“If culture disengages from the local context, it loses its lifeblood.” The Can uses local culture to nourish creativity

Located on the shores of Qingshui River near Sanxia Old Street, The Can is nurturing the essence of culture on this piece of land, uniting the vitality of youth with the power of art and growing together with the people in its community.
The Can is a social enterprise that takes space as the starting point in the development of different business projects. Its diversified businesses include catering, the independent publication The Can Magazine, an arts and culture space, and an artist youth companionship program.
Given the opportunity to rescue his grandfather’s soap factory, founder Jeffrey Lin returned to his hometown of Sanxia to promote the soap products. In just a short amount of time, he had secured substantial revenue. During this period of time, he came across many researchers of local culture and history in Sanxia, which made him revise the idea that business can only focus on making a profit. He realised that while he was making money, he could also create a platform for consolidating the preservation of local culture and the environment.
Seeing the urban development problem in Sanxia, creating a public platform by building old houses
Jeffrey Lin observed that a contrast had emerged between the new and old city areas throughout the entire district of Sanxia as a result of the influx of construction companies to the new Taipei University Special District. He also noticed that there were great gaps in terms of knowledge, economic status and other aspects between the residents living in the old area and those in the new. In addition, Sanxia District had the highest rate of youth substance abuse in New Taipei City, with many children living on the margins of society and in need of the community’s helping hand.
When the original soap business had reached its heyday, Jeffrey Lin resolutely left it to create The Can together with his wife. He borrowed a large sum of money from the bank to renovate an ancient sanheyuan as a public space for lectures, artists in residence and community participation.
Linking existing local resources to accompany the growth of artists and adolescents
The operations of The Can have two major characteristics: it integrates the creations of local artists, and it accompanies children from elementary school in the hope of positively impacting their development.
“The ‘existing resources’ of Sanxia is a group of local artists,” said Jeffrey Lin. Sanxia is currently home to more than 30 artists, as well as art centres like the Li Mei-shu Memorial Gallery and Zushi Temple, which help artistic energy blossom on this piece of land. Jeffrey Lin has put aside a part of the store space for local artists as a studio, so that local original works of art have somewhere they can be displayed.
In addition to accompanying local artists in their growth, The Can also cooperates with counselling services at several local elementary schools in Sanxia to provide opportunities for young people from high-risk families or community-conscious college students to participate in activities like cleaning the riverbanks or helping local elderly people sell their crops. Jeffrey Lin mentioned that community service is a slow and continuous process of revision. “It is difficult to assess one’s specific influence because changes need to be built up over the long term.” But he believes that as soon as somebody is influenced by the idea of community service, it can certainly cause profound changes in them.
Jeffrey Lin was gratified to see the young people in the first year of his riverbank cleaning event return to serve the community of Sanxia. A cyclical model of reciprocation has gradually been established. “We are not only about doing youth entrepreneurship, and we are not just connecting with artists. A network from childhood to old age has already been formed in this community,” said Jeffrey Lin.
A diversified business model is indispensable to the functioning of the local level of society
The current business model of The Can includes everything from space leasing, arts performance events, lecture courses, cultural and creative goods sales, catering services, community building, design, and tourism. It is hard to imagine that all this is the result of the hard work of just a small team of staff.
Jeffrey Lin is responsible for various businesses of The Can. Even on the weekdays when fewer people visit, he has many different business undertakings and cooperation discussions to attend. He is also the editor-in-chief of the bi-monthly The Can Magazine and is active in connecting youth entrepreneurship clusters around the world using text and video, as well as in uncovering many stories of local practices in Taiwan.
“Without The Can Magazine, it would not be The Can as we know it. Without the platform function, it would not be The Can as we know it.” Jeffrey Lin said that even though the diversified management style leaves the team members quite busy, The Can relies on the holiday crowd for most of its revenue, as well as renting out its space from time to time. However, he believes that local entrepreneurship cannot neglect any of its aspects, as losing any one will result in the loss of certain social functions.
Cultural and creative industries cannot be separated from culture: linking folk beliefs to constant innovation
Jeffrey Lin argues that innovative design that is only focused on generic design does not truly belong in the cultural and creative industries. “If culture disengages with the local context, it loses its lifeblood.”
The Can team once tried something new in coordination with The Can Magazine’s theme for that edition, “faith”. At the time, the pilgrimage of Mazu was visiting Sanxia from Beigang’s Chaotian Temple. The team organized a Mazu photography exhibition at The Can, inviting The Chairman to perform “Gods Protect Taiwan” at an autograph signing concert, as well as Ba Jia Jiang to give face paintings and traditional Taiwanese embroidery experts to give lectures. At the end of the festivities, the team recycled firecracker paper into a papier-mâché statue of Mazu.
“Culture must proceed from land. We have to revisit, contemplate and digest our local culture,” said Jeffrey Lin, who believes that cultural and creative industries must be cased on culture and stories. Cultural and creative industries reinterpret Taiwan’s traditional beliefs and make culture sustainable through creativity. Instead of erasing the original context, they create another brand-new product.
After years of hard work and challenges faced on the road of entrepreneurship, Jeffrey Lin is still happy to be walking this path.
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