Forest Festival of the Arts Okayama to debut in Japan in 2024

A new international art festival, named Forest Festival of the Arts Okayama, will open in the northern area of Okayama Prefecture in the Setouchi Region in autumn 2024. The festival, which will be held across twelve towns and cities in the region, will use art to examine and interpret the concept of “forest” as a diverse and abundant space that provides everything we need for life. 

The host region of Okayama stretches from the Chugoku Mountains through to the Kibi Highlands and is the upper river basin for three rivers: the Yoshii, the Asahi, and the Takahashi. This all makes the area quite different to the coastal parts of southern Okayama: here you will find lush forestation, spectacular nature, post towns and castles along old highways, and historic hot springs. 

The festival has already launched an Artist in Residence programme, with two artists staying the region for a month-long period to engage with local communities and examine the possibilities offered by the festival. The first pair of artists are Aki Inomata, a multi-disciplinary Japanese artist who investigates animal-human collaborative relationship and the creation that arises from them,  and Giacomo Zaganelli, an Italian artist whose work examines borders between art, architecture, and space with a focus on local engagement. 

The aim of the festival is to reveal, through an innovative programme of art exhibitions and events, the charm of the region from new perspectives. In doing so, the hope is to promote tourism to northern Okayama, to increase the non-resident population, and to enhance pride among locals. This exciting new festival will offer extraordinary experiences to residents and visitors alike. 

More information on the festival will be made available on the festival website as the programme for its 2024 launch takes shape. 

Festival Concept: Creating New Capital by Reflecting on the Forest 

The festival welcomes as its Art Director the renowned curator Yuko Hasegawa, Director of The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa and Professor in Curatorial Studies at Tokyo University of the Arts. She explains the concept of the festival as follows: 

In autumn 2024, an international art festival – the Forest Festival of the Arts Okayama – will be held in in the northern region of Okayama.

Since ancient times, the Izumo Highway has stretched between Yamato and Izumo and this area, the castle towns and post towns of which have thrived since early modern times, retains a rich legacy of traditional architecture, craft, and performing arts. The lands and  forests are a rich source of fruit and timber and are now the focus of various efforts focused on making sustainable the  use of this abundance, and the initiative designed to make maximum use of forest resources through woody biomass power generation has been hailed as a pioneering SDG-oriented model. Quiet time and spaces, not yet overly touristy can be found in the Hiruzen Kogen Highlands, the Mimisaka Hot Springs, and the local limestone caves; places such as these offer possibilities in ecological thinking. 

The title of the festival comes from the  forest, which symbolises the rich natural blessings, the culture, and the diversity and abundance, as a place where people gather, of this region, which provides everything that we need to live: a warm climate, rich water and other vital resources, and ample food. 

This art festival aims to activate the blessings brought by the forest, towards and for the future, through the power of the arts, and to ask: “what sort of capital do we really need”? It will examine cultural facilities such as galleries, museums, and schools; the infrastructure – water, energy, and food supplies – we need to survive; and the capital we share with the natural environment. It will include experts – not just artists, but architects, scientists, and scholars of folklore – who will work together with local populations to create new capital. 

As well as reflecting diverse ideas, art inspires sympathy among its audiences for such ideas, and nurtures imaginations capable of looking towards new worlds and new ways of seeing. This in turn brings many things: surprise, profound emotional response, excitement, butterflies, awareness of the joy of being alive, satisfaction of the chance to feel and think deeply. The single ecology that is the northern region of Okayama prefecture will receive the energy of art and be transformed into a space able to refresh heart and mind alike. This festival for residents of the forest in the Land of Sunshine (as Okayama Prefecture is known) will celebrate exactly this.

Folklorists and other specialists will create ‘new capital’ with the help of local people. The arts reflect diverse ways of thinking, make people empathise with each other and foster imagination for new worlds and new ways of seeing things. It brings ‘surprise’, ‘excitement’, ‘thrill’, ‘joy of living’ and ‘satisfaction in feeling and thinking deeply’. One ecology, the north of the prefecture, is transformed by the energy of art into a ‘place’ that refreshes people’s minds and sensibilities. 

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