Deep in the mountains of Niigata Prefecture, the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale is preparing its hundreds of exhibitions, events and installations — some new, some already permanent — for its seventh edition.

The first festival in 2000 was initiated by Fram Kitagawa, who also directs the Seto Inland Sea's Setouchi Triennale. The events, he says, are designed to "bring energy back to the region(s)" and to also encourage new ways of thinking about art, beyond what he calls the "urban focus of 20th-century art."

Echigo-Tsumari is spread out over a mountainous part of Niigata that's larger than the size of Tokyo's 23 wards put together. It's an area that regularly gets meters of snow for months at a time and, until relatively recently, locals were "unable to get out of their small hamlets over the winter months, having to rely on each other for everything," according to Kitagawa. The Triennale's permanent works and participating museums are now accessible throughout the year, and Kitagawa says part of their aim is to also enrich the lives of the fiercely independent locals.