Photo/IllutrationAkira Takayama, far left, and other artists give a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Sept. 10 to announce their “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” initiative. (Kazutaka Eguchi)

A group of artists seeking to redisplay works that were pulled from the Aichi Triennale 2019 art festival amid threats and protests plans to set up a call center to respond to critics.

Five of the artists explained their initiative to reopen the exhibition and uphold freedom of expression during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Sept. 10.

They said they will convey the opinions of other artists and art lovers to local authorities in Aichi Prefecture in requested negotiations to reopen the closed exhibit.

The artists said 34 groups of foreign and Japanese artists have so far joined the initiative, called ReFreedom Aichi.

Around 90 groups of artists entered the triennale, and 12 of them have changed or suspended displays of their works to protest the closure of the “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” exhibition, which was part of the festival.

Theater director Akira Takayama said at the FCCJ news conference that he intends to set up an “artists’ call center” to hear directly from critics of the exhibit.

“While we artists are appealing freedom of expression, Aichi prefectural government employees and other people involved in the festival had been tied up with taking phone calls protesting the exhibit,” he said. “This time, artists should take the protest calls.”

The “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” exhibition was closed on Aug. 3, three days after it opened.

The secretariat of the festival’s organizing committee was inundated with hundreds of protests sent by fax and email. One person even threatened to commit an arson attack against the exhibition venue.

At the heart of the grievances was a statue symbolizing “comfort women,” who were forced to provide sex to wartime Japanese troops.

The Aichi governor, who chaired the organizing committee, cited “safety concerns” for calling off the exhibition.

The artists seeking to reopen the exhibition and display all other works at the festival will also start a joint program called “#YourFreedom” with visitors to the event.

Visitors will be asked to jot down their own experiences of having their freedoms restricted. Their words will be posted on the door of each room where the displays were suspended.

The artists will also start an online campaign to collect public opinions and raise funds through crowdfunding to finance their initiative.

As of 8 p.m. on Sept. 10, the first day of the initiative, 1,765,000 yen ($16,395) was raised.

The triennale will run through Oct. 14.