Painting the Town in Taiwan

Is graffiti always urban blight? Not in Taiwan, where officials are betting on street art as a force for tourism.

In Taipei’s Ximending district, vibrant stencils and letters brighten walls along America Street, a retail alley set aside by the government as a graffiti zone that allows “tagging” without repercussions.

On the east coast of Taiwan, murals outside Taitung’s grade schools and community centers depict the city’s aboriginal roots with tribal scenes of fishing and hunting.

In the industrial western port of Kaohsiung, artists have revitalized an empty warehouse district now known as the Pier 2 Art Center, where spray-painted walls frame fine-art galleries, and Kaohsiung’s cultural affairs bureau hosts exhibits and festivals.

On the other side of town at Zizhu Village, former Nationalist soldier housing was on the chopping block until local students reimagined its vacant shacks with paint and sculpture — and travelers took notice.

Then there’s Taichung’s 91-year-old “Rainbow Grandpa,” whose colorful brushstrokes turned a veterans’ refuge into Rainbow Village, a tourist favorite and officially designated cultural landmark. “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t play mah-jongg,” says the self-taught artist. “I just paint.”

This piece, written by Erica Schaikjer, appeared in the June/July 2013 issue of Traveler magazine.