangbo, vice-president of the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, which is part of Shanghai University.

Baosteel Stainless Co made a deal with the municipality in 2012 on transforming its factory, which the company promised to close down by the end of 2017, something it achieved a year ago.

"Over the past five years we have done research on planning the vacant factory space and decided to turn it into Shanghai International Art City," Cai said.

Many of the 400 buildings in the area will be conserved so as to "keep the memories of steel manufacturing", he said. Some structures, such as the furnace, will be turned into a landmark building.

"There have been a number of art communities in China that transformed successfully from old industrial zones, such as 798 in Beijing and M50 in Shanghai," said Wang Dawei, executive president of the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts.

"We want to do more in the new Shanghai International Art City. It will be an artistic residential zone rather than just a center of artistic resources."

Phase one of the transformation will be completed before the end of 2020, when the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts moves into an area of 3.25 square kilometers, Cai said, "if we can successfully carry out each step of the process on time".

Provisional plans call for the whole project to be completed by 2035, when the 25 square kilometer area will develop into a sub CBD of Shanghai. More than 10 billion yuan ($1.54 billion), or even tens of billions of yuan, will be poured into the area, Cai said, even though plans are still in the preliminary stages and the timetable has yet to be finalized.

During the forum, Frances Morris, director of the Tate Modern in London, told of her experience in turning a former coal power plant into one of the world's largest museums of modern art. While inviting artists to take part in the transformation of the former industrial space, she said, she was surprised to see "how little they proposed to do", as artists appreciated the tough steel frames and the use of natural light.

Professor Wu Jiang of Tongji University outlined industrial legacies in Shanghai, and how art and artists played an important role in transforming them. While intellectuals and artists find it a good idea to combine art and culture with old factories and other legacies of the industrial age, he said, "it is surprising how Shanghai people have embraced the idea and are prepared to visit these places.

"Shanghai is the first industrial center in China. These factories used to be the city's pride; today they should still be so."

Baosteel, a leading global steel producer based in Shanghai, merged with Wuhan Iron and Steel Corporation in 2016, and has since been known as China Baowu Steel Group.

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