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Taiwanese Youths Take on Milan World EXPO


Taiwanese Youths Take on Milan World EXPO


A group of young people have turned to crowd funding to bring Taiwan's unique cuisine to the 2015 World EXPO in Milan, Italy.



Taiwanese Youths Take on Milan World EXPO

By Kaiyuan Teng
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 576 )

The dark of night envelops the Taipei Flora Expo site, where the only bright lights emanate from the Pavilion of Dreams area in Xinsheng Park.

Inside the pavilion, 32-year-old Su Min, a co-founder of the OPTOGO (One Pavilion to Go) project, meets with around a dozen members of the OPTOGO team, composed of professionals and students.

Over the past few months, he has presided over regular Monday and Friday meetings after work, organizing the OPTOGO project for the Taiwan Pavilion at the 2015 Milan EXPO commencing this September.

In the past, Taiwan has gotten around international obstructions to participation in the World EXPO via pavilions tied into corporate title sponsorship. This group of Taiwanese youths, averaging 26 years of age, can now claim the distinction of being the first civic group to gain entry to the global fair.

Participating As a Global Citizen

Not relying on government or big corporate power, they recruited over a dozen members spanning fields and professions including design, architecture, agriculture, and public policy to autonomously launch the Taiwan OPTOGO project.

Pending the raising of sufficient funding, the group received authorization from the Milan city government to set up the Taiwan Pavilion within spitting distance of the Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral).

"Going out and doing your own thing on your own is always the most inspiring," renowned architect Huang Sheng-yuan said in a video message of support for the team.

This September, a corps of international volunteers recruited by OPTOGO will fan out into the streets and alleyways of Milan on electric bikes made into mobile vending carts, handing out cards illustrating different Taiwanese specialty "small eats." The team had planned to hand out food directly on the streets of the city, but at the request of the Milan EXPO organizers they will give out cards and recipes instead.

In addition, they have rented out a famous restaurant just 400 meters from the Milan Cathedral, where they will tickle Italian taste buds with such Taiwanese delicacies as soup dumplings and pearl milk tea.

In a departure from past World's Fairs, the Milan EXPO has made provisions for civic groups to apply to exhibit at the event.

"In the more than one-century history of the World's Fair/World EXPO, ours is the first time a pavilion has been initiated and curated entirely by a civic group," says Su.

Su relates that this year's Milan EXPO features the theme of food safety and agriculture, and as a member of the global community facing the same set of issues and challenges, it is imperative that Taiwan take part in the event.

Direct Broadcast Platform

According to Chun-hsiung Wang, associate professor of architecture at Shih Chien University, a powerful local family was able to pull strings and enlist the assistance of the Milan municipal government to secure the usage of an old house and a restaurant in the heart of the city's hottest tourist district.

Using a combination of crowd funding and individual and corporate donations, at present they have raised over NT$5 million. Even Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je reached into his pocket and donated NT$400,000 of his own money.

 "Young people are more courageous and have more of a world view than we give them credit for," observes Wang.

Su, who quit his job to put the exhibition together, describes his mission like this: "Going out is all about what you want to bring back with you."

He offers that, although quite a few Taiwanese artists have shined in the international arena, many international projects have failed to incorporate local connections in their conception and execution.

This is why they have set up a live on-line streaming platform in Milan and Taiwan, so that anyone visiting the pavilion in either location can have a live view of the exhibition.

Once the curtain has drawn on the Milan EXPO, the team will prepare a white paper on the exhibition's outcome, and continue to tap the power of civil society through forums and workshops.

At first, they had planned to follow the established method and take on Milan as a corporate pavilion, for which they had secured corporate sponsorship.

However, after group discussion, the team felt that a single corporate body would be unable to do justice to the full breadth of fine Taiwanese cuisine. This led them to the decision to forgo exclusive corporate sponsorship, opting instead for a crowd funding approach to enable broader civic participation in the OPTOGO project.

In the effort to fulfill the goal of bottom-to-top participation, the team has been busy over the past several months conducting forums on agriculture and food at art spaces and schools all around Taiwan.

They have also run seminars at coffee shops in various locations, where they have placed nearly 20,000 stickers with QR Codes, the costs of which were covered by the printer. After writing down which Taiwanese delicacy they most want to bring to Milan on the card, they upload a selfie with the card to the site accessed via the QR Code printed on the card.

"We want this to be a public movement, not just an artistic achievement," says Su.

Stepping Out

They also plan to compile their experiences, covering everything from crowd funding to venue applications, into a handbook to help inform groups from different countries looking to participate in future EXPOs as private concerns.

Wang relates that the World EXPO has often become a forum for countries to display their national power, but the Milan EXPO has made a point of opening participation to civic groups to promote further social and cultural exchange.

However, the decision to take part in the EXPO as a civic group is accompanied by the risk of funding shortages.

With funding currently standing at just over NT$5 million, the team is only able to complete the first part of the plan, namely renting the restaurant for preparing Taiwanese food and taking three mobile vending carts with them to Milan. A huge gap still remains between the current level of funding and their ultimate fundraising goal of over NT$18 million.

Su Min relates that, although they could not be assured of success right from the start, they still wanted to take the first step towards showing the world the power of Taiwanese civil society.

Translated from the Chinese by David Toman