By Celma Costa
Updated September 24, 2021
Birdo Flugas, in breezy Shiogama City, is cozy, calming, and refreshing. An art gallery that challenges and ultimately redefines what art can do in a community, Birdo Flugas is a gallery, a center of international cultural exchange and, most recently, a site for permaculture experimentation.
The visionary behind Birdo Flugas is Aya Takada (高田 彩), the gallery's director, who receives us with sincere and animated greetings. We sit down to talk with her about art, her vision for Birdo Flugas as a unifying gallery space, and her ongoing community projects in Miyagi Prefecture.
Aya has a cheerful demeanor, and her genki-ness (positive energy) shines through, despite the initial serious undertone of our conversation.
Aya starts by sharing why art is so important to her: "It is unique, and it is universal. Think about it—art isn't something we need to survive. So why is it everywhere?"
Aya's experiences abroad have been fundamental in her personal and professional development. In previous interviews, she has often highlighted the two and a half years she spent as an intern at a non-profit gallery in Vancouver, British Columbia. She witnessed, at a young age, the multiple roles that artists play in a society. She also began to notice the slight differences in attitude about art in Canada versus her home country, Japan.
"Art work is also artwork." —Aya Takada
“Artists are important for society and basically, in Canada, you are really important because you’re making culture and history right now—you’re the one making it. So that’s the attitude. And everyone has that mindset,” says Aya. She goes on to describe how, in Canada, artists take action, pursue social issues, and inspire political change.
Aya continues, “Here in Japan, there is less opportunity for emerging artists and grassroots artists to showcase their works, even though what they are trying to do through art is so important and unique. Especially in a small town, it’s hard to achieve recognition as an artist. So I would like create various opportunities for them to present and be represented.”
Sendai Motions: How do you find these grassroots artists? How do you go about collaborating with this specific group?
Aya Takada : I try not to emphasize my ideas. [gesturing to individuals in an imaginary crowd] Your idea, your idea, your idea—individual ideas are important. So even though I have different ideas from the artists, if the idea is something new and fresh and different, then that idea should be introduced here. So [Birdo Flugas] is, I always want to say, open to everyone.
SM: As a gallery director, you've often showcased younger artists. Why do you choose to work with them?
AT: The first reason? I mean, to be honest, because I was young at the time, so youth culture was my culture [laughs] twenty years ago. It’s hard to mention that now because I’m not young anymore; I think my perspective is a little bit different now. And the second is, younger people don't have many opportunities to exhibit their work, less showcase. So I would like to provide that opportunity. It's fresh, and it’s honest.
SM: Do you notice any differences in younger artists' artwork, in terms of technique, approach, and even subject matter?
AT: As a curator, I need information. So I care about all the details, like about the age and everything. But as a viewer, my heart should be moved first. That’s how I communicate with artwork.
Aya's answers are sincere and thought-provoking. She floats from curator to onlooker in her perspective as she shares her thoughts, which highlights the inherent dynamism in her vision.
That brings us to the pink pigeon at the entrance, a mascot of sorts for the gallery. "Birdo Flugas" is an intriguing name. It's not Japanese or English—not even French. It's Esperanto, a constructed language created with the mission of uniting people around the world.
AT: “Birdo flugas” means “a bird is flying.” Scenery. Traveling birds. So, you know, you don’t have to stay in your hometown. Hometown is important, yes, but you can be anywhere.
SM: So you took a universal, unifying language, and created this dynamic space in a small, welcoming town. In what ways do the gallery and the Shiogama community come together?
AT: As I opened this gallery, right away the city people reacted [laughs] in a good way. Shiogama City was so excited about working with us, the younger artists. They gave me several opportunities to work with the city—me coordinating younger artists, or photographers and designers to redesign the pamphlets and posters and stuff.
AT: My initial thought was, "I’m not here for Shiogama City, because I’m here for the art." But as I was working with the local people, slowly my idea—my way of thinking—changed. The community taught me that art work is also artwork. What I mean is that now I take steps to participate in the issues the community faces, and I am able to creatively provide solutions. This is also a way to bring art closer to people, making the kind of connections I care about.
"As a viewer, my heart should be moved first. That's how I communicate with artwork." —Aya Takada
Aya’s work extends well beyond her gallery. She is the assistant director of the Shiogama Sugimura Jun Museum of Art and an active member in many community programs, connecting people, places, and cultures through art and development activities. Two of the projects she’s currently most excited about are the Children’s Art Museum Shiogama (チルドレンズアートミュージアムしおがま) and Tsunagaruwan (つながる湾プロジェクト). Both programs offer occasional English-friendly activities and are open to anyone interested in art and community engagement. Aya wears many hats, but these days, she wants to be known as a connector. “I’m here for you,” she concludes.
Birdo Flugas is worth more than a small detour, it’s a whole destination. In addition to rotating exhibitions by grassroots artists, the gallery also features a shop selling an assortment of indie zines from around the world, and artwork, ranging from pottery to postcards, made by artists who have exhibited in the space. Birdo Flugas also regularly hosts hands-on workshops and events, most of which are English-friendly, like sumi-e painting workshops and Esperanto yoga classes.
Closed days: Mondays. The gallery also has irregular closures once in a while, usually in between exhibitions. To be 100% sure Birdo Flugas will open when you plan to visit, call or email the gallery. Aya is fluent in English, so communication will be no problem.
Languages: English, Esperanto
Reservations: None needed
Official website: birdoflugas.com
Phone number: 080-3198-4818
Address: 2-3-11 Minato-machi, Shiogama City, Miyagi Prefecture (〒985-0016 宮城県塩釜市港町2-3-11)
Access: 10-minute walk from Hon-Shiogama Station