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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

WHERE IT'S AT

Architects, artists converge to brainstorm disaster relief


Staff writer

The 52nd floor of the Roppongi Hills complex in downtown Tokyo was filled Saturday night with a high-spirited, energetic atmosphere as people gathered for a charity event to raise donations for survivors of the quake- and tsunami-ravaged Tohoku region.

News photo
A group of manga artists give an explanation about their project to auction original prints of their cartoons during the "PechaKucha — Inspire Japan" event Saturday night. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTOS

More than 200 people gathered for "Global PechaKucha Day - Inspire Japan" to listen to architects, artists and musicians present their ideas for raising disaster-relief funds.

The same event was held at 92 locations around the world the same day, and most of them were streamed live on the Internet. During the Tokyo event, organizers held live chats with people taking part in the event in Sendai, Nagano and Christchurch, New Zealand.

Participants were asked to make donations at the door. The funds will be channeled to Architecture for Humanity, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that has supported reconstruction of areas around the world hit by natural disasters. Previously, the group has raised funds to build a school in Haiti after the country was devastated by the 2010 earthquake.

In 2003, Tokyo-based architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham started "PechaKucha Night" originally to give young artists and designers a chance to present their ideas and works in an informal way. Each presenter is given 6 minutes and 40 seconds to show 20 images with a 20-second explanation for each image.

The event has since gradually spread all over the world and is now held regularly in over 400 cities. In the last few years, it has also been used as an opportunity for the artists to raise charity funds.

Klein said Japan has provided inspiration to many generations of designers. "Now it's our turn to inspire Japan," she said.

Jean Snow, executive director of PechaKucha Night, said he was very happy with how things turned out at the Tokyo event. "We had a terrific turnout at Roppongi Hills - a big crowd - which means that a lot of money was donated," he said. "I think everyone was also very inspired by the presentations that we had."

A total of 11 artists and groups gave their presentations, including a few architects who had unique ideas about how to rebuild the tsunami-devastated communities in Tohoku. Among the presenters were the British editor of "2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake" (more popularly known as "Quakebook"), a Twitter-sourced charity book that collected essays by those affected by the March 11 disaster, and a group of musicians who set up a charity website that sells music online to donate the proceeds.

"It's really great that so many architects and artists gathered in Tokyo all at once," said a Japanese editor of a magazine who was among the audience.

News photo
Rita Topa, 29, an architect from Portugal, presents her idea for a new town during the same event held at Roppongi Hills in Tokyo.

A group of manga artists has launched a Web-based charity auction of original prints of their cartoons The artworks to be auctioned through eBay include that of Hebizou, coauthor of the manga "Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo," Eiji Shiroi (author of "Samurai Spirits") and Akira Nishitake, who helped put together the project.

Clara Kleft, another organizer of the project, said the PechaKucha event was a great opportunity for the group to let people know about the auction and "also to meet many other creative people.

"Japan is very rich in human resources. There are so many talented people out there," she added.

Sumit Varshney, 29, a Canadian consultant who works for a U.S. firm, said he found the event interesting in that nobody was there to judge the ideas given by the artists. "Some of the presentations may not be feasible (immediately), but it's interesting to hear different perspectives from different people," he said.

Sebastian Kumos, 36, from Poland, agreed. "The cost will be huge to implement the ideas, but there were some interesting, bold ideas."

Magdalena Klosek, 28, a Chiba Prefecture-based designer also from Poland, said she was glad that she experienced the earthquake in Japan and not in any other country. "Japanese people were so helpful and warm during and after the earthquake," she said.

Klein said that at the beginning of a disaster, a lot of the funds go immediately to helping the affected people, while reconstruction efforts come after that. "It takes three years, five years, even 10 years to reconstruct a city. We're here for the long run," she said.

"Let's all come together and show Japan that the creative world is thinking of them, that all is not lost, and that it is possible to stand up and rebuild, even in villages and towns which have been completely destroyed. With creativity and passion, anything is possible," she wrote on the PechaKucha Night website.



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