KANAZAWA, Ishikawa Prefecture--There’s good news for starving artists here who don’t mind using their masterpieces to pay the rent.

A new business is allowing tenants to put their artistic talent to use when the bill comes due.

Shinnosuke Kawakami, 37, head of Synergy Consulting Co., a Kanazawa-based real-estate agency, talked about his dream of generating new value to the city by creating a framework that would benefit both sides in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun.

Born in Kyoto in 1981, Kawakami launched the company at the age of 30.

Synergy Consulting owns various real estate properties including condominiums, buildings and onsen ryokan (hot spring Japanese-style inns) while operating co-working spaces as well as crowdfunding.

Kawakami serves as head of a division at the Junior Chamber International Kanazawa that aims to make Kanazawa a “world city.”


Question: Can you tell us about your business that allows artists to pay the rent with their artworks instead of money?

Kawakami: There are a certain proportion of rooms that are likely to become vacant in rented apartments owned by my company.

So, we offer such rooms to artists, and they create a piece of artwork per month in exchange for their monthly rent.

Under this new rent system, the first tenant moved in a room in August last year from Fukuoka Prefecture. A total of two tenants currently enjoy the system. Two more artists living in the Kanto region are set to move in before year-end.

If more and more works of arts are generated in Kanazawa, which is already filled with a great variety of forms of art, it would add a new value to the city.

Visiting the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, encountering craftworks and experiencing beautiful nature here inspires artists. I thought it would be beneficial for both (Kanazawa and artists).

Q: Do you think the system will generate a commercial profit?

A: Currently many artworks are in my possession. I want to lay out a framework that allow us to find potential customers by setting up a system for online sales of tenants' works of art or by holding a one-man/woman exhibition for them. Keeping their artworks in anticipation of a rise in their value could be another game plan. It’s just like investing in stocks and waiting for them to rise in value. As supposedly famous artworks are like the stocks of listed companies, the system of receiving rent with artworks is just like an investment in a venture company.

Vacant rooms could lead to profits and benefits to the communities. Many landlords are interested in this type of rent system.

I am designing a final stage to the concept of the system in which art can become a currency that would eventually cover their living expenses including food and haircut costs.

However, as artists should not settle permanently into such an environment, we set a limit for them to stay in a room for up to two years under the system. We want artists who were about ready to give up on their dreams to concentrate on their creations for two years.

It’s great if some of them could eventually become a professional and can live off their artworks.

Q: You play a role as a patron, don’t you?

A: In Kanazawa, a patronage-like culture called “danna bunka” (patron culture) has been passed down from generation to generation, which has actually raised artists.

Nowadays we seldom find such wealthy merchants who play roles just like patrons back in the old days, but I believe that the system would function if more patrons were gathered.

Offering products is relatively easier for companies that may find it difficult to support artists with cash. They could even enjoy the effectiveness of advertising after portraying their image as a company that supports artists.

Q: Does the system have much in common with prevailing crowdfunding?

A: I feel that momentum to encourage someone has been on the rise.

Millennials who reached the age of 20 as new members of adult society in the 2000s cherish human contacts rather than goods. They seem to have the sensibility to consider money as just a part of value. Such tendency is a matter of divergence of values, not just an ephemeral boom. I think the joy of contributing to society can be an equivalent value for patrons of the day.

Q: What’s your vision in the days ahead?

A: Currently we decide on tenants through screening among those introduced by related companies but we can publicly solicit tenants in the future.

I would like to build a dormitory-like apartment with an atelier-like space as well as a gallery exclusively for the system. If there are landlords who are facing difficulties as their rooms are all vacant, I will certainly buy them out.