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Artist provides oasis to nurture creativity

ARTIST Zhou Wenfu (pictured right), 53, leads a simple and frugal life, often staging exhibitions yet seldom selling any paintings.

For years, he has pursued a parallel interest, starting in the 1980s an "imagination center?for kids in belief that the education system stifled them. The concept helps to trigger, nurture and preserve young imaginations and creativity in a venue where they play without rules, regulations or restrictions. In this oasis, they can paint what they like on a huge wall, or make bread or noodles in creative shapes.

Q: Why don't you sell your paintings? Isn't a sale a recognition of your talent?

A: It would be torture for me to sell a single piece, because each painting records a special emotional experience. They are almost an indispensable part of my life. But I believe I can earn a living in other ways instead of selling my paintings in order to buy a villa or a limousine. An artist can aspire to a higher spiritual level rather than a material level.

Q: Is that why you have put a US$1 million price tag on them?

A: You could say that.

Q: What prompted you to open the imagination center?

A: I found there was a big gap in thought between Chinese kids and foreign kids. The foreign kids were able to fully display their imagination in their paintings while Chinese children painted more realistically and seemed restricted by rules.

I wanted to change the situation, although I knew at the very start it was a tough mission to do by myself.

Q: Does the imagination center make money?

A: I have no financial support from any company or individual. The tuition fee is quite cheap, only 600 yuan (US$87.72) for each semester. I don't run the center for profit.

Q: Do children who attend differ greatly from those who don't?

A: I liberate their thoughts in many areas. Imagination is quite important, as it makes one see more possibilities in life. I believe that children who attend the center become more independent in their life and career.

Q: Is it true that a center inside a local school was closed recently?

A: Yes, because the education bureau now doesn't allow the practice of a "school inside a school.?But we moved to a new place at Lane 710, Dingxi Road.

Q: What's difficult about spreading the concept?

A: I wanted partners to develop the center in more districts of the city. But they always expected a profit or return on investment. I want to see the imagination center become bigger, but I don't want to see it get off the original track that I intended.

Q: What's your ultimate aim for the imagination center?

A: I want a huge space that can fully display the dreams of 10,000 kids. You know, based on my past educational experience, I have shared the dreams and imagination of so many kids. They are such a valuable treasure that should be shared by more people.

Q: What's your biggest regret?

A: I know that I should have created a better living environment for my family, especially my late wife who was so supportive of my career. I have returned to painting to deal with the emotion of death.


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